A Culture of Connection
During COVID, many parents and families felt shut out by our school district. There was very little communication from the district as to the how's, the what's, the why's. For over a year, our board only accepted public comments by written submission, not giving the option of speaking directly to the board via the virtual board meetings. Many families felt unheard concerning what was best for their children's education.
Since then, the number of students enrolled in our district has dropped and not rebounded up to its former numbers. In contrast, the number of students being homeschooled has more than doubled in many areas, private schools having waiting lists. What other conclusion can we make than assume that more and more families are not currently satisfied with the public schools? So, what can we do? It starts by talking to one another and really listening. Our district community should be actively invited to engage with their elected board members, and their input should guide the direction of the district.
There are many ways we can better connect and communicate. Simple invitations to call, email, or schedule face to face visits with board members would make them feel more approachable and available to the community they serve. Regularly held listening sessions would be a great asset to our district community. As has been done in other districts and attempted on some level in ours, individual school board members and a facilitator could meet with groups of parents and community members to discuss specific topics and concerns. Parents and community members would be encouraged to attend and come prepared to share their thoughts on the topic. The days and times could be varied to allow for more equitable participation. Then board members could report back to the board and superintendent to discuss what they learned, address concerns, and better support the needs of the schools and families of our district. Topics and highlights from such sessions could be posted for those who were not able to attend.
I would love to see citizen advisory committees created on the district and individual school levels. Unlike a PTO, which typically works to fundraise and support general school activities, an advisory committee of parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and even students would come together regularly to discuss the unique challenges and needs of their school and students, counsel together, and find solutions. Teachers would have a voice, parents would have a voice, as would students, concerned community members, and others. Then, as needed, school-level committees would bring their recommendations and ideas to their school administrators, the school board, and district-level committees. Committee chairpersons and members could serve only 1-2 years to allow for more diverse conversations and participation, and committee members' names could be posted so that other friends and neighbors would know who they could go to with issues that might need addressing.
The creation of a simple communication portal or online form would be yet another way of allowing for compliments, comments, ideas, questions, or concerns to be shared easily and sent quickly to the necessary department or admin. Streamlining the methods of communication would benefit busy families and make sharing feel less intimidating. The more information the better.