The first focus group meeting was held Thursday, November 3 at 4PM. About ten parents and community members were present. The obvious question is whether the district expected that large numbers of people would be able to get there during a transit strike. Kevin Geary, Director of Communications for the district, arrived at 4:15. Melissa Lara of Cambridge read from a list of generic questions. Because of poor acoustics, it was hard to hear everyone. It wasn’t a discussion, just a series of questions and answers. A better venue would have been a classroom where people could see and hear each other.
Parents expressed many of the same concerns about the school: overcrowded classrooms, lack of support staff, not enough services for children with emotional problems. They said that nearby charters were selecting students while Blankenburg took all students. One parent, a volunteer who spends a lot of time at the school, asked whatever happened to classroom aides. The parents also repeated what they had said in the initial meeting, that Blankenburg has been a receiving school for two or three nearby schools that were closed by the district but got no additional resources to help with those transitions.
The parent volunteer told Ms. Lara: I am here almost every day. We have a great staff. We have a great principal. The school’s problems are not because of what the people here do. We need help from the district.
The questions asked by Ms. Lara did not reflect any knowledge of the school. In fact, she asked the parents whether the school had a gifted program or after school-programs, information that is easily accessible in the district’s school profiles online or by asking the principal. She asked how parents got information from the school; they said they Justprincipal does a good job of keeping parents informed. Ms. Lara seemed to be there in the role of recorder, not as a facilitator eliciting meaningful responses through engagement and follow-up questions.
Lisa asked how the information she was gathering would inform the district’s decision about which of the five options would be imposed on Blankenburg. Ms Lara said she had no knowledge of that. The meeting ended at 4:28.
Submitted by Lisa Haver
November 4, 2016