Besides the fiscal issues in the school system, my other main issue will be to have the School Committee form a Neighborhood/School Council subcommittee whose task will be to work with any form of a Citywide Parent Council and make bi-monthly meetings to neighborhood schools to inform them about School Site Councils and the strong role parents can have in their school.
The two current High School groups may have opposite interest but what they both have successfully done is get parents interested in the schools and show that parents can have a strong voice in the school system and during whatever construction/renovation will be taking place, hopefully they will remain interested and it would be a great time to educate them about how strong a voice they have under the education reform act and build on that interest to build strong School Site Councils.
This subcommittee can also be the committee that goes out to explain and advocate for a citywide rezoning that would allow Lowell High School in EITHER location to have busing for the high school students.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about School Site Councils that are published on the DESE website with some comments from me included.
Questions & Answers on School Site Councils
What are the main areas of responsibility for school councils?
The law outlines four major areas of responsibility for councils. School councils are to assist principals in:
Adopting educational goals for the school that are consistent with local educational policies and statewide student performance standards
Identifying the educational needs of students attending the school
Reviewing the annual school building budget
Formulating a school improvement plan
For any school that contains grades nine to twelve, inclusive, the council shall review the student handbook each spring to consider changes in disciplinary policy to take effect for the following school year. (See Appendix B)
In addition, the law states that “nothing contained in this section shall prevent the school committee from granting a school council additional authority in the area of educational policy; provided, however, that school council shall have no authority over matters which are subject to chapter one hundred and fifty E of the General Laws.” (Question 34, below, addresses Chapter 150E.)
A. Establishment of Councils
Are all schools required to establish a school council?
Yes. The law requires that there be a school council “at each public elementary, secondary and independent vocational school in the Commonwealth.”
GN: That should include LHS which seems to instead use Friends of Lowell High as a catch all for Parent Involvement.
If a principal is responsible for more than one school, does a separate council have to be formed for each school?
The law requires each school to have a school council. If two school buildings are linked operationally — for example, one principal is responsible for one building serving students in grades K-3 and a second building serving students grades 4-6, and the buildings are under a shared administration and a single PTO — then a single school council may be formed to encompass both buildings. However, if the two buildings function as discrete schools — for example, one principal is responsible for two K-6 elementary schools with separate administrations and separate PTOs — then a separate council should be formed for each school.
Who is responsible for organizing a school council?
The law explicitly gives the school principal responsibility for defining the composition and overseeing the formation of the council pursuant to a representative process approved by the superintendent and school committee. As co-chair of the council, the principal is also responsible for convening the first meeting of the council. At this meeting, the other co-chair is to be selected.
To whom do councils report?
Councils are to assist principals by reviewing the school building budget and developing the school improvement plan. Councils may also take on other responsibilities, including policymaking, as granted by the local school committee. Councils’ school improvement plans are submitted to the local school committee for review and approval.
Who is to be on the council?
The legislation specifies that the council is to consist of parents of students attending the school, teachers, and “other persons drawn from such groups or entities as municipal government, business and labor organizations, institutions of higher education, human service agencies or other interested groups, including those from school-age child care programs.” Also, for schools containing any of grades nine to twelve, there should be at least one student on the council.
How many members should the council contain?
The law leaves it up to each principal, “pursuant to a representative process approved by the superintendent and school committee,” to define the size and composition of the council. It does, however, make three stipulations about membership.
Parents “shall have parity with professional personnel on the school councils.” Regardless of the size of the council, the number of parent representatives must be equal to the number of teachers who serve on the council plus the principal.
“Not more than fifty percent of the council shall be non-school members.” “Non-school members” are defined as members who are “other than parents, teachers, students and staff at the school.”
The membership of school councils “should be broadly representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of the school building and community.”
GN: This is important because presently Lowell School Site Councils don’t meet the Law for their make-up
What is the reason for parity in representation among parents, community members, and school professionals?
The provision of “parity” is based on the experience of the Chapter 188 school improvement councils and the national research on effective school-community councils. Research on small group dynamics in groups that mix lay people (e.g., parents) and professionals has shown that when lay people are outnumbered they are not likely to articulate their special perspective as “customers” of the school. “Parity” provides a critical mass in which parents can feel comfortable in expressing their views while educators retain a strong voice on the council.
In situations in which differences of opinion are split along lay-professional lines, “parity” creates pressure for compromising and reaching consensus, since neither side can override the other with its numerical majority.
I’ll continue to post information about how parents can be involved in School Site Councils and how they have been given that voice under ed reform.