Kaya Henderson Faces Parents

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/7/2011, 12:39 p.m.

Parents and Teachers Voice Support for PRCs

For Mildred Lockridge, it's always been about the children. For the past 55 years, she has served as an instructor, principal, assistant principal, math resource teacher and demonstration teacher, all in the interest of children, primarily those in Ward 8.

Last Thursday, September 1, she counted among a group of more than 50 parents, teachers, mentors and others who grilled District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson for about 90 minutes at M.C. Terrell Elementary School in Southeast. The gathering, precipitated by the closing of three Parent Resource Centers (PRCs) in August, remained a sticking point between parents and school officials.

"The best way to move forward is to correct the problem that has been made," said Absalom Jordan, chairman of the PRC Steering Committee.

"Until you tell us how you want us to relate to you, it will be difficult for us to do so. The people at PRC live in (Wards 7 and 8) and grew up in (Wards 7 and 8) - that was unique. We want the center opened, staff rehired, and the Parent Resource Center (to operate) the way outlined in the agreement."

Parents had demanded the meeting in an effort to force Henderson to re-open the centers and rehire the dozen PRC employees she'd fired.

"I didn't gain anything from the meeting," said Lockridge. "It doesn't begin to resolve anything. We have been denied everything for our kids in Ward 8. It's very disturbing to hear about numbers. If you reached five people, it's more than you reached before."

Lockridge, 81, began the Parent Partnership, a Saturday learning program about three years ago. For three hours each weekend, dozens of children in the neighborhood would meet at Terrell.

"It was open to anyone, including children from other schools," she said. "We taught children phonics and whatever they needed. We gave them a pre-test and then they told us what they needed help with."

The Parent Resource Center inside Terrell was where the children met each weekend, said Lockridge. And since the centers were shuttered, the Saturday program has ceased.

"When I get to school at 9 a.m., kids run up to me asking when the program is going to start again. They made a mistake. These parents have so much to offer and they were opening up, asking for help."

A meeting between Kelly Young, interim director of the Office of Family and Public Engagement, and about 70 parents last month was billed as a community conversation about family and community engagement.

Instead, the forum became increasingly acrimonious as parents unloaded on Young for the school system's decision to close the centers and place almost a dozen family engagement coordinators on administrative leave. On August 15, District school administrators informed PRC employees that they were being place on administrative leave. While Henderson apologized several times to the affected employees and parents, she reiterated her intention to farm out operation of the centers to community groups.

"... Shutting down the Parent Resource Centers is the furthest thing from the truth," Henderson told the group. "I know for sure that D.C. Public Schools can't be successful without the PRC and the support of families, the community, parents and businesses."