LAUSD board member Monica Ratliff (second row, middle) at a recent visit to Haddon Avenue Elementary School in Pacoima.

Every parent, child, and teacher begins each school year with a great deal of hope – hope that this school year will be a great year.  Even if children do not say it, they hope that they will get along with their peers, their teachers, and that they will feel comfortable and secure in the classroom and school.  Parents often hope that their child will do well in school, get good grades, have good friends, and learn a lot to help their future achievement.  Teachers often want many of those same things.  We want our students to get along with each other, us, and others on the campus to learn in a classroom and school where they feel safe and comfortable, and we want that learning to lay the groundwork for future learning and achievement. Teachers have already been attending Professional Developments to plan for the beginning of the school year and prepare for the rest of the school year ahead.  What can you, as a parent or guardian, do to help your child succeed?

Please visit the school.  If your child is starting a new school, visit the school before the first day and help your child get comfortable with the lay out of the school.   Remember that middle school students and high school students attending new schools also benefit from a casual visit before the first day of school.  

Please get to know the teacher.  Usually, parents are very good at meeting and keeping in contact with their children’s teachers when their children are in the lower grades – especially TK and Kinder. But there are huge benefits to continuing to meet the teacher and, personally, giving them your contact information – regardless of your child’s age.  Let the teacher know that you are always interested in knowing about the well being of your child and are always available to help them. Some teachers tend to only contact parents when a child is already in an unfortunate academic or social situation but it’s helpful to know earlier when you can most effectively and efficiently deal with the issue.

Please give the teacher your contact information personally and keep your emergency information updated. While teachers can look up emergency information and contact numbers, as a teacher, I always greatly appreciate when a parent gives me their best contact information and lets me know if they prefer an email, a cell phone call, or a text.

Please attend back-to-school night, open house, and meetings – even with your older children. Back-to-school night is an important event in the year as it allows teachers to share and explain their class expectations and plans for student achievement.  Parents of young children often attend back-to-school nights but parents of older children often do not.  Middle school and high school teachers may sit in empty classrooms well-prepared for parents who never come.  Your child, regardless of age, benefits from your visiting the school.  If the teacher lets you know that they have a website or web page, check it regularly.  Some teachers will post the homework or special projects on their web page so parents and students know exactly what and when something is due.  

Please help your child, even your older children, be organized. Often the school year begins with a great deal of fanfare as school clothes and supplies are gathered and organized.  Whether it’s a folder with pockets or a binder with pockets, your child should have something that they can use to transport their homework back and forth between school and home. Make sure your child has a plan and follows through for writing down the homework.  For the younger children, look in their backpack with them regularly and teach them to keep it organized.  Some students keep graded work in their backpack and outdated notices because they do not know where to put these papers or what to do with them.  Make sure your child knows where they can do their homework and keep their supplies. Some families have all their children do their homework at the kitchen or dining room table, other children work at a desk or do the homework during an after school program or in the library. Wherever your child can concentrate and work successfully is a good location.  But, please, take a look at the homework regularly.  The homework does not have to be perfect but sometimes a child is given so much freedom in terms of choosing when and where they do their homework that they just stop doing it or only do it sporadically.

Finally, your K-12 child is never too old and it is never too late for you to take an active interest in their academic and social success at school.  Parents often think that when their child is in middle school they don’t need to go to the school anymore or check the student’s homework.  Middle school is a crucial time period where some students who were very good students in elementary school begin to lose their way.  When parents take a hands off approach, it’s often late in the game when the crisis comes to a head.  Middle school study habits and skills set the foundation for high school success. High school is another time when students can have difficulty but look like they have everything under control. Regardless of your child’s age, you are your child’s best guardian.  Your child has to be the one to do the learning but there are many things you can do to ensure that there are guardrails and systems in place to help them be the best learner that they can be.  

Best wishes for the 2016-1017 school year!

Mónica Ratliff is a resident of Sunland and has taught TK, Kinder, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and high school. She is a school board member of L.A. Unified’s Board of Education and a teacher in the La Cañada Unified School District. If you have an issue or suggestion regarding an L.A. Unified school, please email her office at