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Parents head back to school for Bayside forum

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For three hours last week hundreds of School District 26 parents went back to class for the top-performing district’s first major parents forum at MS 74 in Bayside.

Organized by the school board, the forum was open to all those with children in the northeast Queens school district, but board members placed a special emphasis on drawing in immigrant parents.

As parents crowded into each of nine seminars offered during last Thursday’s forum, school board members and district staff said they were thrilled with the turnout of some 300 parents.

Board member Ruth Lee, who along with members Incha Kim and Yen Shia Chou did the early planning for the event, said “everything is perfect.”

Lee said a number of community groups pitched in to support the forum with donations and food, including Korean churches and restaurants. As a result of budget cuts, all those who presided over the seminars or worked as translators did so on a volunteer basis. Each seminar was repeated three times to give parents the chance to attend all of them.

School District 26 has been the highest-performing district in the city for years. It includes schools in Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Oakland Gardens, Glen Oaks, Auburndale, Hollis Hills, and parts of Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Floral Park and Bellerose.

Superintendent Claire McIntee credited the work of the school board with making the forum a success.

“This will inform parents, and informed parents will feel better about going into schools,” she said. “I commend the school board for really working hard to get them out.”

Chou agreed.

“We can use this time to let the parents know they have to come and get involved,” she said.

McIntee also said the district and school board were seeking feedback from parents about how to make the next forum — tentatively slated for September 2002 — even better.

“This is going to be the first of many” forums, McIntee said.

In its efforts to attract immigrant parents, School Board 26 planned to provide translations of forum materials and translators in several languages, including Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Hindi, Punjabi, and Malayalam, a language spoken in southern India.

One woman who provided translations for Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu speakers said future forums should be held in different parts of the district to ensure outreach to all ethnic communities.

“A lot of parents would have come if it were more toward Bellerose and Floral Park,” said teacher Jugraj Kaur of the district’s South Asian community.

With topics such as preparing for the state’s standardized exams, negotiating the high school entrance process and safety in schools, Kim said the forum was also a chance for parents with children in lower grades to “have a big picture for what their kids might need in the future.”

Mercedes Iocco, whose son Christopher is a seventh-grader at MS 67, in Little Neck, agreed.

“I’m doing this a year earlier,” Iocco said after leaving the high school entrance seminar. “I plan to do it again next year.”

One Fresh Meadows parent, Joseph Akpoforayen, whose daughter attends MS 158 in Bayside, praised the forum after leaving Deputy Superintendent Anita Saunders seminar on the district’s special programs.

“This is enlightening, especially for those who are not exposed to the programs being offered,” he said. “We appreciate it.”

During her second seminar, Saunders returned the sentiment to the parents in the room.

“That’s why this district does so well, because of parents like you,” she said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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