Making Parent Involvement Meaningful
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By Karen Rasmussen
Under the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), most schools in the state are required to have a council -- made up of two parents, three teachers, and the principal -- to make decisions to improve student learning. Councils determine the curriculum, assign students to classes, determine how time is structured, allocate use of school space, and make decisions about instructional practices, discipline and classroom management, and extracurricular programs. Most schools also have committees, which include parents such as Townsend, to investigate topics -- including the school budget and curriculum and instruction issues -- and inform the council.
"Parents are equal to teachers and the principal" in the decision-making process, explains Charles Edwards, director of the Division of School-Based Decision Making at the Kentucky Department of Education. Because parents have a stake in what their children learn, they need to have a voice in deciding what is taught and how it is taught, he explains.
Townsend thinks that all parents should have the same kind of opportunity as she to contribute to their children's education. "This type of involvement makes you understand what ownership really means," she says.
South Laurel High School's principal, Roger Marcum agrees, noting that he has observed throughout his career in education that good principals have always been those who value the input of all stakeholders, including parents. In the past, schools relied on parents primarily to raise money for the school and to bake cookies and cupcakes for school parties, he says. Although these activities have value, Marcum works to convince parents that "their input is a valuable resource."
Marcum explains that parents bring a valuable perspective to decision making at the school. "When parents participate in interviews for school personnel," he relates, "they ask, 'Is this the type of person I want my child to spend time with every day? Do they like kids? Would my child enjoy having this person as a teacher?'" Marcum believes that the quality of parent involvement at South Laurel High School is high because parents' viewpoints are valued and their contributions are meaningful. For her part, Townsend notes that, since becoming involved in the school council, "I haven't been asked to bake a single cookie."
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