School Board Committees—the “public” in public education

At the beginning of February, I reposted in our local FB group dedicated to schools a picture from a vigil held in Port Washington. Some time passed by until a couple of days ago I read an article entitled “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, published in the New York Times. The article enticed me to develop the facts I learned behind the picture into a story that can help a larger number of public school advocates. I anticipate that the public in public education will be a reoccurring theme in the media quite often.

On the confirmation day of B. DeVos, a senator launched a speech/plea in an attempt to change mind of at least one additional senator. The House was split 50-50. One more “nay” vote and she would not be confirmed as the new secretary of education. The senator’s speech was going long into the night.

pw vigil on eve of DeVos confirmation & personnel cmte meetingWhen advocates for public schools in Port Washington (PW) learned about the senator’s efforts, they hastily organized a vigil at a prominent corner of their town. The picture they posted caught my attention, but it was not for the gathering itself. Rather, my eye landed on the display screaming into the night that a Policy/Personnel Committee would hold its meeting. Three thoughts ran immediately through my mind:

  1. The PW school district has a Policy/Personnel Committee.
  2. Its meetings are publicly announced.
  3. And, since it’s publicized, one can assume that the public is welcome to attend.

These 3 points are not a norm in my public school district, Malverne UFSD. In order to find out if my assumptions were correct, I inquired directly:

Port Washington public education committees discussion

Assumptions confirmed, plus I learned that the Policy/Personnel Committee is not the only board committee working with public participation. Port Washington BOE holds Curriculum Committee meetings about once a month, open to the public and open to community participation at the end. They have Budget and Facilities Committee meetings before every BOE mtg., also open with community participation at the end. I browsed the Port Washington school district’s website. It can serve as a good point of reference what  “public” in public education means.

I asked, if I can publicly share our conversation.

public education discussion public education discussion


This transparent public governance cultivated by the PWSD BOE and administration resurfaced in my mind as I was reading the article in the NYT. And one statement resonated with me particularly:

“We began moving away from the “public” in public education a long time ago. In fact, treating public schools like a business these days is largely a matter of fact in many places.”

Many public school districts are run as corporations, exclusively by the management. The committees are “internal” (corporate). Their members meet on undisclosed dates at undisclosed times. If they meet at all.

By constrast, the PWSD BOE is effectively working on creating an environment that invites the public to be involved in their schools. Through their committees, the school board members are building relationship with the community. The vigil was a testimony to that relationship, as residents identify with their public schools.

The school board committees with public participation are the foundation of the “public” governance. The PWSD school board and all school boards that are using tools facilitating the public involvement deserve to be recognized for doing so. Parents need to review the practices in their public school districts and share them.

The Board of Regents and the SED need to hear what school districts exceed, meet, or fail guidelines set for public participation. The Senate and Assembly representatives, local reporters, “gem seekers” of the Gates-funded Education Trust, and we all need to be reminded how “public” should be represented in public education.


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