Parents as Partners in Shared School Decision Making

I truly believe that when parents are fully respected and engaged as partners with schools, schools do better. When our youngest was in elementary school I served on the school's Site Council for two years (2006-2008), elected through a representative process. Site councils give parents the opportunity to shape school policy by giving them an equal voice in school decision making, along with teachers, principals, and community partners. Serving on the Site Council was an engaging, pragmatic way to partner with the school in students' academic and social-emotional life.

Our Site Council was comprised of four parents whose children attended the school; each parent served overlapping terms of two years each, with two parents elected each year. Three school staff members were elected by staff. Then, one parent was nominated by members of the council to serve as Co-Chair; the principal served as the other Co-Chair and also appointed one member from the community at large.

We met monthly in a conference room at the school, before the start of the school day, and for about an hour. The issues we took up had an impact on the annual school improvement plan:

  • the impact of class size on student performance;
  • school safety and discipline;
  • the school handbook;
  • family engagement;
  • enhancing the school grounds, and more.

HERE's what's on the DESE website about Site Councils. Among other things, the Massachusetts Education Reform law requires School Site Councils to:

  • adopt educational goals for the school;
  • review the annual school building budget;
  • develop a school improvement plan which must correspond to the district improvement plan.

The relationship between School Committees and school Site Councils provides for a unique opportunity to improve and strengthen community engagement within public education governance. The law provides an oversight role for School Committees and further states that elected School Committees at the district level may grant additional authority to School Councils in the area of educational policy. During my years on the Lexington School Committee, and in partnership with MASC, we met with representatives from the Town's 9 School Site Councils twice a year to strengthen their awareness of their roles and responsibilities.

The most important work of the school Site Council is the development of the School Improvement Plan (SIP). In this work the entire school community develops goals and plans strategies to address identified needs. Parents can have an important impact in this process by making sure that issues important to them and their children are addressed. These might include:

  • establish a welcoming school environment;
    • training to help school staff work effectively with families;
      • class size, its impact on student learning, and a plan to reduce class size;
      • design and implement parent/family engagement activities;
      • meeting the learning needs of diverse students, including students with disabilities and students who are English language learners.
      Once developed (annually), a Site Council submits their SIP to the School Committee.

      I learned a lot about our school during my time on the Site Council. I found it an informative and empowering way to take part in a collaborative process that had a positive impact on the students and school culture. The experience led to my running for Town Meeting, then the School Committee, where I ultimately advocated for all of the Town's public school children. 

      If you're still with me here, having read this far, and it sounds even a tiny bit interesting, I encourage you to look into the process for serving on a local Site Council.