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District officials, community members, and Newark parents gathered on Wednesday night at Spencer Miller Community School for the district's latest parent engagement meeting.

District officials, community members, and Newark parents gathered on Wednesday night at Spencer Miller Community School for the district’s latest parent engagement meeting.

With an eye on engagement, Newark schools look to create a parent advisory council

In its ongoing effort to connect with local families, Newark Public Schools held an open meeting Wednesday evening — soliciting feedback as it mulls the creation of a district-wide parent advisory group. 

The gathering, held at Louise A. Spencer Elementary School, was the third stop on the district’s parent engagement tour. 

“We want to get as much input as we can since we want to eventually have a parent advisory council. We had actually some policy written up last year, but we didn’t have that community input we really wanted,” Yambeli Gomez, a school board member, said at the meeting. “That’s why we’re doing this.”

Some 15 people — a majority of them district and school officials — turned out for the event. Many of them expressed support for a parent advisory group, even as they raised concerns about the size of the council, how members would be chosen, and whether the district would follow through on creating it. 

“It’s a lot of work, and we want to do it correctly,” said Gomez, who was one of three of the nine full board members in attendance. Shayvonne Anderson and A’Dorian Murray-Thomas were also present.

This meeting was in line with Superintendent Roger León’s district plan to increase parent engagement. District parents have long said they are unaware of what’s going on at their child’s school and feel unwelcome there. León’s plan lays out goals to establish parent organizations at every school and improve communication with families — something that came up again and again at the meeting.

Jenise Reedus, the parent of a Central High School student, said her daughter’s teachers have been “fabulous,” but that she’s been disappointed by the lack of communication from the school. “It’s really a shame that parents don’t feel valued at schools,” she said.

Some members of the community expressed appreciation for the board’s efforts to connect with the community. Denise Cole, a local education activist, told the board members: “You guys are engaged tonight. I feel very good tonight about the communication and dialogue back and forth.”

Two more engagement tour stops are scheduled, one in January and another in February. These gatherings provide a casual setting for parents to address members of the school board without the pressure of a formal meeting.

Board members at the event declined to comment.

Reedus said she was heartened by the meeting, but the proof will be in the follow-through.  “This is all great for everyone to talk and say these ideas, but what’s going to happen after?” she said. “So we’ll see what happens.”