UNION, NJ — Township of Union Parents for Change, a parent advocacy group that supports improving education, took its cause to Kean University on Saturday, June 10, with a forum it called “It Takes a Village.”
Paul Casey, one of the founders of Parents for Change, said “It Takes a Village” speaks to the core philosophy of the movement.
“It is based on the idea that parents, teachers, staff, administration and our entire community must come together to ensure that all children are getting the very best education possible,” Casey said. “As such, the mission of PFC is the establishment of a community of Union parents who will support individuals, organizations, activities, and programs to promote positive change. Doing so will ensure that our educational community is the best one possible for our children and their families — a community where all children have an opportunity to excel academically in a safe environment that offers high quality programs and services.”
And it was a message welcomed by the some 50 educators, administrators, parents and advocates in attendance.
Union High School history teacher Nicholas Ferroni served as guest speaker, with panel discussions led by township of Union education and community leaders.
The topic “Getting Involved in Your Child’s Education” was discussed by panelists Elsie Mackey, co-parent leader of Special Education Parent Advisory Group; parent advocates Eva Viera and Kara West; and Linda Lewis, former president of Union’s Board of Education.
“The Role of the Parent Teacher Association” was the topic discussed by panelists Lazara Rovia, former PTA president at two township schools; Nadyrah Amin-Finner, former PTA president and treasurer at two township schools; and Kimberly Viola, incoming Burnet School PTA president.
The third topic, “Direction of Union Public Schools,” was addressed by panelists Gregory Tatum, superintendent of Union Public Schools; Assistant superintendent of Union Public Schools Annie Moses; Union Board of Education member Ron McDowell; and Nicole Ahern, supervisor of student counseling for Union Public Schools.
Discussions were moderated by Casey, Parents for Change member Jeff Monge and school board trustee Nellis Regis-Darby.
In a June 9 email, Casey said Parents for Change is a “movement is dedicated to building a better and stronger school system supported by civic-minded community activism.”
He added, “This forum speaks boldly to this mission by organizing an education forum coordinated 100 percent by parent volunteers to encourage residents at large to support and participate in building a top tier school system for the township of Union schools.”
Casey detailed the topics before the event.
“The ‘Getting Involved in Your Child’s Education’ panel would discuss why parental involvement is important to the success of children’s education,” he said. “The panelists will share their experiences on how they have taken an active role as an advocate not only for their children but for Union children as a whole. There will also be suggestions for parents who wants to get more involved in their child’s education but don’t know where to start.”
“The Role of the Parent Teachers Association” panel would discussed why the PTA can be a powerful voice for students, act as a relevant resource for families and act as a strong advocate for public education, Casey said.
According to Casey, the “Direction of the Union Public Schools” discussion would highlight the current administration’s accomplishments and goals for the future, as well as address issues facing the Union Public Schools and what is being done.
Topics to be covered included the district’s technology initiative, residency, Hamilton School and after-school and summer programs.
Tatum told LocalSource that educational forums are an integral part of fostering communication between the school district and community.
“It enables us to update our stakeholders on the progress that we are making in the district and provides an opportunity to hear the concerns of our parents,” Tatum said in a June 11 email. “I truly believe in a collaborative approach to operating our school district and educating our students. The welcomed and valuable input from parent, teacher and the community helps round out a sound education program designed to meet the needs of our student. Collectively, we continue to improve our school system.”
McDowell told LocalSource that the forum’s objective was to educate residents on where the township’s schools are headed.
“This event will provide the opportunity for parents and others to ask questions and even provide input on how we can stay that course,” McDowell said in a June 9 email. “Some of the important issues to be discussed include the impact of new housing developments, other possible uses for Hamilton School, student residency, increased collaborations with Kean University and student discipline.”
By participating in the forum, said McDowell, the BOE is demonstrating its openness and transparency.
“It also demonstrates that every level of our school district, including parents, teachers, administrators and the board, has valuable input in determining what is best for our students and that the board is willing to seek out and listen to their opinions,” McDowell said. “Hopefully, if this event is repeated next year, we can include participation by our students.”
Mackey said before the event that, as a panelist, she hoped to relay the belief that parents, the BOE, Union school staff and the township can work together to make a difference.
“Every positive imprint we make on our children can go a long, long way,” Mackey told LocalSource in a June 8 email.
“I believe it’s extremely important to involved in your child’s education and more important, as an advocate for a child with special needs. I plan to relay to parents at the event that, in order for children to succeed, especially children with disabilities to succeed in life, parents and educators must foster a more inclusive and collaborative relationship with effective communication as the key.”
According to Mackey, it truly takes a village to educate today’s youth.
“As parents in the Union school district, our role is to enhance the educational and social experience of our children, especially those with disabilities,” Mackey said. “It takes a village to raise a child but it takes a unique type of village to raise a special needs child. I believe that our community is that village. I believe that we collectively have to come together as a support and resource network for our special needs children.”
Mackey said that as co-chairperson of the newly formed Special Education Parent Advisory Group, she hopes to provide an informal setting where parents can meet other parents dealing with the unique challenges of raising a child with special needs.
“We hope to form a community where everyone feels welcome, unencumbered and emotionally supported, and build a stronger relationship with the township of Union Board of Education,” she said.
Casey said the forum was organized in response to requests from the community for more dialogue and information from the school district.
“Education for all children requires a partnership (with) parents, the public schools, BOE and the community, and we hope that an event like this will help to foster a strong partnership,” Casey said after the event. “More importantly, we are hoping to drive home the message that while the foundation for children’s success should start at the home with parents and guardians, we need the support of the ‘village’ to make sure that everyone is working together to ensure success for all students. It was great conversation and dialogue that will help to continue to move our district forward in a very positive direction. We’re extremely thankful for those that attended, the great panelists and keynote speaker.”
Tatum said he hoped the event would help improve communication and understanding of procedures, programs and funding. He also noted that despite flat state aid and increasing state and federal mandates, the district remains committed to maintaining a quality educational program.
“Our doors are always open to all stakeholders, and we do not subscribe to an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” he said. “I have always believed that it is a collective ‘we.’ I hope that everyone understands that at the end of the day, it’s all about our students.”