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The power of parental involvement

Editor's Note: Tiffany Clark (pictured above), the parent of a student in Duval County Public Schools, shares a story of how parents can make a difference for kids when they share their concerns with the right decision-makers. Tiffany is a participant in Parents Who Lead, a partnership between JPEF, Duval County Public Schools and the Jacksonville Public Library.

Schools cannot get successful parental involvement without active parental engagement. I humbly rest my passion and purpose on this platform. I recently had the opportunity to see how parental engagement and parental involvement, if done correctly, can yield tangible proof that it really does work – and makes a big difference for kids.

On October 8, I attended the School Advisory Council (SAC) meeting at First Coast High School, where my son attends. We discussed the School Improvement Plan, voted on officers and discussed our concerns in the area of safety. Safety was our group’s number one concern. There were several issues that stood out, not just gun violence but also the unsafe traffic conditions in the morning on Duval Station Road.

Every parent, including our principal, Mr. Simmons, agreed that the driving conditions for students, parents, bus drivers and the residents on Duval Station Road were unsafe, and that something needed to be done before one of our children was struck by a car or bus. Jacksonville is one of the most dangerous cities in the country for pedestrians.

The traffic problem is a perfect storm of several issues. First Coast High School is a “hub” for magnet schools, so there are several buses entering and leaving the school. Some parents interfere with the flow of traffic by dropping their students off on the street. The School Resource Officer has to pull out into the middle of Duval Station Road to stop ongoing traffic to allow students to cross the street.

It is not a safe environment. So I asked a very simple question in our SAC meeting: “Who do we need to talk to about fixing the traffic situation?”

On October 11, I contacted the office of City Council Member Reginald Gaffney to explain the situation. His assistant advised me that Councilman Gaffney was hosting a community meeting at Highlands Branch Library and that I should share my concerns there. So that is exactly what I did!

When it was my turn to speak, I asked Councilman Gaffney if he could visit the neighborhood himself to assess the traffic problem. When I sat back down, the gentleman next to me introduced himself. I had no idea I was sitting next to Christopher LeDew, Traffic Engineering Chief for the Public Works Department of the City of Jacksonville. He handed me his card and told me to email him the details.

On October 16, I led a safety walk with Councilman Gaffney's assistant, Principal Timothy Simmons and Christopher LeDew. We conducted a very thorough assessment of Duval Station Road from 6:55-7:10 am, when school starts. We intently watched children, parents, bus drivers and the School Resource Officer battle to cross the street, get out of cars and enter the school grounds. It did not take Mr. LeDew long to come to the light! He said that something needed to be done and that he agreed to initiate the process to make Duval Station Road safer. A big win for our students, parents, bus drivers and residents!

I was shocked and excited that I had actually captured the attention of our city leaders and was so impressed by my school’s principal cooperation. I was surprised it was so easy to rally the troops, so to speak. And I was really encouraged that they responded to me so quickly and openly. 

Parents are not always patient when it comes to health and safety of our children. We demand immediate attention and swift solutions. Unfortunately, we are often disappointed because there is a process that we are not always made privy to. It is simple. Voice your concerns, grab the attention of the decision makers and wait…and then repeat. You will not be ignored and you will see results.

I am not unique and I do not need any special recognition…I am a parent. Period. You cannot get successful parental involvement without active parental engagement. It really does work if done correctly.

Tiffany Clark is the parent of a student at First Coast High School and a participant in the Parents Who Lead program, a partnership between JPEF, Duval County Public Schools and the Jacksonville Public Library.