By ALLISON DAVIS
Parents lined up outside of Room 201, awaiting the news with the gravity of a patient awaiting a medical diagnosis.
As they exited after receiving updates on their child’s grades, attendance and behavior after the first few weeks at John O’Connell High, it was clear that the results were mixed.
Some, with silent children in tow, kept their eyes downcast, others smiled and patted their children on the back, while most threw empathetic glances to those still waiting in line.
Earlier, the 150 or so parents who attended the back to school night, heard Dr. Janet Schulze, the principal, speak of the school’s goal to have all 716 students go beyond the requirements needed to graduate or get into college.
But inside the classroom where parents were meeting with teachers, many were finding that their children were not making school a top priority.
While her daughter Edith punched buttons on a slim cell phone, one mother talked to David Smith, the American Democracy teacher.
Edith, Smith said, had been absent for the past week.
“Why didn’t I know about this?” Edith’s mother asked Edith. The daughter shrugged, hardly glancing up.
After short talk about required classwork, the duo left the classroom.
“Call me or e-mail me, or feel free to drop by,” said Smith, a teacher for four years—two of them at John O’Connell–as they departed. It became a catchphrase he recited to all parents who visited his room that night.
As the night progressed, Smith spoke to 20 families. He teaches about 155 students.
“A lot of parents feel that it is the school’s responsibility,” Smith said in reference to poor attendance records and a lack of parent involvement.
Smith said that his expectations are low.
“This is not really an academic school, “ he said.
Of the school’s 144 enrolled seniors in 2007, 81 percent completed graduation requirements and 23 percent, or 31 students, graduated with California State University and University of California entrance requirements, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.
If many might agree that their children were less than scholarly, parents at back to school night at least wanted their children in school.
Like Edith’s mother, Margarita Berez said she was surprised to learn of her son’s multiple absences and wondered why she was finding out only now. As she went from the teacher to teacher, she was greeted with the same remark: “Your son is great in class, when he comes to class.”
“He’s always with his girlfriend,” Berez said of her son’s absences. “I get home from work at 7 pm and he is gone. I’m always alone”
She was surprised when she first heard from Hollie Mack, her son’s English teacher, that he had been skipping class. As she entered Smith’s room, the grimace on her face said she expected more bad news.
She got it: her son was tardy, sometimes absent and he was talking of transferring schools, said Smith.
Smith explained later the school uses a block schedule in which classes meet every other day. This means that Berez’ son had not yet missed enough classes to warrant a phone call home. Berez had no knowledge of her son’s poor attendance.
“I like your son, but he’s making stupid decisions,” Smith told her.
Later, Berez said she tended to agree. “His life is not that hard,” she said. “I’m not an alcoholic mother, I don’t have seven kids. He has an absent father, but I’m here. I try to fill the void.”
“I guess lately, it’s not enough.”
After meeting with her son’s teachers, Berez stressed that she tells her son to just finish school.
“Nobody likes school unless they’re from another planet,” she said. “I tell him whatever he does, he has to finish.”
Smith reiterated that sentiment, often telling students that only six or so months remained. All they had to do was show up.
Meanwhile, Schulze reminded parents that their children should be doing two hours of homework a night.
“If they say they don’t have any, they are lying,” she said.
“I’ve never seen my son do homework,” Berez said. Smith said earlier that few do. “If you’re looking for students to turn in homework every week, you’re just not going to find it,” he said. “But the kids are nice.”
Mack, who teaches Senior English, agrees. She rarely gives homework, instead preferring to give assignments that must be completed within the class period.
Earlier, Schulze also insisted that parents should be involved in the process. “You are always welcome to come check on your child’s progress,” she urged the group of parents.
Berez agreed that the school makes it easy to be involved, but she only comes on opening nights or when the school calls.
“The first couple of years, I never heard from the school, but I’ve been hearing more,” she said.
“I don’t know what to do. I need to talk to him, I need to push him,” Berez said as she left Smith’s classroom.”