Bringing the Downingtown Community together

Parents gathering

Last month we had two great Parent Networking meetings. They were extremely different both in the attendees and the topics of conversation, which we were so excited about…this was exactly the intent of our design. Even though they were less than two weeks apart, the most pressing issues at the time of each event had changed dramatically and this was easily reflected.

“Mostly Moms” at VK Brewing

The first was at VK Brewing, located at the old Ship Inn, for “Mostly Moms”. We called it “Mostly Moms” because we want to be sensitive to the fact that some men may feel just as comfortable (or even more so!) chatting in a group of with more women, and we wanted them to feel free to join if they wanted to. We had about 25 moms in attendance (no dads this time) ranging from parents of rising kindergarteners all the way up to college age kids. We had the pleasure of being joined by Directors Lee Wisdom, Madhu Gurthy, and Lisa Strobridge from the school board and we were glad to have the opportunity to have an open discussion about later start times and the proposal that had been made at the time. Most of the parents of older students could easily see the benefits of the proposed changes, while for the parents of younger students their concerns about the negative impact the change would have on their children’s schedules outweighed any of those benefits.

After some lively debate, we cooled off using our “conversation starter” ice breakers and had a lot of laughs. Some embarrassing mom moments and guilty pleasures were shared, and in spite of not agreeing on all points, we all parted on friendly terms.

Ultimately, the school district has decided to push back any schedule change by a year so that it has more time to resolve the pressing transportation issues we are faced with, as well as coordinate the change with a shift to block scheduling for East and West, which can only happen after the high school construction projects are finished. While this is probably disappointing for our teenagers, it’s not a bad thing to go slowly and minimize the potentially negative impacts for our little ones.

All Parents at Stolen Sun

This was an interesting one for some of us. If anyone has been watching our school board meetings, there have been two clear thought camps among the repeat commenters: those who speak out in support of public schools and all students (specifically our marginalized students and our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program), and those who would like our district to display more transparency (especially with DEI related activities and reading/curriculum materials). This event saw equal numbers of attendees from both sides and felt tense to start with.

Happily, it was a very congenial afternoon with lots of common ground found. This time we were joined by Directors Margie Miller and Joyce Houghton, who were again extremely helpful and forthcoming.

Some of the common ground that was discussed:

  • Communication challenges: While acknowledging that communications have improved, most of us felt it is still hard to find all information from the school district. We also acknowledged that as parents we do play a part in that communication gap…we all receive so many emails, Facebook alerts, text messages, etc… that some of them get missed. There were no clear solutions proposed, but this seems like something to continue working on with all parties so that comms knows what channels are most effective and parents know what channels are available.
  • Transparency: one specific incident with bids for service contracts was mentioned, where all of the bids and the details of them have not been shared even after a RTK was filed. It was noted by Director Houghton that the business office might not have shared all of the background info to be posted in the Document area of the Board website, but she said this was something that could be explored if people were interested in seeing it. 
  • The PAYS Survey: Not everyone present had received or understood the importance of the PAYS Survey, and as a result some are wary of allowing their kids to take it. Two of the attendees were from the original CTC Parent 2 Parent team and were able to speak to this, leading to an awesome conversation about what our kids are exposed to that we might not know about, and how the PAYS survey can help shine a light on this and helps the CTC create a really focused strategy for the year that addresses the gaps that exist specifically in our district (but this only works if we let our kids take it!) To read the full survey results from 2021, the Downtingtown CTC website is a great resource.
  • Volunteering: Many of the parents there were active volunteers and feel the pain of the burden of the work falling on a few. We discussed finding ways to encourage new people to step up, and ways for different schools to help others who might be struggling to get volunteers.
  • Lionville Station Farm: The questions around this were primarily focused on why we had the land in the first place and why it no longer meets our needs and is being sold. Director Houghton in particular was extremely helpful in helping us understand this and we were grateful for the personal explanation.

Next Steps…Community Connections!

As a team we have discussed the rebranding of these meetings to better reflect their purpose. Rhy’s Above and DASD Parent Partners agreed that our aim in doing these events was to help people connect with each other, find out information, and solve problems together.

Sometimes these problems will be mental health related, sometimes they will be about land development. Sometimes we will be looking to meet with an elected official and give them feedback from our neighbors. Sometimes we are just looking to make friends.

The next big thing

So what’s the next big thing in DASD? Primary elections are happening on May 16th, and in four of our regions we have some decisions to make! We hope to have another event before then so that we can all gather and compare notes on the candidates, so stay tuned! 

Why are school board elections so important? We’ll let you know in our next blog ☺️

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