One of the most frustrating things about navigating public school is figuring out who to contact about different problems and concerns. Who can help with a bus issue? Who should you call if your child has chicken pox? What if you can’t afford the money for the field trip? You’re going to start your own “Who to Contact” list.
First write down all the different reasons you might need to call someone at school, and then list the person at school who can effectively answer those questions or deal with those issues.
Here’s a start, based on how my school system works (make changes as needed for your child’s school):
Attendance: Principal, School Resource Officer
Bus Problems: Assistant Principal
Discipline: Teacher, Assistant Principal
Grades and test scores: Teacher, Principal
Family problems: Guidance Counselor, School Social Worker
Illness or injury: Teacher, School Nurse
Make-up work: Teacher
Bullying or teasing: Teacher, Principal, Guidance Counselor
Special needs: Teacher, School Psychologist
Mental health concerns: Guidance Counselor, School Psychologist
Custody issues: Teacher, Principal, School Resource Officer
Add notes and make corrections from your own experiences. The people listed above are all at the school building level. You may occasionally need to pursue an issue at the Central Office level. Central Office personnel include the Director of Special Education, the Superintendent of Schools, and members of the School Board. Remember that everyone who works for a school system is working for and supported by the community – you and your family included!
Now it’s time to do some sleuthing! Your job is to get the contact information for everyone in school who interacts with your child or makes decisions that affect your child. Then when a problem comes up, you know exactly who you need to contact and how to get in touch with them.
Most schools and school systems have information sheets or parent handbooks that include names and contact information. If you don’t have this information, go by the school office and ask the secretary about it.
Now let’s put your list together here for future reference. Next to the position, write the staff member’s name and contact information. Include the information for all the schools your children attend. Contact information includes how (phone, note, email) and when to make contact (before school, planning period, after school). E-mail is usually a more effective way of communicating with school staff than the telephone.
WHO TO CONTACT
Special Ed. Director
School Board Members
School Social Worker
School Resource Officer
Just about every school has at least one staff person who is family-centered – someone who really welcomes parents, understands that things can get rough at home, and is willing to help with problems, questions, and concerns. Very often this is a student support person – the guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, or nurse.
Here’s an example from a couple of years ago. A child nutrition worker in my district was having problems with her fifth grader and asked if I could help. It turned out that her child had been stuck in the student assistance team process for almost three years despite escalating mental health and academic problems. So I called the school psychologist and gave her the information. She consulted with the teacher, the principal, and the guidance counselor, and then called the mother. The child was quickly referred for testing, and a referral was also made to the elementary day treatment program. See what I mean about knowing who to contact? A long-standing problem was taken care of quickly and effectively because the parent called the right person.
Things don’t always work out quite this quickly or this successfully, but asking the right person for help starts you down the right road to get your concerns addressed. Even if that person cannot solve your problem immediately, you have done an end run around the bureaucracy and received a direct answer to your question.
Those who can help are usually not in an administrative position, or part of an official line of authority and responsibility. Seek out school personnel who have been around for a long time, know everybody, and know how to make things work and get things done.
Copyright Alice Wellborn 2012