TAMPA - Lestine Page and Monica Battle were in a public library on Saturday when they stumbled upon an interesting meeting.
The Hillsborough County school district was looking for parent liaisons for 16 schools. It’s a full-time job, they were told. A chance to close the gap between a school system that can appear imposing and bureaucratic, and families in the area’s neediest neighborhoods.
“You’re that bridge,” district administrator Angela Fullwood told the small group.
Page and Battle liked what Fullwood had to say - about the lack of trust that sometimes exists in disenfranchised communities, and that a child’s first teacher is his parent.
What they didn’t like was the starting pay of $10.69 an hour. “It’s a great opportunity if you’re not someone who’s overwhelmed with bills,” Battle said.
Schools that get federal anti-poverty money already have parent liaison responsibilities. But that’s typically part of the person’s job, performed for a stipend.
The addition of the 16 full-time jobs came at the request of leaders of the NAACP, who serve on an advisory committee for the district’s Achievement Schools initiative. Achievement seeks to improve results at 50 long-struggling schools.
Despite the modest pay - which does include full fringe benefits - the district is asking a lot from its new hires. The liaison must have at least a high school diploma or GED, and a year of experience in education, child care or a related field.
Strong preference will be given to people who live near the schools. “We really want somebody who specifically knows what is going in in your community,” said Fullwood, the district’s supervisor of Title I Parent and Family Engagement. “You probably have a relationship with people in the community. Really, it’s all about relationships. It’s all about trust.”
Liaisons must be articulate and compassionate, discreet and tolerant of culturally diverse populations. In communities that are predominantly Spanish-speaking, they should be bilingual.
They will recruit parents to serve on school committees. They will help parents and students gain access to resources. “It’s teaching parents how to advocate for their children, knowing their rights for their children,” Fullwood said. They will interact with religious organizations and charities. They will help parents navigate the district bureaucracy when it comes to sports and tutoring programs.
The recruitment sessions run through July 23, with district staff on hand to help candidates get started with their on-line applications.
Fullwood was not discouraged by the low turnout on Saturday. She said she is confident that suitable candidates exist - people who already volunteer at the schools, or who are retired recently and not bothered by the low pay.
She finished the day in north Tampa with a promising interview with Denese James, who fit that description almost perfectly: James is retired, but active in volunteer projects that include East Tampa’s annual tree lighting celebration.
A larger group turned out for Sunday’s session at the Allen Temple AME Church in Tampa.
More recruitment events are planned at these times and locations:
Thur., July 18: Sanchez Full Service Center, 2100 E 26th Ave., 10:30 a.m. to noon and 2:30 to 4 p.m.
Fri., July 19: 78th Street Community Library, 7625 Palm River Rd., 10:30 p.m. to noon.
Fri., July 19: C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library, 2607 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Sat., July 20: North Boulevard Branch Library, 8916 North Boulevard, 10:30 a.m. to noon, 1:30 to 3 p.m.
Tue., July 23: Springs Resource Center, 8412 N 12th St., 10 to 11:30 a.m.
The district as of Saturday was looking for help at Folsom, Kimbell, Palm River, Bryan, Forest Hills, McDonald, Shaw, Dover, Gibsonton, Mort, Foster and Oak Park Elementary, Greco Middle and Sulphur Springs K-8.
Training begins on Aug. 5.