We’ve all heard the mantra – “Parent Involvement is the key to Student Success.” It has been my mission for several years to engage parents and provide an avenue for greater involvement in their children’s education. Looking forward, we have some excellent opportunities to connect parents and other stakeholders with schools and education decision makers. This is an exciting time in our local school district and state. Citizens are paying close attention to education, and board members and legislators are listening. We’ve made some instrumental changes already, and we need your support even more now to continue improving education for our students.
I ran for the Collier County School Board because I felt strongly that we needed a parent’s voice – someone with direct experience in today’s education environment. As a mother of three young boys – one of whom just finished elementary school – I know, and also hear from friends and neighbors, many of the strengths and challenges of our school district. While President of Parents R.O.C.K., a local parent advocacy organization, I’ve been fortunate to help many families navigate the system and speak up on issues affecting their students. Our group reaches hundreds of parents monthly, informing them on the issues, sending meeting reminders and recaps, while also gathering feedback on their experiences.
At our first school board meeting just two weeks after the election, we moved monthly meeting times from 4–5:30 p.m. to allow more parents and taxpayers to participate. Attendance has increased more than ten-fold! Monthly workshops were added to provide opportunity for discussion and feedback on parents’ top concerns, including high stakes testing and curriculum. At the board’s Testing Workshop in December, parents received detailed information about the number and type of tests given each year. They were also informed about how test results are used and how opting out would affect their students.
School-specific testing calendars were added to the district and school websites for increased transparency.
In January, the board workshop focused on textbook selection and curriculum. The board room was filled with parents, teachers and concerned citizens. Recent legislation allows school districts to adopt policies and procedures for selecting instructional materials, a duty previously assigned to the Florida Department of Education.
Our approach was a hybrid of utilizing state expertise, while also considering materials not on the state list. We agreed the district’s process should be inclusive, consistent, and transparent.
Also discussed were the factors to be considered by selection committees, such as quality, accuracy, and alignment with education standards. The new law requires parents be included in the adoption process, and tasks districts to ensure parents can review adopted materials and have any concerns addressed in a timely manner.
This month, the focus turns to Tallahassee and the legislative session. Our Collier School Board legislative platform includes requests for local flexibility on the student start date, currently mandated to be “no less than 14 weeks prior to Labor Day”; a relaxation of the new state high stakes testing consequences; and concerns about funding mandates. The annual education statute changes have not allowed local districts fully implement existing laws before having to adjust to new ones. I am advocating there be no further changes to graduation requirements in the current year. As it is, each graduating class from 2015 to 2019 has a different list of courses required to graduate from high school! Schools, guidance counselors and families are scrambling to keep up. As new bills are introduced, I am reaching out to parents and the community to help support our district by writing legislators in support of, or opposition to, bills, based on the needs of our students.
I am thrilled to see so many of my fellow parents involved at every level of this important mission. Parents, grandparents and other advocates for students have rallied around our district to provide support and constructive feedback. We are an ‘education community’. Our students need to know that we surround them with high expectations and reinforcement; our leaders need to know that we will hold them accountable for academic results; and our parents need to know we back them to be the most important factors in their students’ academic success.
If you’d like to contact Erika Donalds, you can reach her at 239.377.0485 or e-mail her at Donale@collierschools.com.