Where are the parents? Apparently busy…

… fundraising. Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA – formerly Alberta Home & Schools Association), has released “a discussion paper on parental engagement and the potential enhanced role for the future of school council”. This provincial association, which represents parents on school councils, looked closely at the findings on collaboration and shared governance which arose from Inspiring Education.  The discussion paper advances a vision of school councils that is more focused on school improvement than is currently the case. A startling recommendation is made: legislating the removal of the ability for school councils to fundraise, as a first step, would begin to change attitudes and shift opinions about the meaning of the phrase “parental engagement”.

Given that fifty‐five percent of school council members and 46% of chairs indicated fundraising was their top priority, this is an earth-shaking proposal. As a former multi-year school council member, I can attest to the truth of this… and my frustration at the typical agenda minutiae. I can also affirm another survey result:  The attitude of the principal, and his or her willingness or ability to create the environment for meaningful and authentic parental engagement is key to the level of significant impact of a council. How many principals across Alberta would admit that they also see school councils as generators of extra dollars and little else?

This paper presents a vision of a fully engaged school council. Fifteen years ago when school councils were described in the Alberta School Act, there was some hope that parents would have the opportunity for more effective participation. For the majority of councils this has not been the case. Perhaps a new governance model at the school board level could enable such substantive involvement.

Chair of the Canadian Rockies Public Schools Board, and my fellow trustee for the past six years, Kim Bater, has posted a very thought-provoking piece A Facelift for Democracy on his blog. He describes where Canadian Rockies Public Schools plans to go in the realm of governance.  Today I shared a quote with Kim that bears repeating here. It conveys beautifully the guiding principle of such a transformation:

Although one can find exceptions, it is usually the case that voters don’t like autocracy. They expect to be treated with respect, not condescension. They expect democratic institutions to operate with democratic processes. They expect their leaders to explain and discuss their decisions before they are final and to change course when they are wrong. The very behaviors that schools are supposed to teach—how to think, how to participate, how to reason with others, how to find common ground—are the same behaviors that we expect to encounter in public life.

– Dr. Diane  Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., past Assistant to the US Secretary of Education

As responsible and accountable governors, school boards need to live by these words. It isn’t going to be easy…

Please take the time to read the document and submit input/feedback/reaction before November 15, 2010 to president@albertaschoolcouncils.ca

About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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2 Responses to Where are the parents? Apparently busy…

  1. Corina Dootjes says:

    Have to say, I do agree with your points Esmé! I will add that fundraising happens when and where government funding falls short. A motivated parent council can build playgrounds, fund libraries, even supply classrooms with innovative technologies. I know because I was also one such parent! Few parents want their child to miss out in some educational advance because their school couldn’t afford it.

    However, in areas where parental fundraising involvement is limited (think of poorer or even high risk neighborhoods) those students do not receive the extras to compensate for government shortfalls.

    We are blessed in this Bow Valley to have motivated parents ready at the fundraising helm to secure and steer extra funds in our schools; but what about kids in other areas of the province? How we can ensure all children access parent-funded extras across our province? Is there a mechanism that exists to ensure equity? Or, is it supposed to be divided between have and have-not communities and neighbourhoods?

    This is really a rhetorical question with no easy answer. At least, no easy compassionate one. And in that regard it is important to change what it means to be involved.

  2. I too, have personally seen fund raising to be the predominant activities of school councils. Being a strong advocate for meaningful parental engagement, I have actively promoted the education of parents through the use of the workshops offered by the Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA). They have talented facilitators who have been parents on school councils.

    Perhaps eliminating fundraising on school councils will help parents focus on why they were legislated in the first place. There is much confusion about the role school councils play in education.

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