Laura McKenna is a New Jersey parent of two teenage boys, one currently studying at Rutgers University and the other a high school student with autism. She has been a special ed teacher in the South Bronx, a grad student, a policy research, a college professor, a blogger, a PTA officer, and an education writer. You can find her here.
Many parents think the best way to help their kids survive a public school system with competing interests and dwindling resources is to volunteer for PTAs and to provide tons of unpaid labor for the schools, which can be later traded for certain advantages for their particular kids — entrance into a specialized program or choice of better teachers. Over time, I’ve found that speaking at school board meetings is a more effective tool, especially when the goal is help all kids, not just your kid.
Next Monday, I plan to talk at our school board meeting about the need for an 18-21 program in our town and how their proposed plan could be better. Other times, I’ve spoken out about the impact of school closures on academics, an audit of our special education program that did not get attention, and the appropriate usage of particular federal funds.
In the past week, there’s been a lot of buzz about parents and school closures. Are parents happy with how their school has handled the pandemic? How many parents are unhappy with the status quo? Will parents pressure schools to reopen? Parents at a nearby town in New Jersey have been protesting their school closures, but they may not represent all parents in our country.
I’m not going to weigh in on parents and school closures right now, because I haven’t been satisfied with any of the polling data yet. I have no clue what the majority of parents think.
However, I do think that parents must be involved in education. Schools in our country are run by government and are, therefore, responsible to parents and residents. As a former political scientist, I believe that all political participation is a good thing and that we must encourage folks to be involved in all levels of government, from national politics to the humble school board meeting.
So, let’s say you have thoughts about your kid’s or your neighbor’s education. Like me, you have concerns that twirl through your mind at 2:00 am. I want you to talk at your local school board meeting about these thoughts, opinions, or concerns. So, how should you do it? How can you be most effective?
Here are some tips:
Even if you are unsuccessful in making a change, participating in school board meetings is an empowering event, as all acts of participation are. You’ll actually feel great after doing it. In addition, participating in school politics can be an on-ramp to higher political office, particularly for women. If you find that you love speaking at school board meetings, then perhaps you should get involved in politics in other ways.
So, start writing those speeches, people. And let me know how it goes.