During my remarks at NSBA’s Annual Conference in San Diego in April, I asked audience members to raise their hands if they were parents or grandparents and if they got involved in their school district as engaged parents. A large majority of attendees raised their hands. Most school board members became involved while serving as a volunteer. We are a very large group of engaged parents who care about public education and desire the best for all students.
Engaging parents and the community as partners in your district’s educational process is critical. This must be a two-way engagement, where boards can provide opportunities for parents to engage with their concerns and interests.
Districts should have opportunities during enrollment times and open houses for parents to indicate their desire to be engaged on a district committee or ad hoc group and to determine areas of interest. The importance of parent engagement and involvement in their children’s education is well documented. As we know, it’s also crucial that parents and community members have input in the district’s governance.
School leaders have found innovative ways to do this. Look at California's Pomona Unified School District’s Parent Leads program, which earned the 2022 Magna Awards grand prize in the over 20,000 enrollment category.
The Parent Leads program started in 2008 to disseminate information on district and community resources and then have parents take what they learned back to their school sites to share with other parents. It has since grown beyond this original purpose to encourage active engagement that builds the capacity of parents and develops their leadership skills. It has led to employment opportunities and educational avenues for the parents themselves and has opened families to educational opportunities for their children.
Parent Leads are natural leaders at their own school sites, serving as PTA or school site council members. Through Parent Leads, their roles are augmented by attending workshops on what their students are learning, how the educational system and community work, and how they can become advocates for their children. One former participant in the program is now on the school board.
Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District in Bedford, Texas, earned a 2016 Magna Awards grand prize in the over 20,000 enrollment category for its Board Leadership Academy. It’s a six-month program for community members to learn more about the internal operations of the school district and the school board’s governance role. The academy gives participants an insider’s view of the district. This level of understanding translates into community support, and encourages community members to tell their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about what’s going on in the school system.
As a school board member, you know that many parents and community members don’t have a clear understanding of how the school board works or how board meetings run. The chain of command also is poorly understood by many, as is the fact that the governance authority is in the entire board, not in individuals. An important task for you and your district is to educate others on how school governance works. The more parents and the community understand how the board and the district function, the better partners in education they will become.