Syrennia McArthur Hanshaw Credit: Photo by Jason Reblando

South Side Parents was launched last year by a small group of parents who noted an abundance of information-sharing about schools on the North Side and wanted to launch a similar network. The group now has 79 members and covers Woodlawn, Douglas, Kenwood, Hyde Park, South Shore, Oakland and part of Washington Park. The University of Chicago is helping the organization prepare a booklet on schools, Chicago Park District programs, and daycare centers. Syrennia McArthur Hanshaw, vice-chair of communications and the mother of three children at North Kenwood Oakland Charter School, spoke with Associate Editor Debra Williams.

What is your philosophy on parenting?

Children have to have strong parent involvement in everything. Parents should be there not just to drop them off [at school] and come to conferences and meetings but to participate in an active way, to volunteer. I know parents work and it’s hard, but they need to do it. All schools should have mandatory volunteer time.

Do you think the district pays attention to parents?

If you make a lot of noise (laughs). That’s the only way. I don’t mean in a rambunctious way. I just mean in a persistent way. But you also have to present the district with solutions. That’s the best way to get results.

You say parents have to make a lot of noise. But what would you like the district to do to get parents more involved?

Have quarterly parent meetings with all the schools. There’s a lot of segmentation [among] schools, and they are kind of operating independently. Maybe the schools in Area 15 or Area 16 can get together, for instance. We share similar concerns, I think.

Teachers complain that some kids come to school hungry or need discipline. Are parents accountable? What can be done to hold them accountable?

Parents are accountable, but some suffer from a lot of social needs. I don’t think most parents would send their kids to school hungry if they really had the means to feed them. Also, you can’t have a job where you have to be at work at 7 o’clock and your child has to be at school at 8:30. It just doesn’t work—parents end up bringing kids to school and they haven’t eaten.

Still, schools should make contracts with parents. The contract should be, “We’re going to do the best we can to provide a good education for your children in a safe and healthy environment, and we expect you to facilitate what is taught, to make sure children come to school on time and to help them with homework.” Even if a child is taught something, if they’re not having it reinforced at home, they’re more than likely not going to remember it.

Do the parent boards at charters have enough input? Would you like to see your board become a local school council?

No. LSCs have become too political. That’s my observation. I think they can have a positive effect, but most of what I see is negative. I had a friend who was president of an LSC, and she said it was a hassle—she couldn’t get positive parental involvement and it was a lot of politics.

But an advisory board doesn’t choose a principal and manage a budget.

We have a parent-teacher community organization that does have input into the budget and things like that.

What advice do you have for schools to bring more parents into the building?

Always have something going on. Last week we had “Bring your parents to school” night for the pre-K through 1st grade, and they had a dinner. We’re having a “house-hop” with house music and dancing. We had our first parent-teacher meeting at Lucky Strike, the bowling alley. We mingled with [new parents] and got to know them.

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