Dear Judy,

I am concerned that the parents in my neighborhood are automatically bypassing the zoned school, that my children attend. My kids have had academic success and I have gained appreciation for the principal and staff. How can I convince others to give it a try?

Lonely at my zoned school

Dear Lonely:

I share your concerns about parents writing off their zoned schools – particularly schools that have reasonably good track records and are on the upswing. Recently, at the urging of neighborhood parents, I visited PS 125 in District 5. The school, in Harlem,  faced dwindling enrollment which was troubling to local parents who wanted to keep their kids in the neighborhood, rather than scramble for an out-of-district choice.  Families of enrolled students and pre-school parents formed a committee to attract others. They worked with the principal to expand the dual language program; they held coffees for friends and neighbors in their homes, and they invited parents to open houses at the school. Their efforts paid off with a sizable kindergarten enrollment. There have been similar successes in attracting new neighborhood parents to schools such PS 11 and PS 8in District 13 in Brooklyn, and, I am sure, many others.

How to get started? Rope in parents who share your passion for the school. Approach the principal to get her on board, and brainstorm about how to increase buzz about the school.  Decide on the strong points to talk up and also the weak spots that can be remedied.  According to a friend of Insideschools,who was involved in the turn-around of a school in Clinton Hill, you have to address issues that many parents fear: 1) an unfriendly administration that does not listen to parents concerns; 2) an atmosphere that is too rigid; 3) racial and socio-economic diversity. I would add to that, the desire for rigorous academics. <!--more-->

Reach out to prospective parents at playgrounds and in pre-schools and invite them in to talk about their own kids’ experiences and to discuss parent concerns.   If the principal attends, so much the better!  Parent-led tours at the school are another path to parent to parent interaction. .

Make your school an important presence in the neighborhood. Hold public events,  as fund raisers and as attractions to the neighborhood. It could be a street fair,  a recycling day for electronics, a playground  flea market or swap fest,  a celebrity performance, a sing along, or something else.  Advertise through posters in stores, banks, apartment lobbies, and place a notice in your community newspaper. Of course, post comments about what is special about your school on its's profile page.

All this takes time, commitment, and patience and might benefit from forming a  semi- formal organization such as “Friends of PS…”  Recruitment is only the beginning, The school has to fulfill its promises to families and parents have to take an active part in supporting the school.  The partnership is ongoing and only continued progress will keep the initial excitement alive.

NOTE: All parents clamor for choice, but unfortunately not all schools are equally viable choices. That leads to a scramble for the schools with the best reputation while other schools get neglected.  No matter how a school has improved, the perception of inferiority lingers.  It becomes a burden on the schools to convince their constituency that their school is one of the viable choices.  Some complain that there is no help from the DOE either to boost its performance or to encourage local enrollment. Try to work closely with the district Community Education Council and with the school's support network leaders. And reach out to other schools that have been successful to see what they've done that works.

Good luck!

We invite parents and educators who have worked to turn around their schools to share their ideas, successes, and also their  frustrations.