All the time, parents are making decisions about what happens in their children's lives. The same needs to be true when it comes to choosing what happens with their child's academic education. It is more than just choosing a school but also what happens in the school building. With the sustainable community school model, parents are very much part of the decision-making process. This goes beyond the realm of engagement but views them as collaborators in the achievements of the school. The Community Schools Toolkit created by The Center for Popular Democracy signifies the importance of this involvement by stating, "parent engagement is promoted so the full community actively participates in planning and decision-making." It is important to consider parents in the same manner as teachers and administrators although they provide a different perspective. It is like pieces to a puzzle, each one has a part to contribute which must be done for it to be whole. Parents must be at the table with equal input regarding the daily activities that happen in the school building from academics to after-school programming and other aspects such as community events.
It is quite understood, parents are not formally trained as educators; however, they are the first teachers of children. This is a shared experience we all have as adults. Yes, some were better than others but it was those things our parents taught us which have a lasting impact. As a result, parents possess the necessary qualities to be involved with the process of choosing curriculum, managing the budget, and identifying staff, teachers, and administrators who are a good fit with the school's climate. The parents have a particular perspective when it comes to their involvement and their inclusion and embracement would create a cohesive culture for success. They need not be considered an option but one of the main individuals in building the school's environment conducive to learning.
This role of parent involvement is different and separate from PTAs or PTOs. These organizations are representative of an existing institution within the school. It may not necessarily project the sole interests of parents since it is also an organization comprised of other members. Additionally, the groups are connected to a national organization where the interests may align with corporations. Parents as decision-makers bring a different viewpoint as a result of their concern for children and the community and not institutions or corporations.
The relationship between the school and parents needs to be one of partnership instead of a dichotomous one. They both are involved with developing the child to become a successful adult who can function as a productive member of society. One thing a parent is free to do when compared to those who work for the school district is aggressively advocate. There is every reason to take the risk where the answer may be no for others. They aren't at risk of losing their job, adverse disciplinary action, or retaliation. So, parents can do what the others can't which is lobby elected officials, make demands with the central office leadership and Superintendent, speak out against the unequal and unfair treatment, and actively galvanize all stakeholders to be involved in the process of making not only the school better but the overall community.
Since parents possess a variety of resources, it's proper for them to assist with the development of the school. Some of these assets which can be contributed are time, talents, knowledge, and skills. For example, I am a Social Worker by profession and I can be utilized to provide a range of services to the school community. A benefit with having a parent involved is their existing relationship with the school along with their knowledge of the community, and their vested interest of the best possible outcome for the children, the school, and neighborhood.
There are times when parents are regarded as an after-thought and advisors. Ultimately, the successful outcome of the school is comprised of the necessary ingredient which is parent engagement. But, parents as decision makers goes beyond the realm of engagement to the extent of involvement in every aspect of the school's functioning. Recently, there was reporting of lead levels above the EPA threshold in Newark, NJ public schools. Although this was an ongoing problem for some years and known to Newark Public School officials, this information wasn't disclosed to the parents or the community. It is important for parents to be provided with the necessary information so they can determine how to proceed with it. Also, their inclusion recognizes the link between the overall success of the school and the progressive development of the community. When all of us embrace the inclusion of the children's first teachers in the process of academic development, we will understand the essential impact of parents as decision-makers.
Viva White is a member of Parents Unified for Local School Education (PULSE), Founder/Executive Director of Balm In Gilead Community Services, Inc, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Certified Clinical Supervisor, and Doctoral student at Yeshiva University-Wurzweiler School of Social Work