The new school year is always a season of fresh starts and opportunities. On the outside, the community sees the hard work in sports, the band, and other activities. Inside, this is a time when the school council moves from typical back-to-school tasks to reviewing last year’s test data. Signs of improvement, areas that need greater attention, and strategies that need to be adjusted in the months ahead are all part of the council discussion.
Across Kentucky, school-based decision making councils, made up of the school principal, teachers elected by their colleagues, and parents representing families at each school, keep achievement and improvement front and center.
There is ample evidence that student achievement is improving in Kentucky. On many measures, we are near the middle of the national pack, and in several categories we are in the Top 20 states or on a trajectory there. Thankfully, Kentucky is no longer a bottom-dweller when it comes to education results. There is also enormous room and need for continued improvement. Our progress will never be enough until each student is ready for the next step in life.
A recent newspaper column from a frequent public school critic claims that councils are failing. I write as a school council veteran and former fourth grade teacher now working with SBDM councils across the state. I want to assure your readers that schools are deeply focused on student achievement, and that the voice and decisions of council members are a productive part of ensuring that all students reach higher levels.
Our educators are committed to learn more, do more, and get as much as possible out of the time and resources provided. The principals, teachers, and parents on school councils are not overlooking any promising answers when it comes to increasing the number of proficient students and closing achievement gaps. This is challenging work that school councils members address with urgency.
Go to an SBDM meeting, and you will see that councils operate in a harmonious way that builds toward decisions by consensus. They take time to think, focus, act, and adjust as any democratic group should. Far from fractious, “majority rules” bodies, Kentucky’s school councils build teacher leadership, foster parent empowerment, elevate principal responsibility, and reinforce a customized achievement-first culture.
Schools are not the same. Even a quick look at the annual state report card will show different strengths, specific challenges, and unique trends at schools even in the same county. It makes sense that councils have authority to determine the ways to improve, adjust, and most effectively serve all students.
Successful school districts need community support built on the widest possible understanding of priorities and decisions. School councils are an important part of a Kentucky education system that is working smarter and moving in the right direction. Help schools move faster by becoming involved and offering to be part of the solution.
Ronda Harmon is executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils, a nonprofit group based in Danville. She has served on SBDM councils as both a parent and a teacher representative.