TESTIMONY OF THE MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL OF PTAs

 Presented at the Board of Education by Cindy Kerr, President
                                   September 26, 2005


Good Evening President O’Neill and Members of the Board of Education:
I am Cindy Kerr, President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA).
Please let me take a  moment to publicly share my condolences with the families who have lost their beloved children and pledge my wholehearted efforts on behalf of MCCPTA to work with all the pillars of our community-- our schools, our police and our elected officials to find the creative solutions that will protect all children.


 I am here tonight to address your Agenda item regarding Language Assistance Services Provided by MCPS to parents within our school community.  Though this item is on the Agenda for discussion only, we are here to urge you to take action.


Last year, MCCPTA worked with our local school representatives to develop a list of advocacy priorities for the 2004-05 academic year. Our delegates indicated that the most pressing obstacle to parent involvement in our County was “inadequate resources devoted by MCPS to improve communication with non-English speaking parents”.  The need for more and better translation services is a critical element of improving communications with non-English speaking and limited English proficient families.


Extensive scholarly research has documented what we all understand intuitively, that student success depends upon parent involvement.  The more we can engage parents as active partners in education, the more likely we are to see more children flourish. From the PTA perspective we struggle with inadequate resources to translate PTA meetings.  We struggle to help parents understand critical documents that are sent home in English only. We hear repeatedly about the heartbreak of parents contacting their child’s school to ask questions but there is no bilingual staff member in the front office to answer them. But perhaps most importantly, we struggle to reach out to our limited English proficient parents who often do not even cross the school door threshold because they feel unwelcome or intimidated by an alien culture and English only instructions.
This summer the MCCPTA Officers again visited each of our local areas.  We heard loud and clear a cry for more full time parent community outreach coordinators.  These staff members are the lifeline that reaches out to our limited English proficient families and works with them one on one to overcome the barriers that are keeping them from more active participation in our school communities.  Many of our local schools are embracing the Conquista tus Suenos program as a first step in reaching out to Latino parents and guardians but need the support of parent community outreach coordinators to maintain the connections which are developed.   In addition, the need exists beyond the boundaries of the Latino community to the multiple other language speakers who cannot be served by Conquista program.


So we urge you tonight to direct attention and dollars to reach those parents for whom barriers of language, culture, and access stand in the way of full participation in their child’s education.  We support the recommendation of the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.  Many of our PTAs have to go to great lengths to discover what translation and interpretation services exist within MCPS.  Little of that information is shared routinely with schools resulting in a wide variance of resources usage among our local communities.  So we urge MCPS to take the imitative for providing this information directly to all schools and PTAs. In addition, MCCPTA requests that MCPS:
·        allocate sufficient funds in its FY2007 Operating Budget to purchase a set of translation devices and headphones for each cluster which would be available on an as needed lending basis to our local PTAs;
·        allocate sufficient funds to support bi-lingual parent community coordinators  in all schools with a significant limited English proficient parent population.  Due to the nature of the relationship building work, we urge that these staff be assigned to one school and not divided among all the schools in a cluster;
·        ensure access to bilingual counselors for all schools as a resources for students and parents;
·        ensure that adequate translators are available for parent teacher conferences;
·        ensure that all MCPS documents for distribution through our schools are translated in a timely manner and that translation support is also made available to PTAs which need to translate announcements of parent meetings or parent to parent newsletter and finally
·        ensure that greater efforts are undertaken to recruit and retain multi-lingual front office staff in each of our local schools  and to publicize the availability of the Language Line phone translation services as a second best alternative.


As always, MCCPTA stands ready to support your efforts to remove the barriers to parent involvement for our limited English proficient families.