I am the chairman of the school council for J.C. Booth Middle School in Peachtree City. So what is a school council?
Every public school in the state is required by state law to have a school council consisting of the school principal, parents of students enrolled in the school, members of the business community, certified teachers and students.
School councils exist to: (1) improve communication and participation of parents and community in the management and operation of schools; (2) bring communities and schools closer together in a spirit of cooperation to solve difficult education problems; (3) improve academic achievement; (4) provide support for teachers and administrators; (5) bring parents into the school-based decision making process; (6) help the local board of education develop and nurture participation; (7) bring parents and the community together with teachers and school administrators to create a better understanding of and mutual respect for each other’s concerns; and (8) share ideas for school improvement.
The school council meetings at your child’s school are open to the public and the meeting minutes should be readily available for inspection upon request.
The Fayette County Board of Education (FCBOE), in my opinion, just barely meets the minimum requirements of the law related to school councils. Indeed, some former school council members at various schools told me their councils were nothing but “rubber stamp” committees, nodding in the affirmative as the paperwork passes by.
In my Jan. 27 column, I clearly denounced the Fayette County Board of Education’s public speech policy which does more to shun public opinion at board meetings than solicit it.
Similarly, the state law on school councils explicitly calls for more parental participation and communication, but there is very little in the way of effective communication tools or funding for school councils to utilize for parental contact and comment.
Our school council at Booth Middle School had some concerns when we discovered that our school, along with Huddleston Elementary and McIntosh High School — both in Peachtree City — had the worst student-to-computer ratios in the entire school system, but there was no effective way for our council to effectively communicate our concerns with the parents of our students.
Some of our other findings related to technology include insufficient furniture to hold computers at our school, no funding for projector bulb replacement and repairs, testing of student technology competency is inadequate and the FCBOE has no written policies or procedures to ensure the equitable distribution of technology enhancements throughout the school system. (Go to our School Council section at www.jcbooth.org/advisory.html to see our letter on school technology issues sent to the FCBOE.)
We were also alarmed when our school had no funding for toilet paper or paper towels in the budget. In addition, not a single teacher at our school received any funding for classroom instruction materials. Luckily, some private contributions and the PTO helped close the gap.
Under the dedicated efforts of the FCBOE’s technology director, the school system’s once frazzled IT platform has been upgraded to a standard that would have been acceptable in the year 1998. He admits there is a long way to go. Technology in our school system has been hog-tied by a series of poor budgeting decisions from the Board of Education over the years.
The E-SPLOST gave the FCBOE the funding to commit to 21st Century Classrooms (consisting of a projector, voice amplification, speakers, writing table and student response devices), but there is no funding in the foreseeable future to repair and maintain the equipment beyond the product warranty, setting us up for the next big crash.
Our school council at Booth Middle School also created an innovative student survey for sixth through eighth grades designed to give insights on the social and academic environments at the school (60 percent of the student body participated). We utilized computers on-site and available software to conduct the survey at no cost.
The faculty and staff of J.C. Booth have a lot to be proud of, with highlights including: (1) an overwhelming 91 percent of the students said the school is a nice place to learn; (2) 71 percent said the school rules are reasonable; (3) 74 percent said their teacher valued their opinions; (4) 82 percent said they felt included socially at the school.
The survey covers bullying issues, whether classes are boring or not, quality of instruction, communication with faculty and parental participation.
These easy to complete surveys should be standard fare for every middle and high school in our district, used as a barometer of effectiveness, letting administration and faculty know what areas to explore further.
I was intrigued by the differing data depending upon grade level and gender. For example, 74.4 percent of sixth-grade males feel their opinions are valued by their teachers; however, only 54.5 percent of seventh-grade males felt the same, but then the percentage jumps to 83.1 for eighth-grade males.
Conversely, seventh-grade females feel differently than their male counterparts with 72.9 percent feeling their opinions are valued by their teachers.
We hope to have the survey results up on the www.jcbooth.org website soon.
School councils are mandated by state law for a reason. It is about time that the FCBOE takes these councils seriously in an effort to give parents a voice in education and promoting higher academic achievement. The councils are supposed to be a tool to bring the community in on solving difficult education problems, and we have got plenty of those, but few people even know the councils exist.
[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. In addition to his work with the School Council at J.C. Booth, he also volunteers with the school’s PTO and Science Olympiad Team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]