Move away from designated days for teacher conferences prompts pushback from some Shawnee Mission parents

Jay Senter - August 24, 2017 7:46 am

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The elimination of designated days for parent-teacher conferences at Shawnee Mission schools this year has caused confusion and pushback among some parents.

The board of education in January approved the district calendar for the 2017-18 school year, which got rid of two days that in years past had been set aside for conferences and replaced them with instruction days. Teachers would be required to schedule conferences with parents outside normal contract hours, and would earn two flex days to compensate for the after-hours work.

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At the time, district administrators said they had made the move as part of efforts to eliminate the frequent incomplete school weeks that vexed many families last year.

But the shift away from traditional parent-teacher conference scheduling caught many parents off guard when they heard about it at Back to School Night on Tuesday. Several parents left the meetings with their children’s teachers confused about whether parents or teachers had the responsibility to schedule the conferences and how they could be conducted.

In response, the district issued a message to parents Wednesday afternoon that couched the elimination of designated conference days as a way to provide “more opportunities to encourage on-going parent communication and conferencing”:

Consistent communication between parents and teachers is critical to the academic success of students. The Shawnee Mission School District is committed to open communication and dialogue with parents at all times.

For the 2017-2018 school year, we have incorporated more opportunities to encourage on-going parent communication and conferencing.

These adjustments have resulted in more uninterrupted weeks of school and two additional days where students are learning in the classroom. Not only do these changes allow us to address parent feedback regarding the calendar, they also provide: an increase in student instructional time, consistency in the school calendar, and flexibility for parent schedules.

This was developed in conversation with the National Education Association – Shawnee Mission (NEA-SM).

Instead of a designated parent-teacher conference day, teachers will have more flexibility to communicate with parents and to connect with them in a way that best serves everyone.

  • Conference times by appointment, with availability before and/or after school.
  • Conferences may take place through a variety of avenues including, but not limited to:
    • One-on-one, in person
    • Face Time
    • WebEx
    • Note: If all attempts to conference face-to-face have failed, teachers may conduct a phone conference with the parent(s).
  • Special education team collaboration meetings that are outside of annual IEP requirements.

By increasing the opportunities for communication and the flexibility to support continual feedback related to your child’s progress, we look forward to strengthening the connection and relationships between school and home.

Thank you for your continued support and partnership.

That statement appeared to raise additional concerns about whether the policy that allowed online conferencing would put families without financial resources at a disadvantage:

Erin Little, Shawnee Mission’s director of communications, said Thursday morning that the district had designated the nights of Oct. 19 and Feb. 1 for parent-teacher conferences this year and that Dr. Rick Atha will be proposing to amend the current district calendar at tonight’s board of education meeting to include designated conference times for parents of high school students Oct. 18 and Jan. 31.

“Again, there has been no decision to fully eliminate conference days,” she said. “The new changes have been added in an effort to help teachers build relationships with parents and create flexibly for constant communication in a way that best serves everyone.  The district began sharing this information last spring.  This was discussed at a Board of Education Meeting and Dr. Atha shared with SMAC in the spring as well.”

As for whether the move away from designated day-time conference hours is permanent, Little said the administration would be making the decision at a later date.

“The thought is that this will benefit our parents, and we will be working with parents and staff over the coming year on any adjustments for next year,” she said.

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