Frederick County proposal to cut parent-teacher conferences raises concerns -- Gazette.Net


Concern over a proposal to eliminate some parent-teacher conferences could delay a vote on the Frederick County Public Schools’ 2013-14 calendar.

The Frederick County Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the calendar on Wednesday, but PTAs received complaints about the change, and The PTA Council of Frederick County has requested that the school system retain its current conference schedule.

The seven-member school board is considering two proposed calendars for the upcoming school year. It could adopt one calendar or a hybrid of the two.

School board President Jean Smith said concern over the calendars could lead the board to delay a vote and take up the matter again in February. The board was to meet on Wednesday after The Gazette’s deadline.

Both draft calendars would eliminate parent-teacher conferences for high schools and limit conferences for parents of elementary and middle school students to the fall.

Under the 2012-13 school calendar, there is one full day and one half day for parent-teacher conferences in the fall and two half days in the spring.

One draft calendar also proposed reducing “Fair Day,” in which school is closed so students can attend The Great Frederick Fair, to a half day.

In that calendar, the school year would begin for students on Aug. 19 and end June 10. Under the other option, which follows the school system’s traditional model, the school year would begin for students on Aug. 26 and end June 18.

Julie Marker, president of the county PTA Council, served on a committee that presented the two proposed calendars to the board on Jan. 2. Although Marker said she originally supported the move to cut back on conferences, she said the council now feels it would decrease opportunities for parents to be involved in education.

“We do feel like there is room for improvement in the conference model,” Marker said Tuesday. “We just want to identify some alternate activities.”

Some suggestions Marker said she planned to make during the board’s meeting Wednesday include launching a back-to-school night for second-semester teachers, educating parents how to be more active during conferences or using technology, such as the video-conferencing program Skype, to connect teachers and parents.

Some school board members said they were surprised the PTA Council was raising concerns now after being represented on the committee.

“After the committee was done, now they are taking kind of a different view even though they participated,” board member Brad Young said.

Marker said she initially got “swept up” in the idea of something new, but reconsidered shortly after the committee released its proposed calendars.

“I can’t support something that takes away parent involvement in the school,” she said.

Jana Sheffer, president of the Frederick High School PTA, said that during an association meeting on Jan. 8, members expressed concerns over the elimination of parent-teacher conferences.

“It still is important that there is a dedicated time for parents to come in and visit with the teacher,” she said.

Sheffer and others said that although the county gives parents online access to high-school students’ grades, and teachers are available by email and phone, there is still a need to have dedicated days for conferences.

However, Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association, said many of his members may disagree.

“A lot of high school teachers would rather have the instructional time than miss the instructional time to do parent-teacher conferences,” he said. “I’m not sure having the set aside days is accomplishing it.”