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Published in Print: March 9, 2005, as Maryland Parents Make Case for More Involvement, State Board Seat

Maryland Parents Make Case for More Involvement, State Board Seat

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Maryland parents are asking the state for a more prominent role in setting public school policy, including two designated seats on the state school board.

In preliminary recommendations released late last month, the Maryland Parent Advisory Committee, set up in 2003 by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, asks for several steps, ranging from improved communication between parents and teachers and school officials, to parent representation on all education-related task forces or committees formed by the state and school districts.

One of the recommendations would require the state to work with local school systems and schools to produce and administer to parents a satisfaction survey on family involvement. Results from the annual survey would be factored into school administrators’ and staff members’ performance evaluations.

Esther Parker, who heads the advisory committee and is also the president of the Maryland state PTA, said that while state school board members have experience and expertise in public school issues, “parents are the ones in trenches, the ones coming home to children with report cards,” and therefore understand first-hand the issues facing children in schools.

She said that although parents play a prominent role in some districts—the Montgomery County school board, for instance, aims to strengthen family-school relationships—the level differs from area to area.

“The state does not have any criteria that says, ‘This is how we measure parent involvement,’ ” Ms. Parker said. “If you are saying we want parent involvement to be a goal and we need to measure it, then everybody needs to start from the same playing field.”

The advisory committee, which has 150 members from Maryland’s 24 school districts, will next hold public hearings in each district before making the report final. Ms. Parker said the panelists expect to present their final recommendations to the state board in August.

National Precedent?

Some of the recommendations, including the parent positions on the state’s 12-member board of education, would require legislation. Such action could take several years, but it already has Ms. Grasmick’s blessing.

“I believe we’ve paid lip service by saying parents are partners in the education process, but we have never taken steps to ensure that this would happen,” Ms. Grasmick said in an interview. “Having parents on the state board of education is very important. That’s the entity charged with the legal responsibility of our children’s education.”

Creating parent positions on the state board could catapult Maryland to a unique status in the country.

David Griffith, a spokesman for the National Association of State Boards of Education, based in Alexandria, Va., said he was not aware of any other state school board with a similar mandate.

“We would like to see a process by which you get high-quality individuals to serve on the state board,” he said. He added that his organization is seeing increased interest among state boards in student representation and other ways of getting the student perspective on issues.

He pointed out that while parents are already involved in school issues through PTAs and similar organizations, increased parent involvement “can only be to the benefit of schools and school systems.”

Vol. 24, Issue 26, Page 19

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