Sunday Notes – PLEASE stay Involved and Active

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. This will be very important during whatever construction/renovation will be taking place.

I’m hopeful that many of you will remain interested and active wherever the High School goes and it would be a great time to for you to get to know how strong a voice you have in the schools under Education Reform.

This is a perfect time for Candidates and School Committee members to reach out to these parents and build on that interest to develop strong School Site Councils. You have shown you care about your children, please continue your activism and seek out your school principal or Head of School and let them know you want to be a part of the School Site Councils.

We need parents who want meetings and agenda’s posted, discussion on school based issues brought out and resolved at the school level with the parents having a huge amount of influence. Recess time, taking away recess for the class, peer grading and other concerns can be addressed at the school level and should be. Parents who have students at the school and teach there are NOT supposed to be the only parent representation on these councils.

The City is fortunate to have people like Ben Opara, Kim Scott and others who understand the work that school site councils should do and would be a great asset to the school system. A sub-committee made up of parents and school committee members could easily go out to each school and inform and educate parents on the role they can play on these school site councils.

Both side have done a great job getting parents involved, please continue to be involved regardless of location.

Here is some basic information about School Site Councils, please take some time to read this, feel free to call or email me or knowing Kim and Ben reach out to them, both are knowledgable people who believe strongly that parents should be heard and school site councils give you the conduit to achieve that.

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 in the past, instead use Friends of Lowell High as a catch all for Parent Involvement.

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.

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