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Taking It to the School Board

If you see a problem that isn't being addressed at your school, it might be time to bring your concerns before the school board.

By Alison Singh Gee

Unhappy with the math curriculum at your child's school or the principal's homework policy? Take it up with your local school board. Although the primary role of the school board is to establish policies for your school district, board members are also there to listen and respond to the community's concerns and ideas for improving schools.

What Does the School Board Do?

The school board is a group of elected representatives who create a vision for local schools. This vision should reflect a consensus of board members, the community and district staff. Typically the school board chooses textbooks and approves curriculum, establishes and oversees budgets and decides how best to protect the morals and health of students. It's then up to the superintendent and his staff to carry out the vision. The board also provides support and guidance to parents in the district - it is a higher authority that can recommend courses of action when schools aren't meeting the needs of their students.

"Board members are elected to respond to your needs," says Los Angeles school board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, adding that you should reach out to your local representative when there is a problem, "especially if your issue has the potential to affect more than one child." (See the sidebar for what is and isn't appropriate to take to the school board.)

Follow the Appropriate Chain of Command

Flores Aguilar suggests that no matter what your issue is, try approaching your child's teacher or principal first, because both should be made aware of your concerns. "The most important relationship is between the parent and the teacher," he says. For example, if you and other parents in your class feel the reading syllabus does not challenge and engage your children, approach the teacher about choosing more appropriate material. If he or she seems unresponsive, bring your concerns to the school principal. If the principal does not act on your behalf and you firmly believe a new curriculum is vital, then it's time to contact your school board member.

The School Board Intervenes on Safety Issues, Too

In addition to dealing with curriculum and budgets, school board members regularly address safety matters. Take, for example, this situation that recently arose at an inner-city middle school in Los Angeles: A group of parents had grown exceedingly anxious about their children's safety on campus. Adolescent gangs roamed the schoolyard and threatened other students in the restroom. One afternoon an alleged gang member pushed a student in the locker room and took his athletic shoes. It was then that the parents decided to act.

Individually, they brought their concerns to several teachers and, as a group, to the school principal, but while the administrator sympathized, she seemed unwilling to get involved. After several months students told their parents that the gang's intimidation tactics had escalated, not declined. Even though the principal patrolled the campus, she rarely confronted defiant students about their behavior. That's when the parents decided to take their issue to the school board. But first, they held parent meetings and carefully planned the presentation of their issue.

Comments from readers

"Greetings~ I can only begin to understand the challenges that face government schools in our area, state & country. As a parent, what can I do to help? Specifically with what is taught to the children. I understand the value of the 3 R's, the sciences, history, etc. I am just wondering if children are taught the things I wasn't in the 60's that would have better prepared me for life such as: how to balance a checkbook, how and what to save throughout the stages of life, how to read a contract, what does 'interest', setting goals and the like. There wasn't a class like that then, is there now? Thank You"