Local Involvement in Schools

The ongoing struggle to improve local public schools demands local civic responsibility and community involvement. Right now, though, something is clearly out of whack between schools and their communities.

A report issued this week by the nonprofit group Public Agenda, "Just Waiting to be Asked: A Fresh Look at Attitudes on Public Engagement," takes a useful look at this disconnect. Among its findings:

* A majority of school board members view their meetings as a listening post to hear from the public. Yet they say these meetings are dysfunctional and dominated by a community's squeaky wheels.

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* Seventy percent of teachers feel out of the decisionmaking loop when it comes to school policy. They feel their judgment is ignored. Yet 7 in 10 teachers say parents rely on them to know what's going on in the schools.

* A majority of parents are willing to leave school policies to the educators.

What's needed is for parents, teachers, senior citizens (often thought of as antischool), business leaders, and students to get together as a community and work on issues, like school safety that affect everyone.

Indeed, the report finds untapped potential among key players here. Many seniors, for example, are willing to assist, perhaps serving as mentors. Parents can involve themselves on a more regular basis, and not just jump into the fray when they think things are falling apart as the study suggests. And school boards can take needed steps to include teachers in developing policies.

The study finds potential for a better relationship, but someone needs to start it moving.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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