This is one in an occasional series of stories about how an elementary school in Duval County is trying to improve student performance after receiving an "F" from the state Department of Education.
After nearly three months of intense reform, North Shore Elementary School lacks one key element in its battle to improve student achievement.
Parents need to get more involved, teachers say.
Since school began in August, North Shore has launched new reading, writing and math programs to spur learning. Teachers attend professional development workshops to strengthen their abilities, and students take more tests to prepare for two statewide exams in February.
While these activities have nudged student performance upward, results would be stronger if parents took a larger role, teachers said. But most parents have not.
The school received an "F" from the state Department of Education, based in large measure on the Florida Writes! and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).
If any school receives an "F" twice during a four-year period, its students are eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private or parochial schools.
Teachers have tried sending notes and fliers home to parents, but Principal Larry Davis said the notes often come back unopened, let alone unsigned.
School officials are looking beyond the traditional methods of contact -- newsletters and annual conferences -- for better ways to inform parents about what their children are learning and how families can augment those lessons at home.
"Parents are the most important ingredient we have," Davis said. "It is like we are leading the students to the well, but they are not drinking the water. Without parents, reinforcing what we are doing in school and asking their children about school and asking to see their homework, it makes all the work we have done here almost useless."
A lack of parental involvement is often cited as a contributor to low test scores. Research from the U.S. Department of Education shows that student achievement is linked to the parents' own educational level and involvement in their child's learning.
North Shore parents said they do care about education, but it is difficult for them to find the time to get involved. Many parents said they work two jobs.
Other parents had bad experiences in school and feel uncomfortable in an educational setting, said Juana Mathis, PTA president for North Shore.
School officials said they are aware of this stigma, and are introducing positive reinforcement. Teachers plan to call parents when students do something well in class, like receive a perfect score on a quiz or exhibit good behavior.
Too often, parents hear from schools only when there is a problem, said Lynn Spencer, director of parent involvement for the school.
While the notes and calls should be helpful, there is no guarantee parents will respond, Mathis said. Instead, parents need to know what they can do to get involved.
"It is hard for us to ask questions," Mathis said. "We don't want to look silly or foolish in front of the people teaching our children. We need to learn how to do it right, but it is not always easy to ask."
To make it easier for parents to get involved, North Shore staff are holding monthly family night activities. The first, on Oct. 26, focused on reading.
About 50 family members learned how to help their child select the right books. They received tips on how to make reading fun. Parents and students also had the opportunity to create their own books and were told how they could re-create the exercise at home. …