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Parents gain school advocates with ombudsman expansion

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Expansion of the District’s parent ombudsman program is a priority of Phase One of the District’s strategic plan, with 49 new ombudsmen slated to be hired for 2009-10.

Currently, there are 127 of the parent “ambassadors,” who give parents and guardians access to information and resources regarding their child’s school, and serve as a liaison between the parent community and District personnel. The District also maintains 10 regional ombudsmen that provide support for those schools that don’t have these parent advocates. But by 2014 the District’s plan calls for a parent ombudsman in every school, as well as the regional posts.

“A lot of parents in schools that didn’t have an ombudsman wanted to have one,” said Karren Dunkley, deputy chief of Parent, Family, Community, and Faith-based Partnerships. “Even principals who didn’t have it in their budget were trying to see how they could purchase an ombudsman,” she said.

The expansion will cost $4 million. It will include a case management model where ombudsmen will meet with members of their school’s leadership team to foster team-building and promote diversity.

The parent ombudsman program was launched last fall after Superintendent Arlene Ackerman gathered feedback from many concerned parents about the treatment they were receiving.

“Our schools were just not welcoming to parents as they should have been, so it was the superintendent’s feeling that she needed to create a position that was really focused on navigating the system for parents,” Dunkley said.

So far, feedback has generally been positive, Dunkley said. Christina Williams, a parent ombudsman at Shaw Middle School, said “my experience has been that the parents have shared things with me that they primarily wouldn’t share with personnel in the school, so it’s a very essential mechanism to make our schools family- and parent-friendly.”