Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Should the Role of Parents Be in a School?

I ask this question as two large parent issues are looming large right now.  Those issues are Building Leadership Teams (BLTs) and PTA.

BLTs have come into focus for me because of the issues at Stevens Elementary.  Read about that here.  Seemingly one of the issues for parents at Stevens was not being allowed to be part of the BLT and the PTA not having much traction when they raised serious issues about the leadership of the school.  (To note, the principal at Stevens Elementary is leaving that school but it is unclear if she is moving on to another school in the district or leaving the district altogether.)

The issue of BLTs is governed by both Board policy and the teachers' CBA.  (Links here from reader Ann D.)

The board policies around BLTs can be found in the links under "Governance", F20.01 and F20.02

The Seattle Education Association Collective Bargaining Agreement about BLTs (p 12)

The Board "encourages" the formation of "governance structures" and membership is to be determined by the bylaws for each group.  Bylaws have to be approved by the Board. There is to be a "balance" between staff and parent/community populations.  Meetings are to be open. Central Administration is to facilitate the organizing of these groups.

I'll have to ask the Board office for a list of officially approved school governance teams and then find out how many actually exist at schools.  I have experienced and heard from others widely varying accounts of how well these teams work.  I have also heard that most of the parents selected from for these teams tend to be PTA board members which makes for a cozy decision-making foundation for a school if it's the same parents on PTA and BLT boards.  I have heard of principals hand-picking everyone on the BLT.

Here's what one reader said recently:

Anonymous Ann D said...
Stevens Elementary, after many years, is making advances with its BLT. However they seem to only be adhering to CBA agreement requirements and are ignoring board policies in membership and structure. The decision matrix is also questionable as it is unclear who developed this latest document and how it is in support of the BLT when parents are given a consultative role only and community members are excluded entirely from the table. That the PTA also has a place at the table is questionable as the PTA is not representative of all parents and caregivers and not all community members belong.
That last sentence is a key point.  Not all parents in a school belong to PTA and yet they still should have a voice.

Then there is the issue of PTA.  I'm a PTA person but, over the last several years, have found myself completely flummoxed by the state and national PTA actions.  That WAPTSA set up a lengthy and complicated process for anyone to submit an issue to be consider for the legislative agenda is very troubling.

As for Seattle Schools PTAs, I think we have had fairly good leadership in Seattle Council PTA but that PTA, like the district, is a slow-moving tanker.  I think it hobbles the organization not be able to act nimbly on issues.

I haven't checked in awhile but, if you check school websites, it appears most schools have a PTA or PTO (parent teacher organization.)  How big or strong they are is really the question.

The Soup for Teachers group seems to be working hard to find "sister school" relationships for PTAs that have low membership or zero-low fundraising ability.  I recall trying to do that when the principal at my sons' elementary school moved to a southend school that had a very small PTA.  The distance and time factor made that relationship hard to grow.  But I support what SforT is trying to do.  There is expertise and help that even on a small scale could help parents at other schools.

In another thread, I saw this input from reader Ramona H that I thought really spoke to both the issue of BLTs and PTAs:
In my experience there are 2 views of building leadership teams.
One is purely a labor management agreement, in which case staff looks at community and families and thinks, I don't want them dictating my workplace procedures, climate, etc.
The other view is blt as shared decision making on issues that affect kids. The cba supports the former, and board policy the latter. It has been that way for years.
And involving PTA just sets up so many problems. PTAs are private organizations, and schools should not be in the business of discriminating against parents who don't belong to a private group. And the fact that so many focus on fund raising to my mind exacerbates problems with budget decisions. As in, can we pass along this expense (materials, library support, etc) to an outside group. That starts an insidious process.
Unfortunately, I don't see staff -- administration or teaching corps -- embracing public decision making. They are just too bought into labor negotiation model. Not a civic engagement model.
 So what is the role for parents?  I can say from living abroad twice that other countries generally don't see parents so much as partners and don't involve them in any school decisions.  (I think the role of parents in other countries is more functional - get your kid to school on time, homework, etc. - and helpful - volunteer for class parties and field trips.)

But this is the United States and it seems parents definitely want to be involved and have a say.

But let me ask this - do you think if you felt your school was well-run - both by the district and by the principal/staff - would you want to be involved in its governance?

And, if the school was funded to include librarian, at least a part-time nurse and counselor and arts, would PTA really just be about organizing and funding enhancements like school events?

I understand that KUOW is working on a story about PTAs and their funding-raising so stay tuned for that.


Ann D said...

I don't know that we can say that parents want to be involved or not in the management structure of the schools. All evidence, including the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBE) is that Seattle Public Schools adheres to the school-based management structure and is fairly hands-off as to what happens in individual schools. The problems are: the lack of oversight, auditing, understanding of what school-based management is about, and even the huge discrepancies in how HR promotes and enforces responsibilities to job seekers and holders.

I obtained a copy of the BLT by laws and decision matrices that the school district had files on earlier this year and just today was able to do a basic audit to see which schools had even submitted files. Many of the files are entirely inadequate, many schools only have either by laws or decision matrices on file, some schools have neither. The file names and structures are a royal mess. I doubt anyone outside of the BLT members of schools have ever seen these files.

A few schools take the endeavor seriously and have more substantial documentation available.

Here is a summary of the regions/districts under the different executive directors of schools and what has been submitted:

Bylaws 11/20 schools
Matrix 9/20 schools

Bylaws 11/19 schools
Matrix 7/19 schools

Bylaws 17/20
Matrix 9/20

Bylaws 4/20
Matrix 7/20

Bylaws 12/17
Matrix 11/17

I will review details of the bylaws as I have time to look for adherence to basic requirements and standards of these gropus though many of them are really poorly put together.

