Making Parent Involvement Meaningful
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By Karen Rasmussen
Traditional parent involvement organizations, including PTAs, PTOs, and PTSAs, continue to play important roles in schools. At South Laurel High School, the PTSA organizes school open houses and parent-teacher conferences, and also runs the elections for the school council.
Marcum believes that the PTSA's primary mission is to help parents become involved in school-based decision making. At first, he says, some parents resisted his efforts to encourage them to join the council and committees, because they were used to being in supportive roles, such as helping a teacher as an aide or performing clerical work in the school office. Marcum says, "Parents would think, 'You're the educator, you should know more about teaching my child than I.'" But Marcum's persistence has paid off: Three years later, most parent PTSA members also belong to a committee.
Creating relationships based on equality between parents and teachers can challenge assumptions and allow faculty members and parents to realize they share common goals for their children's education, those with experience say. Townsend says the most surprising thing to her about becoming involved with the council and committees was meeting "so many dedicated, caring, and sharp teachers." She observed that the teachers, in turn, were surprised that parents took the time to come to the school and become involved, and that they could contribute intelligently to discussions about education. Once parents and teachers realized they were all committed to improving student achievement, she says, making real progress became possible.
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