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D.204 looks to increase Hispanic, alumni outreach

New to Joliet Township High School District 204 this year is a Community and Alumni Relations Office.

The change is part of a district effort to revamp its outreach to Hispanic families and former students.

Increasing community engagement in School District 204 was one of many topics discussed recently during a Coffee and Community Conversation with superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy held at the Joliet Township High School Administrative Office.

Kristine Schlismann, director of community and alumni relations, spoke of the new office’s attempts to increase engagement, and said it’s all part of the district’s plan.

“Out of the strategic plan, our goals is to form focus groups of parents on how do they want to be communicated with, what does engagement look like to them, and is it going to Parent University?” she said. “But what is it? Is it coming to the church and truly engaging where parents are.”

Schlismann said her office’s outlook on community engagement is changing.

“I don’t think it can be one measure,” she said of outreach efforts. “Until we get focus groups and really talk to parents and find out what that means.”

The offices for Community Relations and Alumni were consolidated recently. In addition to that measure, part of the effort to revamp communications stems from the hiring of Isabel Gloria, a bilingual communications specialist for Joliet Township High School D.204.

Gloria said a lot of work has been occurring in the new consolidated office.

“We started sending out the phone calls in Spanish and translating different newsletters and things,” she said. “We’ve gotten the ball rolling.”

Gloria started working in July for the school district.

“(My job is) bridging that gap between Hispanic families and our disenfranchised families, making them feel welcomed, how can we better engage them, how can we communicate in ways that they want to be communicated with,” she said. “We’re even looking at how we collect that information at registration.”

Gloria added that it’s really going to start with those focus groups and figuring out what community engagement means.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy said because of the strategic plan, a lot of what’s been developing recently to increase community engagement is coming to life.

McCarthy noted that previous attempts to reach out to the community haven’t always performed well, and said that’s where the consolidation of the two offices is hoped to help.

“It depends on what it is that they we’re having or posting,” she said. “One thing that I would love to see more parent participation is because it has great topics is Parent University. Both Campuses have Parent University that has some very timely information that’s important not only for students but parents.”

Parent University is a program that offers a number of mini workshops on topics, including financial aid, Internet safety and how to apply for college.

McCarthy said that’s one district offering that she’d like to see given more time, if better communicated to the public.

As part of the effort, Gloria noted that she’s been meeting with the Alianza, or the Spanish chapter of the Joliet Chamber, in addition to the Spanish Community Center to talk about what has worked in the past and how partnering can be improved.

McCarthy said the movement to revamp school communications with increased attention to Hispanics and alumni all comes down to knowing what is community engagement.

“It’s not about pushing out information and we push out a lot of information,” she said. “It’s about working together and engaging. We want to empower our students but we want to empower our families as well.”

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