Parental Involvement: Run the Bake Sale or a “Seat at the Table?”

Michael Fullan wrote “The closer the parent is to the education of the child, the greater the impact on child development and education achievement.”

Question to a teacher: “What should be the role of a parent?”

Teacher: “The parent should make sure their child is prepared for school, check homework and be ready and willing to work with the teacher.”

Question: “Should parents play a role in determining school policy, like sitting on a committee that makes budget decisions or hires new teachers or recommends the granting of tenure.”

Teacher: “Absolutely not, they’re not professionals.”

Question to the Principal: “What should be the role of parents?”

Principal: “Parents should work with their child’s teacher, help the school in fund raising efforts and volunteer in the library and other areas in which they can be helpful.”

Question: “Should parents play a role in determining school policy, like sitting on a committee that make budget decisions or hires new teachers or recommends the granting of tenure.”

Principal: “Absolutely not, they’re not professionals; these are my decisions as the leader of the school.”

Question to a parent leader: “What should be the role of parents?”

Parent: “Parent should work together with their child’s teacher and play a meaningful role in the decision-making process in the school – parents should have a seat at the table.”

Parental participation: run the bake sale or a “seat at the table?”

The State Education Department power point is another example of a top-down document – while the content is fine. “Engaging Parents in the Common Core,” it is the typical “one-shot” that does not bring the parent to the table.

Anne Henderson, in “Beyond the Bake Sale,” explores the role of parents in schools and school districts,

Connecting family–school partnerships to the district’s school improvement initiative and performance goals for students: In high-achieving districts, school board members, administrators, and teachers alike can link district improvement goals to actions to be undertaken in individual schools and classrooms. Tying family involvement to the school improvement process can help increase visibility and understanding of how families fit into the larger school improvement picture.

When families are seen as part of school improvement, district and school staff can name and act on the specific ways in which the district involves parents and community. In districts around the country, we saw several approaches to integrating parents into the school improvement process, including:

• Districts hiring teachers or well-trained paraprofessionals to fill parent coordinator positions
• Superintendents and deputies holding principals accountable for strong and measurable outreach to families and community members
• Administration leaders sharing examples of effective family involvement practices with school staff
• Districts offering professional development in many settings, including sessions at principals’ meetings, leadership academies, and cluster meetings
• Districts including parents in ongoing student assessments—for example, by providing a website where they can view their children’s performance and progress and get ideas for how to help their children
• Districts tying materials for parents to the district improvement plan

Twenty years ago New York State, in a bold step, required schools and school districts to form school and district leadership teams , school/district leaders, teachers and parents, working in collaboration on all phases of school planning,

each public school district board of education … shall develop and adopt a district plan for the participation by teachers and parents with administrators and school board members in school-based planning and shared decision making. Such district plan shall be developed in collaboration with a committee composed of the superintendent of schools … teachers selected by the teachers ‘collective bargaining organization(s), and parents … selected by school-related parent organizations, provided that those portions of the district plan that provide for participation of teachers or administrators in school-based planning and shared decision making may be developed through collective negotiations between the board of education or BOCES and local collective bargaining organizations representing administrators and teachers.

Tragically, in most schools and districts School Leadership Teams (SLTs) became simply compliance documents. School boards, superintendents, principals, and too many teachers were wary of involving parents in the decision-making process and school districts and principals wanted to keep teachers out of the process entirely.

One of the few districts in New York City to comply was District 22 (Flatbush-Midwood-Marine Park-Sheepshead Bay). The superintendent, John Comer, fully supported the process – each school created an SLT with school developed bylaws as well as a District Leadership Team. The district provided extensive training of school teams in all aspects of school budgeting as well as creating a simplified version of a school budget – the precursor of the current Galaxy system. The SLTs worked together to create the school budget and aside from a few requirements (Title 1 schools had to offer a Reading Recovery Program and all schools had to offer pre-kindergarten classes.

The schools moved in startlingly different directions – one elementary school created a school within a school with one “open” classroom on a grade, a middle school used Title 1 dollars to extend the school day with a clubs program, one school an extensive dance program; rather than creating replicable models schools created programs, with required built-in simple assessment tools, that reflected the views of the school stakeholders.

It flourished until Joel Klein fired most superintendents and the system has staggered from one management model to another.

Every month around the city parent leaders get together at teacher union sponsored Parent Outreach meetings. At the Brooklyn meetings between fifty and a hundred parents gather to participate in the meeting, run by an Annenberg Institute trained facilitator, with an agenda set by the parent leaders. One meeting was “bring your school budget” and an expert went through line-by-line to provide the parents with the expertise to participate meaningfully in school meetings. At another meeting parents watched an SLT meeting and then role-played at meeting – with group feedback and suggestions.

A couple of years ago the parent leaders identified the lack of science labs in middle schools as a significant issue – and lobbied the City Council – and – lo and behold – the Council provided dollars to create and upgrade the labs.

It is not surprising that parents resoundingly reject the mayor’s stewardship of the school system,

More than three out of four New York voters with children in public schools disapprove of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stewardship of the biggest U.S. education system, a Quinnipiac University poll reported.The parents rejected Mr. Bloomberg’s education policies and practices by a margin of 78% to 20%.

The current administration, in spite of their words, treat parents with disrespect, and parents respond by not trusting the school system. There is an irony, and I must admit it is sweet, that it is the teacher union that has built the strongest and most lasting bonds with parents.

As Anne Henderson tells us,

For a district to be serious about closing the achievement gap, it will also have to be serious about closing the gap between schools that do and do not welcome partnerships with families. All of us—teachers, parents, administrators, office holders, community members, students, family members, and local organizations—must work together to make this happen. With strong leadership, constant and open communication, and a passion for partnership, this vision of family–school partnerships is possible in all districts and schools.

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One response to “Parental Involvement: Run the Bake Sale or a “Seat at the Table?”

  1. I must admit that LaGuardia HS has a successful and functional School Leadership Team. The state bylaws require that decisions be made by consensus. This can be time consuming but ultimately it preserves the rights and the dignity of every stake holder. The one venue in which administrators, teachers, parents, community representatives, and in the high schools students, have an equal voice is the SLT. Ours is a dual mission school: comprehensive academic high school and career and technical education school with pre-conservatory programs in the arts. There is always the possibility of a tug of war over which side will benefit from diminishing funds. Our SLT works hard to make sure that we slight neither, and everyone is on board to defend the goals of our Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP). As the basic level of school governance, the SLT has great power to build a school community.

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