Saline Schools Consider New Ways to Conduct Parent-Teacher Conferences

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 07/02/2019 - 12:21
Curt Ellis, Saline Area Schools Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, is shown at a recent Saline Board of Education meeting.

A group of Saline Area Schools parents, teachers, and administrators have been putting their heads together to determine how parent-teacher conferences at all grade levels in the school system can be improved.

The review committee's findings were presented by Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Curt Ellis along with several members of the committee present: Woodland Meadows Elementary School Principal Michelle Szczechowicz, high school and middle school parent Julie Brilliant, Assistant Principal Kirk Evenson, Saline High School English teacher Madelyn Clark, elementary and middle school parent Jackie Sweet, and Harvest Elementary School Principal Emily Sickler.

The committee also consists of parents Violet Apone, Beth Driskell, Wendy Evans, and Jessica Fun Nell-Todd; teachers Laurie Welzbacker and Kristin Zemaitis; and administrator Alex Schuow all of whom were not in attendance.

These folks looked at three groups of grade levels in the district: Young 5's to fifth grade, Heritage School and Saline Middle School, and Saline High School.

While the committee found that everyone involved in parent-teacher conferences at this level are "largely satisfied with the status quo," two improvements bubbled up during committee discussion.

First, a start-of-year input session where parents can introduce their student or students to the teacher was thought to be a beneficial addition to the parent-teacher conference structure.

"The parent and the teacher can have a little bit more shared knowledge about what that child is like ... when those conferences are held early in the year there's really not a lot of student growth to discuss - it's about being on the same page about the needs of the child," Ellis explained.

Second, a springtime conference would come later to review growth and development to determine where students are at in their educational progression.

Currently a late-year conference is invitation-only, which has led to parents viewing them as a negative development or "red flag."

"That should be an opportunity for us to share the growth and development of that student at that point in the year and that should be an opportunity for everybody, so we'd like to change that paradigm," Ellis said.

At Heritage and Saline High School most of the focus was on the student-led conferences, which have been poorly received by parents, according to the committee's findings. Parents feel like they already have enough input from their students and as such have a good grasp of what their students are experiencing on a daily basis.

Ellis said he would like to see the concept refined but kept in place, as the student-led conference is intended to give students agency and ownership of their education in order to help them internalize the development and educational ideals of the SAS Compass.

"I think if we move forward with that student-led conference model at the upper elementary level, we need to focus on the messaging for that so people know why we're doing it," Ellis said.

Parent-teacher conferences at the high school were found to be a different animal compared to the other two grade level groupings, in that the participation rate is less than 20 percent whereas the grades below the high school level have a 90 percent or more participation rate.

Ellis said he didn't necessarily see the low participation rate at the high school level as an issue.

"At the high school level these students are on the cusp of transitioning to adulthood and college, so it's natural that the child take more ownership in his or her learning ... not to say that parents don't have a role in it at all, but the communication should look very different to the parent of a 17-year-old than it does to the parent of a five-year old," he said.

Despite that low participation rate, the high school is "packed" during conference time to such an extent that the committee mulled over the idea of having three open-house conferences where teachers hand out fact sheets on themselves and their classes.

Emphasizing and promoting methods for parents to stay current and communicate with teachers remotely from home will also be on the table. Currently parents can get information in PowerSchool, which also has video conference functionality recently added to the software. 

Promoting individual parent-teacher meetings by appointment will also be an idea brought to the teachers this fall.

Before any changes to parent-teacher conferences can be made, they must be agreed upon by the Saline Education Association which represents SAS teaching staff at the bargaining table during contract negotiations with school administrators.

Ellis said that the committee's feedback and insight is intended to give everyone at the negotiating table a more well-rounded view of this specific area of the educational experience for the benefit of all parties involved.

"As you can see from our group here, we wanted to get some information from parents as well as see how the process feels like from their perspective," Ellis said. "This is still subjective to the collective bargaining process ... but again we'd like to really focus on what we can do to improve this experience for all parties involved."


Sean Dalton's picture
Sean Dalton
Sean Dalton is a veteran of the Washtenaw County journalism scene. He co-founded and and also worked for Heritage Newspapers.