Got a problem with your child's school and can't seem to work it out with the teacher or principal? Having trouble navigating the various rules and regulations around public education?
Check in with Adie Simmons. She heads up the Office of the Education Ombudsman, the nation's first state-level ombudsman focused on K-12 public education. Its motto: "We listen. We inform. We help solve problems."
Established by the Legislature in 2006 and housed in the governor's office, the ombudsman works outside the public education system. The office's services are free and confidential, available to K-12 public school students, families and educators to help resolve problems that affect student learning. As impartial third parties, the trained staff provides consultation, coaching, facilitation and mediation services.
The ombudsman's office also offers professional development classes for educators and workshops for parents. Topics include understanding and navigating the public school system, how to best communicate with your child's school, and making special education work for you.
From June 2009 to July 2010, the office intervened in 844 cases of conflict between schools and families and worked with 144 school districts around the state.
Each year the ombudsman advises lawmakers in Olympia on ways to improve education, based on persistent statewide concerns that surface in the ombudsman's consultations.
Cases related to special education, suspension and expulsion, and bullying and harassment are among the most frequent requests for the ombudsman's help. In 2009, Simmons' office called on lawmakers to require school districts to adopt procedures to prevent and respond to bullying or harassment. These efforts resulted in House Bill 2801, which passed the legislature in 2010, expanding the tools, information and strategies used by schools to combat bullying.
The Office of the Education Ombudsman recommendations for 2010 focus on further improvements to HB 2801, working with the growing online school system in Washington, giving parents access to special education classrooms, and helping parents who speak a language other than English make informed decisions about the education of their children.
Before being appointed ombudsman by Gov. Christine Gregoire, Simmons directed the office of family and community partnerships in Seattle Public Schools, helping schools integrate family involvement practices into academic goals. An award-winning educator, trainer and mother of two, Simmons has also worked as a Spanish and an English-as-a second-language teacher.
Check out the ombudsman's Web site (www.governor.wa.gov/oeo/default.asp) for tips on how to best utilize the office's services. You'll also find free publications on topics such as making the most of your parent-teacher conference and understanding parent and student rights in the public schools.
To talk with an ombudsman, call 1-866-297-2597 or 206-729-3232 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Lynn Schnaiberg is a Seattle freelance writer, mother of two and former education reporter for Education Week. She has also written for Outside, Business 2.0, Hemispheres and iExplore.com.