Monday, March 21, 2011


At the Spencer Learning Fair, teachers instruct parents on ways to tutor their young children and help them master the basic skills needed to succeed as they progress in school. (Photo by Brad)
More Bad News: Mrs. Tanya Foster-Demers says the Indiana governor calculates the number of new prisons to build based upon the number of 2nd graders failing to perform at or above grade level. (Photo by Brad)
Dr. Shawn Jackson explains, “I am asking parents to help me improve a system that failed them.” He says chronic absenteeism & tardiness are retarding primary level learning, as are parents not sending children to Head Start. “Parents do not understand the vital need for early childhood education,” Jackson declares. (Photo by Brad)
Bad News: Mrs. Tanya Foster-Demers, Lead Kindergarten Teacher at Spencer School, warns parents at the Learning Fair that children who cannot read by 3rd grade will never read proficiently and will be permanently crippled intellectually. (Photo by Brad)
Spencer Elementary School, 214 North Lavergne Avenue, invited parents to a Nacho Party at the school, but the staff had a very serious ulterior motive: Involve parents in their children’s early educational development. The nachos bribed them to attend the school’s Primary Learning Fair. The school also showed movies for the children, so parents had no excuse for not attending.
Members of the Spencer Parent University are providing workshops for improving parenting skills & school involvement, plus helping to reduce student absenteeism, tardiness, and disciplinary problems. (Photo by Brad)
Once in the auditorium, primary teachers delivered sobering news with devastating predictions for their children’s futures if they don’t get involved NOW!
    Mrs. Tanya Foster-Demers declared that research shows that children who cannot read proficiently by grade 3 will never read at grade level and will be intellectually crippled for the rest of their lives. She told parents that the governor of Indiana calculated the number of new prisons his state needs to build by counting the number of 2nd graders performing below grade level. Then, the parents moved to separate classrooms to learn specific methods for working with their young children in ways that will improve academic performance in class and in upcoming standardized tests.Spencer Principal Dr. Shawn Jackson told members of the school’s Parent University that he is facing issues that have been festering for generations.
    “I am asking parents to help me improve a system that failed them. This is a very difficult assignment.”
    Jackson points out that his school has been on probation since 2001 for low student performance on standardized tests. He says Spencer is poised to come off probation this year, but problems remain. Although 52% of Spencer students are reading at or above state norms, they are not reading at grade level. Better news is that 80% of students are excelling at math. Jackson explains that math concepts are absolute, so students do well at comprehending and developing these skills.
    But, Jackson warns, the problem is a Primary Problem and Spencer is not unique among Chicago schools. Chronic absenteeism and tardiness are at dangerously high levels for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. In fact, Spencer has among the lowest attendance rates in Austin. Many parents apparently do not understand that early childhood education lays the foundation for success in higher grades. Conversely, failure to master basic skills in primary grades guarantees academic disaster as the child moves to higher grades and is expected to learn more complex material without basic skills that were taught in lower grades.
    Many Spencer parents do not send their preschool children to Head Start, where they are taught basic educational skills and concepts, preparing them for primary grades. According to Dr. Jackson, these early problems are resulting in 46% of Spencer 3rd graders failing the ISAT tests. “These students never get to catch up,” Jackson declares. “We must get them ready in kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades,” he explains.
    Although Spencer is one of Austin’s largest elementary schools, its high absentee rate combined with the city’s fiscal difficulties may mean the school will lose full-day kindergarten. He warns that Head Start is already being cut.
    Spencer does offer after-school and Saturday School remedial classes and although this helps, it cannot make up for failure to learn the needed skills in the primary grades.
    Dr. Jackson says his staff and the Spencer Parent University members are launching a full-court press to teach parents how to tutor their children and get involved with teachers at the earliest stages of their children’s learning process.

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