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Austin Schools Getting Flexible with Conferences

Posted at: 01/30/2013 6:50 PM
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- A year and a half ago, the Austin school district created its first year-round school.

Now, the district has broken with another tradition -- and it's thrown the lines-of-communication wide open.

"Typically we would do conferences Tuesday and Thursday nights from 4 to 8 o'clock," said Sumner elementary school second grade teacher Angie Jannsen.

It’s the way conferences have always been done. The problem is:

"We weren't having very good success doing the here's the scheduled day or two to have conferences in part due to teacher and family work schedules," said Sumner principal Sheila Berger.

So Austin's elementary schools are trying something new.

"This year we went to scheduling conferences whenever parents wanted them," teacher Angie Jannsen explained.

“The message to staff was you make it work when it works for families, but you make it work," principal Sheila Berger added.

"It made it really simple for us to fit it in our schedules," said Jill Thompson, whose son and daughter attend Sumner elementary school.

And in a community where many parents work second- and third-shift jobs:

"I think it would be very easy to find a time to make that meeting work for them," Sumner mom Jill Thompson told us.

"Our goal is one hundred percent attendance," said principal Sheila Berger.

It’s changed the conference schedule for second grade teacher Angie Jannsen. "I did two at 7:30 in the morning, I have one today at one o'clock."

They’re  parents who might not have gone to conferences if they were limited to Tuesday and Thursday nights.

"We know it's critical in establishing a good relationship with those families to ensure, again, academic success for students," principal Sheila Berger said.

"It's just better and easier to talk to a person than it is a computer," parent Jill Thompson told us.

"You never know if they're getting their e-mails or if they're getting the notes that are being sent home," added teacher Angie Jannsen.

"So sitting across from the person, a human being is helpful in knowing if it really is serious or if it's something you just need to keep an eye on," said Jill Thompson.

“I think it's just a nice way to build a relationship that says hey, I value what you do and we also value what the child does. I think that's really critical," Sumner principal Sheila Berger said.

The elementary school officials we talked to said attendance appeared to be up, though the weather has apparently kept some parents away.