Beyond the Bake Sale: Parent Engagement is a Two-Way Street

I was listening to the David Banks, the NYC school leader, he said in his first four months on the job he met more with parents than any other group, he’s to be applauded.  For thirty hours a week teachers are “in loco parentis,” we are the surrogate parent. We hope we can work “with parents:” ask parents to work collaboratively with us, make sure their children are prepared for school every day, checking and completing homework, following up on misbehavior in class, in other words, a true teacher-parent partnership. In some schools parent associations support schools financially, in a few parent associations create 501 c 3 organizations allowing for tax deductible contributions.

At the other end of the spectrum parents struggle to pay rent and provide essentials for their families.

New York State goes far beyond the informal teacher-teacher collaboration, at least on paper gives parents a “seat at the table,” each school must support a School Leadership Team and each school district a District Leadership Team.

School Leadership Teams (SLTs) are vehicles for developing school-based educational policies, and ensuring that resources are aligned to implement those policies. SLTs assist in the evaluation and assessment of a school’s educational programs and their effects on student achievement.

SLTs play a significant role in creating a structure for school-based decision making, and shaping the path to a collaborative school culture. New York State Education Law Section 2590-h requires every New York City Public School to have a School Leadership Team. In addition, Chancellor’s Regulation A-655  Read here  establishes guidelines to ensure the formation of effective SLTs in every New York City public school.

The  Education Law, excerpts below, requires school teams involvement in the school decision-making process, in reality, in too many schools, “school-based management teams,” are simply an item on a checklist, principals are not anxious to have parents intrude on their jobs and parents frequently feel unwelcome.

The law requires,

…school based management teams … develop an annual school comprehensive educational plan and consult on the school-based budget. Such plan shall be submitted to the community superintendent along with the principal’s written justification demonstrating that the school-based budget proposal is aligned with the school’s comprehensive educational plan and the school based management team’s response to such justification  Such school comprehensive educational plan shall be developed concurrently with the development of the school-based budget so that it may inform the decision-making process and result in the alignment of the comprehensive educational plan and the school-based budget for the ensuing school year

…  parent members of such teams make recommendations, consistent with the chancellor’s regulations, on the selection of the school principal and have all members be consulted prior to the appointment of any principal candidate to its school; 

undergo initial and ongoing training that will allow its members to carry out their duties effectively;  

dispute any decision made by the principal to the community superintendent pursuant to  where members of the school based management team, other than the principal, reach a consensus that the decision is inconsistent with the goals and policies set forth in the school’s existing comprehensive educational plan;

Pre-Bloomberg I was the union district representative in a district totally committed to the school-based management, school-based budgeting and the process changed school cultures.

Parents and teachers were not being moved around on a checkerboard by the “powers” from above. Schools created schools-within-a-school, different scheduling, tutoring, arts-based themes, or simply continued whatever they were doing. At first I thought we should inform all schools of the variety of plans, it took a while for me to realize it wasn’t the plans, it was the sense of ownership.

Coupled with a commitment by the superintendent the district created a series of workshops, school budgeting, reading programs, special education, etc., each one repeated throughout the school year accompanied by a manual for each workshop.

(Read Beyond the Bake Sale here)

We know change imposed from above is viewed as punishment (‘what you’re doing now is ‘wrong’”) and participation reduces resistance.

Parents felt respected.

I asked to be invited to SLT school meetings.

At a middle school the teachers wanted to make a change (the actual change is irrelevant), the principal disagreed; the parents were in the middle. The principal finally agreed with a caveat, the teachers create an interim assessment tool; keep track of how the “change” was working.  A few months later I asked the principal how he idea was working, he smiled, the “change” fell by the wayside, “…“the assessment tool is excellent, we use the concept all the time,” A school was using “action research” to drive aspects of school design and instruction.(Read Action Research in Education: A Practical Guide here).

A month ago the Education Committees of both houses of the state legislature held a hearing on whether to extend mayoral control; representatives of half the CECs, the Community Education Councils, all parents, urged replacing mayoral control with a parent-driven management structure.

While the State Education Department, the PEP (the central school board) and chancellors support the concept of parental involvement they have failed to support involving parents in school decision-making at the local level.

A few suggestions:

  • Require CEC approval for the siting of a charter school in a district; controversial; however, charter schools recruit kids from public schools, and public school parents should have voice in the siting of a charter school in their district.
  • The role of the CEC/parents in principal and superintendent selection must be enhanced.
  • High quality training U-Tube videos should be available to all parents,
  • A number of the mayoral appointees to the PEP must be current parents
  • Chancellor should host regular Zooms with parents from targeted school districts
  • Grant districts greater autonomy in curriculum issues.  Instead of imposing Phonics in lieu of Whole Language programs leave the choice up to the school and district management teams, remember: ownership.
  • Continue to increase the number of Community Schools.

Perhaps, survey CEC members, how can their role be more connected to the school communities.

I was speaking with a principal who regularly attracted excellent turnouts of parents in a very high poverty district. I asked, “What’s your secret?” He laughed, “I feed them.”   At the end of the meeting he set up a bar-b-que manned by parent volunteers.

A few months later an auditor from the Department showed up, accusatorily “Why did you buy a bar-b-que?” The principal showed the auditor the bar-b-que and attendance sheets signed by the attending parents. Someone from the District Office “suggested,” maybe you should find another way to attract parents.

No good deed shall go unpunished.

Talking the talk must be followed by walking the walk.

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