• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 2013 •
A few years ago, a group of parents from a newly-organized PTA Comunitario in south Texas posed questions to a panel of school board candidates. It turned out the parents were more knowledgeable about state school policy than the candidates. They were able to actually inform the candidates about new graduation requirements that were critical problems. They pointed out that there was a minimum graduation strand that didn’t prepare the student for college, and students from economically disadvantaged families were at risk to be assigned to the minimal and non-college path.
Informing as Public Action
Most families are not as knowledgeable about school policy as those mentioned above, but it is important that families address those responsible for governance about the education of their children. School board members aren’t necessarily experts in all the intricacies of school policy and practice, but they must be aware of those critical policies that have major impact on children in our neighborhood public schools.
IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework lays out a critical path of inter-related and inter-connected elements that include engaged citizens with actionable knowledge, community engagement and governance efficacy. IDRA’s work with families is centered on actionable data. One example is IDRA’s OurSchool Data Portal that presents data for all Texas high schools (http://www.idra.org/OurSchool/).
Governance at School Board Functions
The school board’s central function is to provide each student with an education of the highest quality. Though ultimately responsible for school district operations, the board does not get involved with day-to-day operations. Rather, the board sets the direction and goals, and the administration decides how to get there. Boards have three primary functions: governance, executive and judicial.
Governance functions provides for the board to consider and approve or disapprove matters submitted to it by the superintendent. In order to provide for continuity and comply with laws and regulations, the board establishes policies to govern district activities. Families must address this function collectively on issues that affect all or many students.
Engaged Citizens with Actionable Knowledge
The families mentioned at the beginning of this article were able to speak clearly and convincingly about school policy because they had experienced a series of information and training sessions on graduation requirements, college preparation and other key education data issues. IDRA has been conducting bilingual sessions on educational policy and practice as part of the PTA Comunitario meetings. These families were ready to address the board in its governance function and even informed board members of issues they had not considered carefully.
Through current data about schools, families can investigate and approach school administrators and board members about how policy is being carried out and how it is affecting the students. If school district policies and practices are having a negative effect on children, it is most appropriate that families address their concerns to their elected officials. If the data show high attrition rates, those who govern should have plans and strategies in place that can increase the holding power of schools, accelerate high school completion rates and ensure that students graduate with the credits and skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary studies. The PTA Comunitario approach focuses on family leadership in education projects that emerge from actionable data and related issues of concern to the families and are opportunities for each individual to practice varied leadership roles.
Some pointers for addressing the school board are:
- Be prepared with strong data rather than anecdotal examples,
- Give possible consequences for students of ignoring the current plea or presentation,
- Be clear on the critical concerns about issues that affect many or all students,
- Speak as partners and allies, and
- Be brief –don’t ramble or deviate into personal feelings.
In these times of school closings and public dollars siphoned into private alternate systems, parents becoming bold and active partners with school boards can keep the doors open in excellent neighborhood public schools. The voices of the concerned parents aren’t attacks on elected officials but celebratory choruses for creating public schools that succeed for all children.
Posner, L., & H. Bojorquez. “Knowledge for Action – Organizing School-Community Partnerships Around Quality Data,” in Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework, Robledo Montecel, M., & C. Goodman (eds) (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Cortez, J. “Family and Community-Led Education Reform,” IDRA Newsletter (Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2013).
Center for Public Education. Back to School: How Parent Involvement Affects Student Achievement (Alexandria, Va.: National School Boards Association, August 2011).
Illinois Association of School Boards. Your School Board and You – Insights for School Board Candidates and Other Interested Citizens (Springfield, Ill.: Illinois Association of School Boards, no date).
Uchida, D., & M. Cetron, F. McKenzie. Preparing Students for the 21st Century (Lanham, Md.: R&L Education, 1996).
Villarreal, A., & Rodríguez, R.G. “Expanding School Governance through Participatory Community Engagement,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2011).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]