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Councils allow parents to be involved in school decisions

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By Josh Moore

Rich Baltzell joined the Simpsonville Elementary School Site-Based Decision-Making Council two years ago to get involved in his children’s education – but he said he ended up with an education of his own. Site-Based Decision-Making (SBDM) councils are the governing body of a school, typically made up of six members: the principal, three teachers and two parents. Kerry Fannin, assistant superintendent for student achievement, who serves as the SBDM coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools, said the councils serve as a way for parents and teachers to have input in how a school is run. They select principals, teachers and other staff, decide curriculum, set school policies and oversee a part of the school budget. Parent members to these councils, which were created by the General Assembly in 1990 as part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, are selected by the school’s largest organization, such as PTA or PTO, and teachers elect their own delegates. The councils have a broad range of powers, and their decisions sometimes are controversial – sometimes creating an outcry that leads to a change of a decision – but participants believe in the process. Baltzell said being a member of Simpsonville’s council has helped him understand how the school operates. “This has helped me see a lot bigger picture of what goes on in education,” he said. Baltzell and the other members of the Simpsonville council recently finished the process of selecting a new principal, Joy Tingle. He said it was a challenging process but one the council members took seriously. They spent 65 hours over eight days interviewing candidates and making a decision. Similar processes were completed to fill various vacancies at each of the county’s six elementary and two middle schools, the Alternative School@Cropper and Shelby County High School. “To me personally, you’re trying to decide who is going to take care of not just your kids, but your community’s kids,” Baltzell said. Amy Dove, a parent member of Wright Elementary’s SBDM council, said she also joined the council to make a difference for the students at her children’s school. “I just like the idea of having some input in what’s going on at the school,” said Dove, who said she knows parents in other states without SBDM councils who don’t get as much input. Phyllis Poston, a teacher and SBDM council member at Wright, said the council allows for parents and teachers with different perspectives to come together in decision-making. “It allows you to get many different viewpoints because of the diversity,” she said. Heritage Elementary Principal Cindy French said parents notice things that school employees don’t, such as safety issues with limited parking outside. Teachers get to the school early and leave late, but parents come during different parts of the day, she said. “When we’re busy inside, they’re coming in saying this isn’t safe,” French said. So parental involvement helped the school create a safer drop-off location, she said. New council members must receive six hours of training, and experienced members get three every year, he said. French said that the SBDM council keeps parents and the school connected. “It’s a liaison between the parent community and the school community,” she said. When parents are involved with their child’s school, the child does better, she said. “Research shows how critical it is for parents to be involved in their child’s education,” French said. She said Heritage also has parent members of committees within the council, such as the school culture and climate committee. “We want parent input because that affects their child,” French said. Baltzell said Simpsonville also encourages parents to serve on committees. But those parents who don’t have time to participate on councils or committees can still attend meetings. “All of our meetings are open to the public,” Baltzell said. He said anyone is invited to attend to better understand what’s going on at the school or if they have an issue to bring up. “They can express their concern, whether it’s painting the cafeteria or a curriculum issue,” Baltzell said. The only closed part of council meetings are issues related to personnel, as required by Kentucky’s Open Meetings laws. French said parents with concerns or ideas are welcome to call principals directly. “I want us to have a good, open relationship,” she said. Baltzell said because he doesn’t live in town, parents have to make some effort to talk with him, but he’s willing to voice their concerns. He said he will suggest that council members’ e-mail addresses be posted on Simpsonville’s Web site. Fannin said all of the schools’ SBDM council members would be posted online once West Middle chooses their parent members. West will accept nominations at Parent Night on Tuesday. Parents can also read the minutes of the council meetings to find out what’s going on, but those aren’t official until they are approved at the next meeting, he said. Several of the schools post the approved minutes on their Web sites. French said everything the council does revolves around improving student achievement, and parents are an important part of that. “It’s parent support that makes a good school,” she said.