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Parent Congress


Q. What's a parent congress, and how can it help improve education?

If communication is the name of the game in parental involvement in schools, then a Parent Congress is a sensible way to organize that communication. School leaders acknowledge that the best school-improvement ideas don't come from the ivory towers of the universities or from highly-paid school superintendents. The best ideas come from parents, because they're the ones who care the most because they have "skin in the game" - their children.


Having a Parent Congress is a way to capture those ideas. It's also a way to help parents with concerns "cut to the chase" and avoid the multitude of phone calls and maze of offices they often have to navigate if they have a question or concern that goes beyond the purview of a given teacher or principal. The format forces educators to stay away from educational jargon, and talk turkey with parents, which ironically helps educators see situations in sharper focus than when they only deal with other educators day in and day out.


Just as members of the U.S. Congress is supposed to collect information about everyday problems from their constituencies, a Parent Congress is intended to improve communication. In this way, a public school's Parent Congress could cut red-tape and layers of bureaucracy between the "customers" - parents - and "public servants" - educators.


A Parent Congress works for either a single school district, or as a statewide advocacy group, or as an appointed group set up to advise a state board of education or the governor. For a model of a statewide group, see the Louisiana Parents Congress.


Why would a district need a Parent Congress, if it already has an elected school board? On the district level, although having an elected school board is designed to have a check-and-balance effect on school officials, all too often that school board is merely a rubber stamp for spending decisions that everyone knows must be made anyway, because of state and federal mandates. And political issues and situations sometimes get in the way. So the parents' point of view often is effectively barred.


Answer: set up an informal communication structure, to let parents air their concerns, and let educators explain their side of the story on issues that go beyond one child's educational situation.


Generally, there's one parent representing each school in a district, usually selected by principals. They come together to discuss issues, and leave equipped to foster more communication and action among parents in an informal, unstructured way. That's intended to leave the formal representation efforts to the elected school board members.


It's a way to get people together to talk about educational issues, and it works within a given school district, or all the way up to the state and national levels.


In a big school district, a group of parents could be assembled a few times a year for some honest, direct Q&A with school officials.


San Diego is an example of a big district that has used Parent Congresses during the school year to gather information. Meetings are scheduled for both day and night to accommodate parental work schedules. The superintendent and top officials make presentations to parents on academics, finances, food service, athletics and other key topics, followed by question-and-answer periods.


Homework: Here's information from the Toledo Public Schools Parent Congress


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 43 2008

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