Disputed Election Divides Hartford Parent Organization Council
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
August 02, 2012
HARTFORD — Who is leading the Hartford Parent Organization Council? After a disputed election, it's a question not even school officials can answer.
Ivette Diana, the mother of an incoming first-grader at Parkville Community School, issued a press release Monday introducing herself as president of the group that represents the city's parent-teacher organization leaders.
Diana also listed four other new members of the council's executive board — all elected to two-year terms at a June 27 special meeting, she said — and thanked "the previous executive team for their work."
Several hours later, the "previous" leaders sent out a press release in which they refused to recognize the election results and said they are still in charge.
The showdown comes at a time when the school system seeks to unify parents behind the education of their children. Only a few months ago, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy met with HPOC members to outline his education reform plan, which the parent group publicly supported.
Shonta Browdy, who has served as vice president over the past year, said she wants another election to be held in September. Although Browdy and other executive board members are not seeking re-election — and their terms were set to expire this past June, according to the council's bylaws — "we have an obligation to have a fair process," she said.
Among their arguments is that Diana did not have permission to call the June 27 meeting, which came after HPOC's initial attempt to hold elections drew dismal attendance for a district with 48 schools: less than a handful of PTO presidents showed up, not enough for a quorum.
Bylaws state that "a majority of the members" can call for a special meeting, however. And because of historically low attendance, only eight members constitute a majority of the council's voting body under the bylaws.
Diana said "eight or nine" members supported the meeting date and were there to vote. She also sent a notice of the scheduled meeting to the president at the time, Shay Teal, and another executive member; Browdy countered that the bylaws call for the council's secretary to be notified.
As recently as last week, Teal introduced herself as the HPOC president during a meeting of Milner Core Knowledge Academy's turnaround committee. Teal is one of two parent representatives on the seven-member committee charged with developing a plan for Milner's inclusion in the $7.5 million state Commissioner's Network.
Teal did not return requests for comment this week.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said she is trying to stay out of the fray.
"There's a lot of questions and confusion about it right now," Kishimoto said Wednesday.
"I want the parents to be a strong leadership group," Kishimoto said. "I turn to them constantly for their input and they serve on committees, so for me it's important to have that structure in place."
In the next year, Kishimoto said the school system will push for more family involvement, such as offering advocacy training for parents across Hartford.
Seeking to lead such training are Teal, Browdy and others who recently formed P.U.R.P.O.S.E. (Parents Uniting Resources to Promote Outstanding Student Education) — a group that appears to be in direct competition with Parent University, a nonprofit founded by former HPOC President Milly Arciniegas, who supports Diana's team.
"We're disappointed that there's a division of parents at a crucial time of the reform when parents need to stick together," Browdy said.
"We went by the book," Diana said with frustration. "That's why the parents don't want to come to meetings, because of stuff like this. My one goal is to empower parents for their kids' future. That's it."
Eddie Genao, the school system's new assistant superintendent of early literacy and parent engagement, said he can facilitate any meetings between the two sides but it is the parents' responsibility "to solve whatever differences they have."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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