AnonMom said...

What was the final outcome at Stevens for the fifth graders and the cancelled field trip after the students held a strike at school? I'm afraid I missed whether something was able to happen for the kids. Thanks.

Melissa Westbrook said...

AnonMom, I believe the trip fell thru but parents were planning their own celebration for the 5th graders.

AnonMom said...


dj said...

I want to be involved in decisions at the schools my children attend (1) when I am being asked to donate (and am donating) a fairly sizable amount of money directly to the school and (2) when I feel like the administrative leadership at my children's school isn't doing a good job of administrating. I'd much rather be in a position where no one asks me for money because the schools are fully funded, and where I don't feel like it's necessary for me to be looking over the shoulder of the professional leadership in the building because it is doing an excellent job (and I have been lucky that, for the most part, I have enjoyed the latter -- I've seen what happens in schools here where the professional leadership isn't good).

So I guess I echo Ann D -- I don't know how easy it is to figure out how involved parents want to be. Honestly, I'd prefer not to be that involved (except in supporting learning at home and making sure my kids arrive at school rested, fed, and reasonably behaved), but I've had to be more involved in a variety of settings here because of funding issues, district leadership, and a couple of not-so-great principals.

Ed said...

Its no wonder students can't even get the time to eat a meal at most schools.

BLT Member said...

I am a member of a BLT team. Being a BLT member assures me that there are good people in the school doing everything and anything they can to enhance student experience. These individuals face incredible challenges- everyday.

Anonymous said...

The BLT at our school has 2 parents and also allows for the principal to invite community partners to participate. The principal refuses to have the PTA at the table ... even though we are asked to raise money to support the ideas the BLT/staff deem necessary. If parents donate money to the PTA to support the school, the PTA should be at the table when ideas are being discussed.

N by NW

Ramona H said...

Speaking as both former PTA and BLT person, I think families need to be consulted regularly and in a systematic fashion about school governance issues. I do NOT think issues like recess or discipline should be part of labor negotiations. Those are policy decisions that belong in the public sphere, not behind closed doors. (If the union wants to vote to endorse or advocate for key concepts, great.) Alternatively, parents should not try to micromanage staff hired to run the schools and educate their children.

I see 2 issues:
1. Engagement - giving students and families authentic and systemic opportunities to share their insights and concerns, and help the process of continual improvement at the schools. This extends beyond any PTA or BLT. How does the staff collect information to base decisions on? What do they do to guard against bias? How do they know if the school is working in the best manner possible for the students? Organizations like PTAs (or family engagement teams, where they exist) could work with BLTs to make sure their community is informed and engaged. I think this step alone would temper a lot of drama we see playing our over math, lunch & recess, tec., and could help with bias as relates to disability, language and race.

2. Decision-making - I do think including student (as age appropriate), parent and community reps onto the BLT is important. BUT those reps in turn need share out BLT discussions with students and their families. And not letting parents vote is disrepectful. This is governance of a public entity, not management of a private company. Public education doesn't just mean paid for with taxes. Besides, strong family and community ties are essential to school and student success. You don't get those ties by being patronizing or out of touch.

Public school stakeholders are the kids, their families, the staff and the surrounding community that supports them, and EACH of these parties needs to be able to trust the school. You can't do that then grant some stakeholders more access than others, or ban some parties entirely.

I would love to see BLTs or Family Engagement Action Teams have some sort of consistent surveying set up, or facilitated meetings available to the school community to discuss the various issues that come up (split classes, how to differentiate learning, etc). If the PTA/other org operated as a service organization, then they could be an incredible partner in facilitating communications and interactions.

And finally, as someone who has had to untangle school-PTA disputes (former SCPTSA president) there is no reason PTA has to be included in school budget discussions. And in fact, the lines between PTA and school budget and school-led fund-raising need to be clear and distinct. The school cannot tell the PTA what to fund-raise for or support, and more than they can order the local Rotary club to act. The same goes for the PTA. PTA is a private charity. It is separate. Legally, that is important to distinguish. PTA has a great class, PTA and the Law, that every active fund-raiser should take. It covers legal stuff nonprofits need to know, with an emphasis on issues commonly seen in school-PTA relations.

I liked the way my kids elementary school handled it years ago (Lawton). There were elected parent reps for grades (k1, 2-3, 4-5). The PTA presidents attended BLT meetings and participated in discussions as appropriate, but did not have a formal voice or vote.

Lynn said...

RamonaH - I'm so glad to see your name here. Can you share some information about the 24 credit graduation task force's recommendation? Did the task force look at how a trimester schedule would work for AP and IB courses? Are there schools in Washington with this schedule that we can look at? Are they considering adding an advisory period - and if so, what will it be used for?

Stevens Mom said...

I know this is an old thread but I wanted to clear up a few misrepresentations about Stevens Elementary.

1. Camp is back on. The fifth graders will be attending in June.

2. There have been parents on the BLT for all three years I have been at the school (one primary and one secondary). The PTA usually has someone attend, but they are not a member. The meetings are public so ANYONE can attend.

3. While I would not say that our BLT has been particularly effective, the BLT does review the bylaws and the decision-making matrix every year.

-Stevens Mom

As we are working currently to find a great new principal for our school, I'd like to encourage people not to spread information about which they don't have first hand knowledge. We are looking forward to MOVING forward.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think it is important to daylight issues with school administration and governance issues Stevens Mom? I see your comment as more trying to shut down dialogue -- but don't we all pay taxes for the schools?

As it stands the recommendations of the Stevens BLT are still missing the board governance requirements and only address the CBA. Also, so curious as to when the BLT meetings dates and times started being published as they were on a need-to-know basis previously.


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