This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Juanita Dennard, 73, the parent ombudsman at Martin Luther King High School, remembers the first time she saw the Notebook. “I was down at 440 [School District headquarters] and I glanced through it and found it really interesting.
“I just remember that it was a unique paper, giving you the inside story about the schools … because you don’t get that in regular newspapers,” Dennard said.
Dennard has been reading the Notebook for more than five years and earlier this year became a card-carrying member. “I wanted to be a part of it because I enjoy reading it.”
She first came to King in 2004 as a parent volunteer with the Home and School Association. Her grandson Antonio – now a sophomore at Johnson and Wales University – was attending King, and Dennard said the only way to stay on top of what was happening was to get involved.
She volunteered for four years and was later elected president of King’s Home and School Association. In 2008, she became a parent ombudsman, helping parents stay connected and students stay on track academically.
One of the things Dennard likes most about her Notebook membership, she said, is having the publication mailed right to her door. “I don’t have to wait for the school copy.”
Other benefits of her $60 associate membership include receiving a subscription to the Notebook’s email newsletter, unlimited access to all Notebook online content, including a member directory, and discounts with Notebook partner organizations and to the Notebook’s annual June celebration.
Devoted to the job of reaching parents at King, Dennard has learned to be creative. At first she sent a letter to parents notifying them that she is available from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight. And she reached out whenever there were issues such as attendance or school and community affairs. But when she called parents, most were unresponsive.
“I found out quickly that when I was using the school phone to try and reach parents I wouldn’t get any answers. Ninety-nine percent of people have caller ID, so if they see the School District calling, they are not picking up,” she said.
“So, I began to use my cell phone, and now I receive callbacks from 90 percent of the parents I call,” said Dennard.
In addition to checking on their children’s progress, parents also come to her for the latest news about what’s going on in the District. For all that, the grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of one, points them directly to the Notebook.
“When [the District] was having the roundtables about the Renaissance Schools, the Notebook came out and helped to explain it more. People that couldn’t actually get to the roundtable could see the articles [online]. I told them to read that because I knew that would show them better than I could tell them,” she said.
Dennard pointed out that she would like to see one section added: “A crossword puzzle – that’s about all, because everything else is beautifully covered.”
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