Workers in school administration offices toiled through last weekend collating registration forms, counting the parents interested in attending workshops that will be offered at the District's first City Wide Parent Conference.
"Piles and piles of registration forms are coming in," said school board President R. David Hall. By Tuesday, more than 5,000 parents had signed up for the conference, set for tomorrow and Saturday at the Washington Convention Center.
The conference is designed to teach parents to enhance their children's education, according to school officials. It begins at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow with a reception at which journalist Carl T. Rowan will be keynote speaker. Workshops begin Saturday morning.
The 28 workshops to be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will offer information on identifying drug and alcohol abuse, identifying a child's special needs, alternative programs in D.C. public schools, talking with children about sexuality, career planning and college preparation.
The most popular workshop among the registrants thus far is "Be All You Can Be," a lesson on building self-esteem in children, which has drawn 1,315 parents.
The conference, proposed by Hall, has been controversial among school board members, some of whom alleged the conference would be used as a political forum by the six board members up for reelection. Others argued that the initial request for $291,000 for the conference was too much.
Although the school board's Finance Committee reduced the budget to $67,000, Hall maintains that the conference is important to parent-school relations, so he and other board members are trying to get additional funds from businesses to pay for the conference.
"It's not fair to the parents," Hall said. "Parents have been attending meetings and working hard with school officials planning this conference, then someone comes along and says it's all political . . . the parents got shortchanged."
Several parent organizations, including Parents United for Full Funding, Washington Parent Group Fund, Congress of PTAs, Children's Defense Fund, Chapter One Parents, Concerned Citizens for Special Education, and Parents Reaching Out Services, helped plan the conference and will have information booths.
Cheryl Shropshire, a member of Parents Reaching Out Services and Concerned Citizens for Special Education, said she is not concerned with political undertones or the squabble over the budget. "You can find negative aspects in anything," she said. "The point is that parents can benefit from the conference. We have to take advantage of the positive aspects of the conference."
She said the conference will bring parents together and get them involved in the school process, and "that's all that matters." She is, however, disappointed with the low registration.
"We have close to 5,000 parents registered," Shropshire said. "That's not even 10 percent. There are about 80,000 parents with schoolchildren in the city. We have to find ways to get parents involved."
In an effort to spark greater parent participation in the conference, the school board is offering IBM Selectric typewriters to the school represented by the most parents.
Hall said it is time to get parents informed and involved in education. "Only informed parents can help children with their homework."
For more information on the conference, call 724-4289.
Staff writer Marc Fisher contributed to this report.