Every year at the beginning of the school, parents and school staff ask themselves how the new year will go. The parents ask where they can help and the administrators ask how to get more parents involved in the life of the schools. Where there is a will there is a way. Both groups can find answers in the form of shared decision-making (also called site-based) and board committees.
Although public schools have been using both types of committees for a long time, they are not well known among parents—school partners. For example, only 22 school districts (out of 56) in Nassau County, NY, show signs of activity of various school board committees. That is a very small number given that they complement the structure of the public school system. Their main characteristic is that they are task-specific and publicly accessible. Thus, they attract/engage the public.
I have written about the board committees in several instances, for example here. Why should a community establish a school board committee? The school board members work in their own professions and volunteer their time for the betterment of the school district. They assign themselves various tasks but they need help with research and reach out to the community. Thus they create committees dedicated to those tasks. Although the committees have only the power to recommend their findings to the school board, they help the school board members make decisions and govern the school district. Some board committees are standing/permanent, e.g. a budget committee, others are ad hoc/temporary, e.g. steering, or bond committees.
One can get a better understanding of how a board committee works by watching “real stuff,” public recordings of their meetings. For example, Wallingford Public Schools, CT, (Twitter: @WallingfordPS) appear to have publicly accessible standing committees that engage the residents very well.
Instructional committee: https://youtu.be/BG03MZwxdmA
Operations committee: https://youtu.be/YLn4pM9u440
The following example of a temporary board committee comes from Union County Public Schools, NC. (Twitter: @UCPS_MonroeNC) It shows the work of the Citizens Advisory Committee (https://youtu.be/dqrPfJ4-ltY) that is dedicated to developing a plan of restructuring the school enrollment and updating the community about the progress.
Shared Decision-Making Committees (AKA Site-based)
While the board committees deal with tasks that are encompassing the entire district, the shared decision-making committees are based in schools and deal with specific tasks of those schools. Their purpose is to engage parents in shaping the learning in particular buildings. In New York, the commissioner of education issued the resolution on the shared decision-making committees in 1994.
I’ll concentrate on the issue of family-school-community partnership in detail in subsequent posts. Both, the board and shared decision-making, committees help the schools and students. They attract the community to schools and make the community realize the responsibilities and create a sense of ownership. Based on the examples, the leaderships of Wallingford and Union County public schools demonstrate they understand their role in the public school system. They make genuine efforts to create tools that entice members of the community to participate in governing their schools.
Schools are environments for public education and collaboration. If you are involved in a well-working board or shared decision-making committee, or know about one, share your experience in the comments. They deserve publicity.