It often seems like there must be more than one of her. Throughout the school year, and even during the summer, administrator Sylvia Bryant seldom breaks her stride. Whether organizing events or attending them, meeting with parents and teachers, visiting schools, leading teams of volunteers, or soliciting help from the community, Bryant remains continually focused on a single goal: directing communities and families to help students achieve.
On October 18, the Montclair Democratic County Committee honored three New Jersey residents for their dedication and service to the community at its annual fundraising dinner. Receiving the award along with Bryant were Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., and Katherine Joyce, leader of Democracy for America.
The awards dinner was held at the Valley Regency and was covered by The Montclair Times.
It’s All for the Sake of the Kids
Originally hired 18 years ago as the District Parent Coordinator by then-Superintendent Mary Lee Fitzgerald, Bryant has planted deep roots in Montclair. Whether working with the YMCA, the Junior League, Project Oasis or any of the scores of community organizations serving Montclair youth and families, Bryant makes sure that the Montclair Public Schools students are not forgotten.
“I really developed this program based on the needs of the various communities in Montclair – as they were then,” Bryan explains. “The job is always changing. Some of those same needs continue to exist today, while others have changed over time.”
As examples: tutoring for increasingly test-driven districts has grown more important since the introduction of No Child Left Behind in 2002.
By contrast, assisting one-parent families, or families in which both parents work full-time, to get more involved in their children’s schooling has been a focus of Bryant’s efforts since the beginning.
“There’s a huge body of research showing that students whose parents or caregivers are participants in their education do much better in school than students whose parents are detached,” Bryant explains. “But what you find when you meet these ‘detached’ parents is that, most of the time, they would like to be more involved. They just need a little encouragement.”
Bryant and her team of volunteers – which she estimates can number as many as 3,500 over the course of a school year – are glad to step in and provide that encouragement. Sometimes this takes the form of parents willing to dedicate an afternoon to make phone calls reminding families about an upcoming event. Other times volunteers provide assistance with copying, mailing, or emailing; setting up or cleaning up after events; or donating their time as tutors, seminar presenters, group leaders or childcare providers. Still others serve as liasions with community groups or sit on committees.
“It’s gratifying and wonderful to see how willing people are to help the schools,” Bryant says. “Montclair is truly unique in that way, I think. People really feel -- as I do myself – that it’s all for the sake of the kids, so they’re willing to do as much as they can.”
No doubt this is what has kept Bryant going strong for 18 years. In the course of an academic year, Bryant organizes or oversees programs ranging from the all-day Parent Conference in the spring to district-wide classes and workshops for parents and grandparents to Family Math Nights at the elementary schools.
On a day-to-day basis, Bryant allows, her workload is often more about logistics than philosophy.
“We know that many times parents are willing to attend school events in the evenings but feel they can’t because of work schedules, the demands of other children at home, or transportation issues,” she says.
To assist these families, events organized by Bryant typically offer free educational childcare and refreshments “so that busy parents can bring the whole family, and even eat something if they haven’t had time to make dinner at home.”
Bryant, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health & Physical Education from Tuskegee University and a masters degree from Vanderbilt University, is a member of the district’s Department of Instruction. She’s the parent of three adult children, Anthony, Shanta and Laura, and the grandmother of two.
“I love my work. You’ll never hear me complaining about it,” she laughs. “What I like best of all is seeing how our parent programs work for the kids – how they really do enhance academic achievement over time, and how volunteerism is just such an active, driving force in this community.”
If so, it may because Bryant’s energy is contagious.
“It’s wonderful to get an award, but honestly, the work itself is the reward,” she says.