Elgin Area School District U-46 is looking for its next group of Latino and especially black parent leaders.
The district has had more success in recruiting Latinos for its Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute than for the black equivalent. Last year, organizers received almost double the applicants as it could accept into the Hispanic group but only half for the African American Parent Leadership Institute.
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At an information session about the programs Tuesday night, only Latino parents showed up.
"The African-American community has just been so hard to reach out to," said Karla Guzmán, parent/community outreach coordinator.
The Hispanic institute started in 2010 with the African-American one following in 2011. Though the district's student population is about 7 percent black and half Latino, Superintendent José Torres didn't see that diversity reflected in districtwide roles like the Citizens Advisory Council and its various committees. Torres asked Guzmán and Karen Fox, former chief of family and community engagement, to start the leadership programs to train minority parents and get them involved.
Parents will meet one Saturday morning per month from October to May in the first year of the program, which focuses primarily on giving future leaders information about the district as well as basic leadership skills training.
The group meets every other month for the second and final year of the program, when parents are asked to do hands-on activities putting those leadership skills to work by solving real problems.
Tomás Figueroa, an Elgin dad of Highland Elementary students, recently completed his first year of the program. He spoke Tuesday, encouraging other parents to apply.
"Like most parents, I wanted to get more involved in my kids' education and find out who's making the decisions on what they're learning," Figueroa said. "All those questions were answered. I would recommend it to everybody."
Teresa Aguirre, another Elgin mom, said the institute has helped her find a voice in district-level conversations and give other parents a voice, too.
She serves on the PTO of Larsen Middle School.
Guzmán said the institutes are designed for parents who already are involved in their child's education but need encouragement and more information to take the next step.
Graduates from the institutes have gone on to lead Citizens Advisory Council committees, serve on the U-46 Instructional Council, and take leadership positions in their school's Parent Teacher Organizations; one even made a successful bid for the school board. Veronica Noland, an alumna of the first Hispanic Parent Leadership Institute, was elected in April.
Parents receive a $1,000 stipend for their participation to offset the time commitment of the program. Guzmán said the money set aside for up to 50 parent leaders per year is more effective than hiring an individual to do the outreach work.
Parents from Bartlett, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates and Elgin know their schools and communities better than a single staff member ever could, she said.
"It's too big of a district," Guzmán said. "Our coverage doing it this way is a lot more powerful than just hiring someone."
The ultimate goal of the program is to encourage so many parent leaders to get involved that the institutes are no longer necessary.
Information meetings are planned for July and August in room 240 of the U-46 Educational Services Center, 355 E. Chicago St., Elgin.
One will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. July 17, one from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7 and the last from 9 to 10 a.m. Aug. 28. Parents of black and Latino elementary and middle school aged children are invited to join, and applications are due by Aug. 30.