Parents Aplenty

When our now grown son and daughter were in high school, they used to kiddingly refer to me as “Band Overlord.” They were both band kids (trumpet and bassoon, respectively), and I was the extremely enthusiastic president of our public high school’s band booster organization. With our fellow band parents, my husband and I made countless trips as chaperones for marching band contests and concert competitions, including two multi-day adventures with 150 teenagers via bus caravan from Kentucky to Florida and back.  And of course we were in the thick of countless fundraisers, year after year.  Band Fruit Weekend was a much anticipated annual event, and there was always a case of peanut M&M’s in the back of my minivan, each bag of candy representing another dollar toward new uniforms, new music, new instruments. 

Apart from band, there were the hours we spent with the school’s academic team, the meetings with teachers on school conference days and in between–and the list went on and on.  Our fluency in parent-teacher-ese began with our kids’ years in pre-school when we knew every teacher and every teacher knew us as a regulars in the building and exuberant supporters of all school activities, and of course as constant advocates for our son and daughter.

Our engaged parent role models included my own parents who, likewise, knew well and were well known by all of my teachers and coaches throughout my public school career.  They were always volunteering to help out with an activity (sometimes to my outward chagrin, but truly to my delight), and were there literally cheering me on in every endeavor, academic and extra-curricular.

…All of which floated through my brain as I read recently about what are being called new “parent trigger” laws, which generally make it possible for parents to have input into actual school management.  In some states, such as California, such laws allow a simple majority of parents to demand a new set of administrators for a failing school.  (  In CTL’s home state of Kentucky, the education reform pioneered in the early 1990’s included a provision still in force that requires parent representatives to be part of the site-based council that makes certain policy and other decisions for every public school.

Everyone agrees that parent engagement in schools benefits both schools and individual students.  But it’s also clear that knowing and communicating regularly with a child’s teachers, supporting a child’s academic and school activities, and even  helping to manage school functions that fall outside the academic realm are all rather different from having direct input into the day-to-day management of a school.  Education is a complex business, as has been discovered to the dismay of some savvy professionals who thought that expertise in the business world was immediately transferable to the complexities of running a school–until they actually tried running a school, accountable to students, teachers, administrators and the tax-paying public at large.

Should parents have the opportunity to be directly involved in school management?  What are the advantages to parents and to schools of such engagement–and what are the potential pitfalls?  If parents are going to be so engaged, should some preliminary introduction–professional learning or professional development–be required?  What form might such adult learning take to be both instructive and practical for interested parents?  What has your experience been with such involvement–either as a parent or as an educator who works with parents?  Please share your thoughts, and in a subsequent post, we’ll consider the broader implications.

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