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 life of the schools. Where there is a will there is a way. Both groups can find answers in the form of shared-decision and board committees.
Although the both types of committees have been around for a long time, they are not well known among parents. 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 public school system. Their main characteristic is that they are task-specific and publicly accessible. Thus, they attract the public.
I have been reading lately about the board committees and written about them in several instances, for example here. Why a school board committee? The school board members work in their own professions and volunteer their time for betterment of the school district. They assign themselves various tasks and need help and input from the community. Thus they create committees dedicated to those tasks. Although the committees have only 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 better understanding how a board committee works by watching a “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 example of a temporary board committee comes from Union County Public Schools, NC. It shows work of Citizens Advisory committee (https://youtu.be/dqrPfJ4-ltY) dedicated to developing a plan of restructuring the school enrollment and educating the community about it. This committee was created recently, so the public will be able to follow as the process will be evolving. (Twitter: @UCPS_MonroeNC)
Shared-decision Committees (AKA Site-based)
While the board committees deal with tasks that are encompassing the entire district, the shared-decision committees are based in schools and deal with specific tasks of those schools. Their purpose is to involve parents in shaping the direction of education in particular buildings. In New York, the shared-decision committees were established in 1994 by the resolution of the commissioner of education.
I’ll dedicate posts to this type of committees in the future, but here is at least a glance at Palo Alto, CA, public schools shared-decision committees. The administrators target parents who are interested in helping in specific areas. They publicly list the committees and set clearly the application process.
Both, the board and shared-decision, committees help the schools and students. They attract the community to schools and make the community realize the responsibilities and create the sense of ownership. Based on the examples, the leaderships of Wallingford, Palo Alto, 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.
The examples above were easy to find and served well as introduction to the proper structures of the public schools system. There are communities in New York that partner with their school administrations in a similar manner. I’ll be bringing their work to the general knowledge. Schools are environments for public education and collaboration. If you are involved in a well-working board or shared-decision committee, or know about some, share your experience. They deserve publicity.