Phoenixville administrators meet with parents of ‘under-represented' students

PHOENIXVILLE — Superintendent Alan Fegley reported to the Phoenixville Area School Board at Thursday’s workshop about a recent meeting between Phoenixville Area School District officials, community members and the parents of students the district classified as “under-represented.”

“This is the night when we had our underrepresented parents come and talk to us about what we, as a district, can do and do a better job making sure our minority students and our students who are economic disadvantaged participate in more and more activities.”

Phoenixville Area School Board President Joshua Gould attended the event, dubbed “The Night of Conversation and Information,” as well as dozens of community and church leaders.

More than 60 parents came out.

Fegley said Gould encouraged parents present to hold the district accountable and press them for more outreach.

Administrators and community leaders paired up to work in small groups with the parents who attended.

Several fluent in various languages also attended to help interpret where language barriers existed.

“People were very, very appreciative, one, that we were listening to them, two, that we were asking for input, and, three, that we were taking down everything,” Fegley said. “We actually listed everything and shared them at the end.”

Multiple areas where the district could improve in reaching out to the “under-represented” students came up.

Among them were concerns over transportation, a need to keep libraries open longer to provide computer access for those who don’t have them and the possibility of celebrating students’ cultures in school events.

Other concerns included providing more opportunities for students to hang out at school.

“They talked a lot to us about our teaching population needs to become more diverse and reflective of our student population,” Fegley said. “It does not right now.”

Fegley said he’s spoken to Keith Black, the district’s head of human resources, about seeking qualified candidates that would fit into that push for diversity and partnering with organizations which would assist in that.

Additionally, many of the parents who attended the event said they don’t have driver’s licenses, which are required to gain access to buildings through the school’s security system set up during the day.

“Right away, they’re feeling pushed out from the system,” Fegley said.

Some fixes seemed relatively easy, such as changing the high school course offerings and curriculum explanations into Spanish.

Board member David Ziev suggested there may be a lesson learned from the past that the district could draw from.

“I’ve lived in the area 20, 25 years and at one time, we had this huge influence of southeastern Asian, Vietnamese,” he said. “They went through the systems, their parents figured it out, their community leaders...there may be some historical lessons because we’ve figured it out once before.”

Fegley said he plans to hold another such meeting with parents, administration, and community leaders Feb. 19 at Barkley Elementary School.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.