As parents and children settle into a new school year, the city is trying to put a new face on its education department's outreach efforts.
Hopefully, Yolanda Torres is the woman to do it.
Historically, NYC's public schools have failed to engage families in meaningful ways. Parents don't know whom to turn to, how to navigate the bureaucracy, how to communicate with the system or even with their children's schools. The challenge is more complicated for parents of children with special needs or English language learners.
Parents call many phone numbers and knock on many doors, and still don't often get the help they need. Others don't know whom to call or what to do. Every public school has a parent coordinator, but it's meaningless if the person on the job doesn't respond to or can't answer questions.
The Department of Education has brought Torres in as the new face to head FACE -- its division of Family and Community Engagement. Torres was the community superintendent for a Bronx district known for parent involvement and communication.
That's good news. But she has a tough job ahead. The city school system must do a better job serving its customers -- 1.1 million students and their parents. That means listening to and engaging its clientele, responding to needs, concerns and questions, and overcoming language barriers, working parents' needs and other challenges.
There are some good signs. Torres recognizes the problems and knows the first solution is better communication. She says she wants to make it easier for parents -- so they get their answer in "one call." That's a good goal. And the DOE's new decisions to have two districtwide parent coordinators per district and to offer all coordinators more professional development are worth applauding. But extra staff won't help anyone if parents don't know whom to call or calls aren't returned. Start there.
The city has talked of increased parent involvement and better communication before -- they're critical to improving schools. This time, there has to be more than talk. Too many students and parents are depending on it.