Last year was particularly challenging for parents around the country, including here in Needham, as they confronted ever-changing COVID protocols; worried about learning loss; stressed about school violence in the aftermath of Uvalde; and fretted over curriculum initiatives that did (or did not) address issues of race and gender. For many parents, everything related to school seemed to be a concern or a source of anxiety and frustration. Every issue seemed escalated, and emotions ran high.
Unfortunately in recent years, many Needham teachers, staff members, and each and every school principal found themselves at the receiving end of angry, inappropriate, or vitriolic parent emails or phone calls that typically ended in frustration for both and, worse, did not resolve the concern about a student. There is no place in the Needham Public Schools for swearing, threatening behavior, abusive confrontations with staff, or even driving angrily away in a crowded school parking lot.
Our teachers, school staff, and principals deserve better. Our students deserve better.
Of course, parents should always feel comfortable speaking up and advocating for their children; that is a parent’s primary role and responsibility! And, to be clear, most NPS parents continue to approach problems and concerns about their child with respect, genuine concern, and in partnership with school staff.
In the new school year both opportunities and challenges await all students, staff, and parents. Allow me to suggest ways parents and caregivers can proactively, positively, and respectfully address concerns and questions they may have about their child’s school experience:
Assume positive intent. Needham’s teachers and administrators are here to support and assist your children to grow and learn. We want them to enjoy a healthy and happy school environment and flourish academically. When uncertain about a school protocol, teacher lesson, or classroom rule, express curiosity and ask to learn more. Blaming or judging before knowing the full context only serves to frustrate all involved.
Be patient awaiting a response. When emailing a question or concern to a staff member, give them a couple of days to respond. Teachers and administrators are typically not sitting at their laptops throughout the day responding to inquiries. However, we do have a responsibility to check our inboxes and respond to parent questions as soon as possible, but that will not necessarily be on the same day. If a parent inquiry involves the immediate safety or wellbeing of a child, call the school and ask to speak to the nurse, counselor, assistant principal, or principal. Depending on the circumstances, other questions and concerns will be addressed within a few days.
Understand we protect your child’s privacy. Sometimes a bullying incident, playground misunderstanding, or even a physical altercation between students will result in one or more students facing consequences and discipline for misbehavior. Often, the parent of the student who was the victim of an incident wants to know what punishment was given to the other student; they want to know how the other student was held accountable. However, Federal student privacy laws prohibit school officials from sharing or revealing information about one student to another student’s family, and this includes how another student may have been disciplined. To understand how students are held accountable for their actions in school, review the student handbooks for details around student and school discipline.
Get involved in school. I have previously shared ways for parents and families to stay connected to their school community, learn about academic programs, and advocate for their children and schools. Discover how you can be involved in the life of your school community by reading the principals’ newsletter, teacher communications, and staying in touch with school staff. Think about joining the PTC, Boosters, or other school-based organizations.
Consider Outside Resources to Support You & and Your Family Here is a simple truth: The schools do not have all the answers! Check out online resources like The Child Mind Institute, American Academy of Pediatrics, PBS, and Psychology Today for articles that explore supporting your children at home and in school. Also, Meredith College (North Carolina) Admissions Director, Shery Boyles, has some quick and useful tips for high school parents navigating the college admissions process. And consider the amazing resources available at Needham Youth and Family Services for in person support.
Provide feedback. Share your ideas, hopes, and dreams for your child with your child’s teachers and school counselor. And if you experience a lack of response from a school staff member or have a negative or unhelpful encounter at school, let us know! All human beings are imperfect, including teachers, principals, and superintendents. We make mistakes, too. We encourage parents to share their perspective or experience to assist us to grow and improve in service to our students and families. Of course, anytime we give feedback to another person providing a service, it’s important to frame the concern with curiosity not condemnation. When we do that, we will elicit a more favorable and actionable response - one that will support the student.
All of us in the Needham Public Schools look forward to a new year of growth and achievement! We look forward to working with parents, caregivers, and families to support and encourage the amazing young people of the Needham Public Schools.
See you August 31st!