Bring Back Parent Conversations to Open House

Get ready for a new kind of Open House experience, where having a quick conversation with your child’s teacher is discouraged, replaced with exhibits of student work.

Hopefully schools are getting this message out to parents in order to dampen their disappointment when they approach a teacher to discuss their child’s progress and are informed to make an appointment at another day and time.

Traditionally public schools have invited parents to two evening events: Back to School Night during the first half of the year, and Open House during the second half.   Since Back to School occurs about a month after the start of school, its purpose is to introduce parents to their children’s teachers and the curriculum.

At the secondary level, parents follow a bell schedule marching from one room to another for 10-minute sessions.   It is deliberately controlled, allowing little time for parents to ask questions.

That’s where the role of Open House comes in (or used to be).   With the majority of the school year past the midway point, and progress reports sent home, this is the perfect time for a check-in on how a child is doing so that modifications can be employed to improve performance.

For schools to deny parents that opportunity is unfortunate.

Of course, school officials will tell you that all a parent has to do is arrange for a private conference with a teacher.

While that would be feasible for an elementary school teacher with 35 students, how about the high school teacher with 175? Arranging private meetings of that size would be daunting.

That’s the beauty of the traditional Open House. I have found that most parents just want to say a quick “hi” and ask how their child is doing. No need for a 30-minute conversation.

I am able to meet dozens of parents efficiently and thereby eliminate many time-consuming conferences and emails, making the event productive for all.

When I asked administrators in both Glendale and Burbank about the shift towards student exhibits and demonstrations, they privately told me that it is in the best interest of the teachers to avoid ambushes by parents.

To prevent that, schools are rebranding Open House as a showcase of student work, more of a public relations event. The concept of “selling” a school is sound, but it should occur at another time. For example, the Block Party hosted by Keppel Elementary, Toll Middle, and Hoover High Schools on a Saturday afternoon in April serves that function.

Parents attending Open House are already invested in that institution—no sales ploy needed.

Here is what I propose. Take those two pupil-free days when students stay home and teachers attend meetings and put it to good use by scheduling conferences with parents arriving at appointed times to pick up their child’s report cards and chat with one of their child’s teachers.

Elementary schools already do this. They take a whole week of shortened days and meet with parents in the afternoon hours to discuss grades. Usually the meetings last 15 minutes.

Since secondary teachers have a much larger workload, the meetings would have to be shorter but could still be meaningful. And it would provide parents with a sense that their concerns were heard.

So, parents, please don’t blame the teachers if they are hesitant to say a few words about your child, for while it is still called Open House, conversations are closed.


Do You Know the Year Washington was Born?

Today is the 207th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. If you already knew that, congratulations, you are in a select minority who do.

See, while schools close for two days in February, the reason for these closures remain vague for most.   All it means is a three-day weekend.

If you are as old as I am, you remember schools used to have two holidays in February for the most revered U.S. Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 12, and George Washington, Feb. 22.

It used to make sense. Have a day off to recognize America’s first president and another for the man who held this country together through its only civil war.

What is curious is that schools that close for Lincoln’s birthday do so independently for there is no federal holiday for Honest Abe.

And while a day off in honor of George Washington has been a federal holiday since1885, it has been decades since it was celebrated on his actual birthday.

Signed into law by President Johnson in 1968 but not enacted until 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act mandated that Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day move to Mondays.

Why? To provide Americans additional three-day weekend opportunities to help the economies of the tourism and retail industries.

This meant that the real Armistice Day of Nov. 11 was pushed back to the fourth Monday in October. Due to the outcry of Veterans groups, the day was relocated to its proper month. In recent years, schools have attempted to observe it on the real day unless the 11th comes on a weekend.

Meanwhile, once Washington’s Birthday was altered, the holiday became mistakenly known as Presidents’ Day. The federal government still refers to the third Monday in February as Washington’ Birthday even though on nearly all calendars and advertisements “Presidents’ Day” is used.

I don’t know about you, but should we really honor every past president, even the 32-day tenure of William Henry Harrison?

Even more baffling is that the third Monday in February never falls on Feb. 22. In other words, the U.S. law guarantees that no one will know the year when the father of this country was born.

Look, few of us put forth an effort to recognize the holidays we are given days off from work. How many attend a Martin Luther King parade or visit a veterans cemetery on Memorial Day?

The one constant that unites us on all holidays is the freedom to do whatever we want to do. Stores no longer close on Thanksgiving or Christmas. People can now exercise their normal spending habits any day, go to a movie, eat a meal, buy some clothes.

And in having 24/7 access, we are depriving ourselves of slowing down a few days a year, and honoring people who have sacrificed for our privilege to eat a Big Mac and drink a zebra Frappuccino anytime we desire.

As long as we aren’t the ones flipping the burgers or stirring the drinks, working on holidays has no impact on our lives.

Even Daylight Savings Time was devised so that people would have more light to buy more stuff.   And by the way, how about renaming it Standard Time since we are on non-standard time 66% of the year, from March 12 to Nov. 7 in 2016.

President Obama should issue an executive order moving Washington’s Birthday to the fourth Monday of February; a week later would make no difference in retail sales.

Since Feb. 22 falls on five Mondays over the next 33 years, we can least get it right a few times.

Now, who wants to join me in starting the petition to make this happen? I’ll bring the cherry pie.