School Councils: Parents, Policy and Fundraising

I was part of a panel today on CBC Ottawa’s afternoon drive-slot show “All in a Day“. The show started with an interview with an Education consultant who thinks that school councils are not doing enough to direct policy at their schools.

Shelley Rivier and I were asked for out opinion on parental involvement in policy at school councils. You can hear the interview here, but here are some of my thoughts condensed.

To be involved parents have to pass through several gates:

  • Availability. People lead busy lives
  • Awareness. New Canadians in particular may not be used to being allowed to question educators
  • Incentive. If parents are relatively happy (or don’t think they can make a change) then they are less likely to get involved
  • Authority. Principals are faced with a revolving set of parents who aren’t sure what their role is or what they are allowed to do. If a principal doesn’t encourage parents to challenge, parents may not even know it is an option. For instance, the board asks school councils for a Year End report every year and the principal passes this message on. Many councils therefore assume they have to do it and don’t question why.

Given all those hurdles, a parent then has two options:

  • Get engaged in “policy”. Here they are going up against seasoned paid professionals who jobs are not made easier by inviting dissent and by constantly educating parents. Furthermore, the field is already a 3-way tug-of-war between the province, trustees and senior staff. Fighting for policy change is a tough and seldom rewarding task. Needless to say, parents generally only follow this route when there is a crisis, such as a school closure or a program change.
  • Get engaged in social/fundraising efforts. Here the obstacles are less, the rewards are tangible and the work directly and immediately benefits the school and the students.

While I am torn over fundraising, since it deepens the inequity in education between have and have-not schools, I totally understand why parents are more interested in doing it. It is a logical choice. And it is hard to fault those parents who do this when the vast majority don’t get involved at all.

2 thoughts on “School Councils: Parents, Policy and Fundraising

  1. Very interesting. Does that mean parents can actually initiate change in public education? Challenging and frustratingly long as it may be, I would so much like to see some responsibility and accountability implemented at both teachers’ and students’ levels.

  2. Change is possible, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Some would say it shouldn’t be too easy.

    With 3 layers of administration — the province setting curriculum, some policy and the budgets; school trustees setting board policy, programs, boundaries and internal budget allocations; and board staff advising trustees and implementing policy and actually running things — change takes a lot of discussion and negotiation.

    But it can be done. We’ve pushed over the years to change how teacher allocation is done in schools with multiple programs, alternative program tenets changes, letter of understanding to parents, etc.

    The easiest change is within the school, within the things the principal can control. A school that supports a triumvirate of parents, students and staff through its school/student councils, or other means, is a first start. And something we should demand and expect…

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