7 ideas for getting involved in local schools.
By: Valerie Backus
As a long-time educator I offer suggestions for how tax-paying citizens can get involved in their local public schools to ensure that their schools are reflecting their local community values. Below are seven opportunities with levels of involvement ranging from low to high.
- Read. Individual schools and entire School Districts do a lot to communicate what is happening in your local school. Read their web pages or pick up a newspaper and look at the education and local news sections to see what's going on. You can read the school board agendas and minutes to find out what the current issues are and decisions that will be made. Districts are required make these agendas available to the public at least a week before the school board meeting. Posting on the district website is one way they get the information out. When you drive by the schools you can read the marquis and banners to learn about current happenings.
- Request updates. This might be via email or through an app like Remind101 which is what many schools in the Temecula Valley Unified School District use. Often this listserve or app information is readily available on their webpage, but if you can’t find it, just call the school and ask the receptionist for that information. Then sign up or download the app and read the updates as they come right to your device.
- Learn the basic processes and procedures for creating policies and getting curricular materials approved. Again, these policies are readily accessible via web page or phone call.
Because your public schools use your public monies, they are required to get input from the you, the public. However surprisingly few public citizens choose to regularly participate in the process. Schools also send out surveys to request information from the community multiple times throughout the year. Again, it’s remarkable how few quality responses they get.
Medium level of involvement: Engage
- Attend events. There are so many to choose from on a school campus ranging from the Arts like band/orchestra/choir concerts, musicals, plays, improvisation nights, to all kinds of sports activities, to various club activities of the JROTC, science olympiad, debate, mock trial, fashion show, culinary cook-off, STEM clubs, etc. While these are fun activities, they do not generally impact a change in culture, yet they are a great way to connect with the schools and see the remarkable work they are doing.
More impactful is to attend school board meetings. This is where you see how your officials are acting on your behalf. Remember, you vote school board members in. Your school board members hire the superintendent of schools and if they are not representing your community, you have the opportunity (responsibility) to change that. If you are don’t know, you won’t change it. If you are knowledgeable and choose not to get involved, that inaction yields results, too.
Also, all textbooks have to be put on public display and approved by the school board. Announcements are made as to when they are available and you are free to go in and review the curriculum before they go before the board for final approval. Generally, it takes about a year to complete the textbook approval process and you can be involved if you choose.
- Participate in many of the above activities. Usher's and volunteers are needed for many of the Arts and sports activities. Volunteers are appreciated by teachers in the classroom, and you can join various committees like the PTSA, the school advisory committee, or District advisory committees. Remember the school district serves the public, but the public needs to be engaged. You can choose your time commitment from a few times a year to a few times a week. Note: To be responsible about our students’ safety, volunteers who work directly with children are required to undergo a background check and complete fingerprint clearance.
High level of involvement
- Run for the school board and get elected. That handful of people has a significant say in the direction of a school district. As mentioned before, they approve specific leaders to employ. They also have final approval on courses, textbooks, and policies and procedures. (See examples here). The school board works very closely with the top level management in the district to determine the budget, vision, mission, and values that will guide their decisions. At a minimum, know your school board members well enough to know whether or not they are representing you. A bigger commitment is to the actually be one of the school board members. Temecula Valley USD has no representative from French Valley and they have been asking for a couple of years. Our region has a unique demographic that is not best served by those who live in Red Hawk and don't deal with French Valley concerns. Perhaps one of our church folks would be interested in engaging in this very important Ford. They meet 2 times a month in Temecula. Look on the district webpage for school board election information.
- Work there. This is a huge commitment for those who dedicate their lives to making a difference. A school site is a mini community that has everything from a bookkeeper, to custodians, to groundskeepers, to aides, to managers, to teachers, to maintenance crew, to transportation staff, to food staff, etc. They're almost mini cities, so whatever skill set that you have, you can probably apply in an occupational way.
Instead of reacting to public education, we can proactively "take care of our own" and make sure OUR local schools are as strong as we can make them. We may not be able to do anything with LA schools, the California Department of Education, or the National Department of Education, but if TVUSD or MVUSD go the wrong direction, it is OUR fault if we have abdicated our responsibility. Like the church, schools are only as strong as the people who work there.
About the Author
Valerie Backus is a long time educator who has served in the Greendale, Temecula, and Murrieta School Districts. She does this work as a means to improve her community--plus, she really likes high schoolers! She has experience in both public and private institutions and has been blessed to be nominated for and given several awards for teaching and leadership.
Because America values education so much that it provides it for free to students, she encourages all taxpayers to exercise their responsibility to appropriately engage in their local education system and is happy to assist people, businesses, and government in finding out what works for them. You can follow her on LinkedIn.