Consider these responsibilities: approving attendance boundaries; reviewing educational programs; holding hearings on proposed school closings; and getting a say in the allocation of school funds and resources.
Sound like your typical school board?
These decisions are made in part by public school parents in several large cities across the country. The New York, Boston, and Chicago districts are among those that have given parents and community members platforms to weigh in on the issues of school governance.
In New York, one Community Education Council is debating ways to address overcrowding and a desegregation effort in Upper West Side schools. The council can’t redraw school zones, but it gets final say-so in whatever the city puts forward.
“We intend to control our own fate,” the council president said in a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña that has been published online. And the local councilwoman praised the group’s proposal, calling it an “organic” solution developed by the community, according to Chalkbeat, an education news website.
School Advisory Councils are gaining traction in Philadelphia schools, winning a nod from Research for Action in its 2014 brief looking at issues related to school governance. The report’s authors called on policymakers to “remember the role of governance in local school buildings closest to where learning takes place.” Parent and community advisory groups in New York, Chicago, and Boston vary in format and influence, but they all have influence on policy and governance.
New York has 32 Community Education Councils, one for each subdistrict. There are also citywide councils – two focusing on special education and one each on high schools and English language learners.
The councils, established in 2004, were designed to ensure that parents have a voice, including reviewing the local education program, evaluating the local superintendent, and approving any rezoning of elementary, intermediate and/or junior high schools (but not high schools) in the district.
Each council has 11 voting members, including nine parents of current students. The two remaining voting members, who live in or operate a business in the district, are appointed by the borough presidents, according to the New York City Department of Education website.
Boston has site councils at each school comprising teachers, parents, classified employees and students (at the high school level) that work with the principal to develop, review, and evaluate school improvement programs and budgets. The parent-run Citywide Parent Council, established in 1974, is the umbrella organization for all the district’s school parent councils.
Chicago’s Local School Councils have three main responsibilities, according to the district’s website: approving how school funds and resources are allocated; developing and monitoring the annual school improvement plan; and evaluating and selecting the school’s principal.
Council members are elected to two-year terms by parents and community members. Each council has six parents and two community members, plus two teachers, one non-teaching staffer and the school’s principal.