Hoping to improve transparency, shore up communication and invest in more resources, the Summit School District has launched a new advisory committee consisting of Spanish-speaking parents.
The group, dubbed Consejo De Familias Hispanas, which translates to Council of Hispanic Families, held its inaugural meeting Feb. 9 at the district’s Professional Development Building in Frisco with plans for monthly meet ups moving forward.
For Superintendent Tony Byrd, it represents a new opportunity to elevate voices and build connections with a community whose children represent roughly 40% of the district’s student body.
“I find that it is more complicated for people who have English as a second language to get access to people who make decisions,” Byrd said. “In this case, me.”
For about two hours, Byrd and 15 parents conversed in Spanish about ways the district can better support Hispanic families and students, a meeting he said was “very collaborative, very honest.” Among the top concerns from parents was a need to increase academic performances in reading and math for Spanish-speaking students.
The findings of a three-part Summit Daily News series last fall showed a discrepancy in test scores between students fluent in English and those learning the language. Beyond that, district staff detailed a learning environment for Spanish students that is, at times, exclusionary. And some students reported hearing racist remarks from other students that contributes to a general feeling of division between Hispanic students and their white peers.
Byrd said along with asking for more academic resources, parents also discussed the need for more equity and transparency between them and the district.
“We’re not performing well enough and supporting our Hispanic community,” Byrd said. “I made a commitment to them to make sure that we would get more resources and support, particularly in reading and math.”
Yolot Arellano-Rosales, a district parent of three students, two in elementary and one in high school, called the advisory committee “a way to make the voice of our children heard,” in an email response to the Summit Daily that was translated using an interpreter.
Arellano-Rosales was one of the 15 parents who participated in last week’s meeting, which was open to the public but specifically created for Hispanic families. Arellano-Rosales said she wants the district to address the “very low” reading and writing levels for Spanish students along with efforts for communication, equity and equality.
She championed the district’s commitment to better serving her community through the creation of the committee and said that, despite the challenges ahead, her experience overall with the district has been positive.
“We know that we have many needs in the schools,” Arellano-Rosales said, adding the district should “make use of the resources and funds” it has to ensure decisions made are “for our children.”
Byrd said the district has already begun to make inroads on some of these issues such as through ordering more academic materials, increasing intervention time for school principals to use on Hispanic students’ needs and beginning to host dinners with parents at various schools to discuss ongoing problems and solutions. The first of those dinners was held on Dec. 3 at Upper Blue Elementary School in Breckenridge during which the launch of the advisory committee was announced.
Byrd, who speaks Spanish and began his career as a teacher in Los Angeles, said equity and outreach has been a pillar of his time in education and that he is committed to doing the same for the Summit community.
“Any time that we can get the voice of the Hispanic community speaking up is super important,” Byrd said, adding he expects the district will use its upcoming budget to secure new reading and math materials in a bid to close existing achievement gaps.
And throughout the coming months, Byrd and others hope to also grow the advisory committee.
Milena Quiros, an elementary and middle school parent who also serves as co-chair of the district’s accountability committee, said the district is using a network of channels, from schools to social media, to spread the word to parents who may be interested in becoming involved.
While 15 members is a good start, Quiros wants to see more parents join the committee to ensure their voices are being heard.
“I really see Dr. Byrd is putting a lot of time into this, and he wants to see results,” Quiros said. “I’m optimistic as a parent and as a member of the community, and I hope that Hispanic families take advantage of this new opportunity.”
The next meeting, which is open to the public, will be held from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7, at the Professional Development Building located at 152 School Road, Frisco.