Department of Education Targets Parents at Underperforming Schools for Personal Visits

Outreach workers from the New York City Department of Education are getting trained to go to the homes of families at the city's 94 lowest-performing schools, where so many parents have checked out of their children's education, according to officials, that PTAs have been disbanded and parent-teacher conferences deserted. 

Mayor de Blasio's administration has started a program where outreach volunteers with the Department of Education are personally approaching parents at their homes to encourage more involvement in school. Studies show even poor students with involved parents score higher and graduate more often, according to education officials. 

On Tuesday, dozens of parents were trained on the new door-knocking plan -- they're trying to recruit other parents in the underperforming schools to form PTAs and get involved. With the city's goal to reach 40,000 parents before school starts, one parent-volunteer named Louis has perfected what he called the friendly knock. 

"Hopefully, that'll bring them to the door," he said. 

One parent, Celine Morales, said she was initially shocked to find a worker from the education department at her door: "I was like, 'Uh, oh. Is she getting left back?"

But the visits aren't about the children -- they're about the parents. 

"When you see a succesful school, parents are a core component of that," the city's first lady and longtime public school parent Chirlane McCray told NBC 4 New York in an exclusive interview Tuesday. "I don't think you can underestimate the power that parents have to push teachers to do more with their kids." 

McCray, who assisted in the training, said some parents may not be taking more of an active role because they're working multiple jobs, or they feel alienated. 

"The message they've gotten from previous administrations has been, 'We do our job here' -- you know, 'Schools are gonna do their job, and you just stay out,'" she said. 

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to comment. 

But some parent groups said the de Blasio administration hasn't given parents real decision-making powers, either. 

"I think this is public relations," said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group for smaller classes in the city's public schools. "I think they would like parents involved as long as parents don't have any opinion different from theirs." 

During Tuesday's visits, parents at least seemed open to the idea of meeting to form PTAs or come to meetings at the school. One woman said she would "try," and Morales also said she would try and that "it all depends on my working hours." 

The city will be holding a daylong workshop Wednesday to continue training people on how to go and knock on the door of every parent at the 94 schools. 

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