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The squeaky wheel really does get the grease. It effectively makes everyone know what it needs. When it comes to your children’s education, sometimes you have to be the squeaky wheel.

In the past parents often accepted that the school officials were doing everything right, equally for all, and to the best of their abilities. Even when a school’s intentions are the best, parents may still need to play an important role as supporters, cheerleaders and, yes, watchdogs. Parents who understand their power can play huge part in the quality of their community schools and the education of their children. This new model of parental involvement creates a partnership with the schools to help them improve, hold them accountable, and set high expectations for achievement, programs, and facilities.

But what do you squeak — uh, we mean — speak up about? And to whom? These resources from Greatschools will help you make things happen in your school system and your child’s education.

Start at home

Ever heard the saying “put your own house in order”? Before planning to change your school, make sure you’re doing the necessary things to get your child a good education. Set up a home environment that encourages learning. Set high expectations for your child’s schoolwork. Talk about school and school work with your child, help with homework when necessary, and go to those parent teacher conferences. Make sure your child is being intellectually challenged and understands how important a good education is for his future. Involved parents are more likely to have academically successful kids.

Read more:

What makes a great parent

School improvement begins at home

Making the most of your parent-teacher conference

Volunteer — as a first step

Know your child’s school, and participate in the organizations that seek to help.

Find out what the parent organization is at your child’s school. Is there a Parent Teacher Organization? Or is it part of the national organization the Parent Teacher Association? Either way these groups can be powerful tools for improving student learning. These organizations are known for their strong fundraising efforts and community building, but they also play an important role in advising the principal on important issues, such as prioritizing spending on special programs and even staffing.

Read more: The role of the PTA

The school site council is a group of teachers, parents, classified employees, and students (at the high school level) that works with the principal to develop, review, and evaluate school improvement programs and school budgets.

Read more: The role of the school site council

Some schools require the parents to spend designated time helping out the class or the school, but just as many do not encourage such involvement. Even if your school does not push mandatory work time, volunteering can put you in a position to make changes in your school. How? It lets the teacher know who you are, that you’re serious about education and you care about the school. You will know your child’s teacher and other staff and faculty at the school. You can see the problems and successes first hand.

Read more about volunteering:

10 easy ways to help your child’s school

Top 10 tips for classroom volunteers

How one San Francisco mom helped get others involved

Take action

Do you suspect your child’s school has some issues? What can you do? Start with knowing who to contact based on hierarchy and what they do.

When you have a concern about your child’s academic achievement or discipline within the classroom, you should first contact your child’s teacher. If you are not satisfied with the teacher’s response, you should then contact the principal. It’s always better to try to work out problems with the teacher first.

If you have a concern about a schoolwide discipline problem or the school’s philosophy, you should contact the principal. If the principal does not return your phone calls or if you are dissatisfied with the response of the principal, then you should contact the superintendent.

If several parents feel the same way, make an appointment as a group to visit the superintendent. There is always greater power in numbers!

So you may be asking yourself:

• What makes a good teacher? Read What makes a great teacher
• How do I know if the principal is efficient and effective? Read What makes a great principal and What to do when there is a problem with the principal
• What does a superintendent do anyway: Read What makes a great superintendent

What happens if the visit to the superintendent produces no results? Take it to the school board. It may be scary to deal with school bureaucrats, but they have the potential to make big changes happen. Be persistent! Your child and your community will benefit.

First read: What does the school board do and

What makes a great school board member

Who knows? You may decide you can do the most by becoming a member of the board.

Find help: Reliable resources

Finally, there are lots of local organizations trying to improve schools and help parents become strong advocates either for their children or their community schools. Each organization is distinct and has its own philosophy about what works, so ask lots of questions to learn about the organizations’ strategies and mission. Try an Internet search for the name of your community, “education,” “parents,” and “advocacy” to see what organizations exist in your community. Here are a few well-established organizations:

Innovate Public Schools trains and supports low-income parents in the San Francisco Bay Area to build organizations in their communities that can successfully push for better schools and hold the system accountable to the needs of their children.

Families Empowered in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, helps families understand their school options and choose the right school for their child.

Choice Matters in Oklahoma is a parent organization established to educate, inform, and provide resources on the educational choices available in Oklahoma.

Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust seeks to create environments where families, schools, and communities work together. From leadership training to policy advocacy, WA Family Engagement provides opportunities for the equitable participation of families and communities in the achievement and emotional, social and physical development of children, cradle to career.

Excellent Schools Detroit, Michigan, seeks not just an excellent education for every child, one that prepares them for unlimited opportunity, but also seeks to align everyone working on behalf of the city’s children. It includes helping parents find the best quality educational options available, reaching out to policymakers, and continued teacher training.

Stand for Children  works in 11 states to organize and train parents to team up and be heard by education decision-makers locally and nationally.

The National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools supports school, family, and community connections with research-based information and resources including webinars,  literature, and toolkits.

And even more resources to help you make a difference here:

Online resources for parent involvement

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