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Parents have power when it comes to schools

February 3, 2011

I’ve been musing over a comment shared with me at my recent presentation at a Parent/Teacher group on bullying (here’s more on what this group had to say on the subject of bullying). The parents were apparently not overly enthusiastic of the processes that were in place at the school to address bullying. One of the parents stated that they, the parents were essentially powerless to make or influence any changes in the school.

The parents’ perception was that all the decisions were made at the administrative or district level and that they really couldn’t have much impact over what occurs.

My comment: “On the contrary. Parents have enormous power. In fact, parents have the ultimate power when it comes to spearheading change in schools.”

Another parent chimed in that it didn’t seem that was true — recently the district had adopted a new math curriculum and it appeared, from the comments made, that many, many people (both parents and others) weren’t in support of the curriculum. Yet, the new math curriculum came in.

That may have happened, but I had to ask parents a very critical question:

“Who, in this room, has the well-being and educational goals of your child most at heart?”

It may seem like a rhetorical question, but it’s not. The answer is, we, the parent.  So, it is not only our prerogative but our obligation to do what it takes to ensure that education and well-being.

That is particularly true in the case of bullying (though hardly exclusively so).  If you feel you aren’t getting an adequate response from your site principal if bullying has occurred, ask for more information. One parent I know was told by her principal “Oh, we have it handled” but was never provided any details on HOW it was handled.  It may be against school policy to reveal disciplinary details — and that should be ok, — but if incidents continue to occur, it’s within a parent’s rights to insist on more information.

If you can’t get satisfactory resolution from the school, then by all means, you need to escalate. Find out who, at the district level, is responsible for the area of concern and discuss it with them, in person, if possible.  If it doesn’t get dealt with at that level, make an appointment with the Superintendent.  If that fails, heck, there’s a School Board who is ultimately responsible for what happens at that school district.

No, I’m not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker, but I AM my child’s loyal and steadfast advocate. As I told the parents the other night…sometimes you just have to let “mama lion” or “mama bear” loose if you don’t feel things are being handled in a way that keeps your child safe and secure.

But we have to start assuming that our teachers, staff and administrators have the same goals in common — the education and well-being of our child.  Too often we immediately drop into a confrontational mode and become instant adversaries is not the way to pro-actively solve problems.  It puts people on the defensive and creates an “us vs. them” scenario that can only produce winners and losers.  In that situation, the child is most often the biggest loser.

We parents are reluctant to wield our power because we are either unaware that it exists or we are afraid to make waves.  I get that.  I, too, want to be well-liked and respected among the people with whom I have an important relationship with and require regular interaction, which include teachers, staff and administrators. But protecting my child and interceding on their behalf is my “Job 1.”  Mess with me…ok. Mess with me and look out!  I will always assume the best of those entrusted with my children’s education until proven otherwise, but if I have to raise an issue up the ladder, trust that I will.

My understanding is that is really the goal of a PTA/PTSA anyway.  For parents, teachers and staff to communicate and, theoretically collaborate on issues affecting the kids and the learning environment.  Yes, we are dreadfully busy so that we aren’t as connected as we probably want to be, but we HAVE to be. Any one parent can’t possibly know all that is going on in the schools, but a group of parents can share information, validate assumptions and cooperate in affecting change if they deem it’s necessary.

Ultimately, if all else fails, parents can vote — with their feet if nothing else.  I know for many that isn’t an option so to them I’d say, “Do everything you can to make change happen in the schools you are in.”  They aren’t call “public” schools for nothing. You send your children there, you fund them, you pay the salaries of the people who work there.

You have enormous power — don’t be afraid to exercise it.

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