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Morris parent panel looking for volunteers to let voices be heard

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Marji Hunnewell has continued to stay dedicated to the students of Morris Community High School even though her children graduated years ago.

Hunnewell has been a member of the District 101 Parent School Improvement Panel for three years and has been its leader for the past two-and-a-half years.

She joined the panel just before her last child graduated from the school.

“It was a matter of interest on what the state was requiring of the school and whether it was reasonable, and if we could put a system in place that was sustainable,” Hunnewell said, who is a school psychologist, but not for Morris.

But now it is time for someone else to take the lead, Hunnewell said.

The school is asking for volunteers wiling to join the panel as committee members who will meet four times during the school year to discuss topics as they relate to what parents and students think and need, Principal Kelly Hussey said.

In the past the school has had four consistent members to the panel, including Hussey. He would like to increase the amount of active members and as principal become more of a resource for the committee than a member.

“The goal is 10 to 20 people who are interested in coming to four meetings and having a voice,” he said.

For years the district had been discussing trying to involve parents more. In 2010,Hussey initiated organizing a parent group. It ultimately became a part of the state’s Rising Star program.

Rising Star is a program giving participating schools the opportunity to use research-based evidence for improvement on leadership skills to instruction in the classroom. The program is a school improvement plan based on education research of what successful schools nationwide are doing or have done.

“About four years ago we initiated the process to develop a parent group that could give us another perspective in overall process,” Hussey said.

The goal was to bring parents’ voices to the table and then hear and act upon what parents see, feel and experience concerning what the school does for their children.

Hunnewell stepped up to lead this process.

“She’s organized agendas for every meeting, facilitated and led all those meetings and taken the group through an intensive process and discussion to get to the point where the values from this group were implemented to the high school to add to some of our practices and help us in our overall school improvement efforts,” Hussey said.

“That type of volunteerism is not often seen,” he continued. “And I believe she gave it as much as it gave her back.”

In 2011, the panel developed a mission statement: “To reopen meaningful dialog and action between parents and school in order to collaborate as helpful participants in the education of our children.”

The panel helped initiate a homework policy and philosophy as well as caused the creation of a quarterly newsletter through a collaborative effort between the school’s administration and department chairs.

The panel’s more visible work include the redesign of the school website and their additions to the new freshman orientation night.

Rather than just a dance for the students and an hour meeting for the parents with guidance office members, the night now consists of a lesson to parents on how to navigate the website and PowerSchool system; student led tours of the campus, and a brief presentation from guidance counselors on “what a parent can expect in the next four years.”

“This is a good example of the parent perspective that helped us to build and make it better,” Hussey said.

The evening ends with time for parents and students to socialize with staff and learn about school clubs and activities. The interaction at the end of the evening is key, Hunnewell said.

“Once a child feels connected to a group it helps them to be connected to school,” she said.

The parents’ connection to their child’s school is just as important, she said. The school cannot address concerns if they don’t know what they are.

“The school doesn’t know what needs to be changed unless we tell them and we have that voice with the panel,” said Hunnewell.

The first meeting of the Parent School Improvement Panel is set for Oct. 2. For more information or to volunteer for the committee call the school at 815-942-1294.

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