La Joya school district roundtables widen public’s input

LA JOYA — About 40 mothers filled a roundtable setting at the La Joya school district board room Tuesday morning for a meeting focused on safety, transportation and breast cancer awareness.

The meeting was part of a series of monthly roundtables intended to inform parent volunteers and listen to their suggestions, and this time it was the mothers who raised concerns and shared success stories.

“I started coming last year,” said Elma Suarez, who has three students in the district and has attended the meetings for a few years. “A lot of the topics that (I heard about) last year are now working so well.”

Superintendent Alda Benavides began Tuesday’s presentation with a brief welcome and then yielded the microphone to other district officials, including Police Chief Raul Gonzalez and Assistant Director of Transportation Joe Alanis.

The district holds similar roundtables with the High School Teacher Forum and the High School Advisory group, which is composed of four students from each high school.

And in light of requests for a heavier focus on safety and security, the superintendent said she added a new meeting with representatives from all three groups across the district.

The new mixed-group roundtable is called the Safe Schools Advisory Board and will hold a few monthly introductory meetings, one in October and another in November.

They will later transition to a quarterly schedule.

“Just like you give suggestions here, they also provide me with suggestions, and I take them to the board during our meetings,” Benavidez told the mothers. “I get ideas from the students on what they see as what is working for them at their schools, not working and what needs improvement.”

Gonzalez briefed the parents about informational programs available to them and some of the efforts to increase security within the campuses. One of those efforts, to add more video surveillance to elementary schools, was recently approved by the board. This idea stemmed from one of the meetings with parents.

“This group suggested adding more cameras to elementary schools and we are already working on that,” Benavides told the parents in Spanish. “And we are also working on updating the entire system at Juarez-Lincoln, because its 10-years-old and the cameras are not updated. So at Juarez-Lincoln the new system was approved last Wednesday.”

Campus representatives for these groups are generally selected by principals and it’s up to them to participate. The groups are selected every year and Benavidez said she encourages principals to reach out to new participants every year to get new perspectives and ideas.

“I like for them to know what we are doing, what we are studying and what we are trying to perfect,” Benavides said. “We give them the opportunity to share their ideas and sometimes it might even be a better idea than ours.”

Some of the parents remain involved over the years, as is the case with Rocio Olivarez and Julia Saenz, who were present at the roundtable Tuesday morning. Olivarez has been involved as a parent volunteer for 12 years, she said, while Saenz said she’s been involved for 18 years.

What keeps them coming to the meetings, they both said, is the ability to get information from administrators firsthand, having input and being able to spread the word back to parents in their campuses who might not have the chance to be involved.

“Sometimes the topics covered might be the same, but there are updates on new developments,” Saenz said in Spanish.

Olivarez pulled out a thick agenda full of notes, dates and information given at several meetings that she uses to share with other parents to get them up-to-date. They also use it, they said, to encourage parents to get involved in these meetings and other district functions, such as school board meetings.

“The information we take from here, we take back to our campus principals and other parents,” she said. “Our part as parents coming to the roundtable (is) we are supposed to involve one or two parents every year.”

Whenever there’s an incident with the district, Olivarez said the first thing they hear from some parents is complaints about nothing changing, but she said many don’t know if there are changes or not.

“They don’t know that there are protocols that need to be followed, there are rules that need to be followed,” Olivarez said. “But those of us that come, we know what things are being done.”

Saenz said she is happy to see the emphasis on safety and security. Having to show an identification to enter a campus, which the district implemented in 2006, or running identification cards via a system called Raptor to flag sex-offenders or unsafe visitors, along with recent conversations to add more cameras to campuses, has given her peace of mind.

Benavides said she hopes the new Safe Schools Advisory group helps spread the information to more stakeholders who might not be involved in the other groups, as well as getting more ideas flowing up the pipeline.

“There have been several suggestions that have been born out of these groups,” she said. “It’s about working together to make things better for our district.”