… 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…