Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Pinellas School Board is getting the message

It's a well-known fact in the education world: Students at schools that have significant parent involvement outperform kids in other schools.

And this fall, the Pinellas County School Board has taken an extremely positive step — something no other district in Florida has done in a meaningful way. Quite simply, the School Board is doing more to listen to parents.

To help facilitate this dialogue, a group called Parents for Pinellas Students, dubbed P4PS, has started conducting communitywide surveys of parents and other taxpayers about school-related issues. P4PS, led by the Pinellas County Council of Parent Teacher Associations and the Pinellas Education Foundation, shares results with the School Board and superintendent, providing an opportunity for them to consider parents' opinions.

This has had a significant impact. Since starting the surveys last spring, the group has gathered opinions on such issues as early-release Wednesday, post-graduation preparation, transportation, rewarding high-performing teachers and removing low-performing teachers.

In the second survey, conducted this summer, a majority of respondents wanted early-release Wednesday abolished. The school district listened, reaching a tentative agreement with teachers to put an end to the early-release days, which have been unpopular with parents since their inception in 2009.

School Board members should be thanked: In fact, the next time you see a School Board member, please thank him or her for listening on early-release Wednesday.

But while this is a good start, we have only scratched the surface in parents having meaningful input in school district decision-making. And this is quite a challenge.

All too often, School Board members listen to the 'no-people' — those who come to the seven-hour meetings with an ax to grind. They often yell, sometimes make verbal personal attacks, and occasionally use language that my young daughters are not allowed to hear. These folks certainly aren't representative of the more than 150,000 parents with children in Pinellas County schools.

The 'yes-people' — those parents too busy to attend the interminable School Board meetings because they likely are at home helping their children do homework — have not had a way to make themselves heard with school officials until now. The P4PS surveys are a good first step toward giving them a voice.

And know that this effort is not antiteacher — this is an important point, especially against the backdrop of the toxic atmosphere created in Chicago with the recent teachers' strike there.

Indeed, P4PS survey results have been overwhelmingly proteacher. For instance, a majority of parents and other taxpayers support an upcoming referendum to renew the tax for schools, which will bring about $26 million a year to the county, with 80 percent going to teacher salaries. This is a strong statement: Parents and other taxpayers are willing to tax themselves in this economy to support Pinellas County education.

With the arrival of a new Pinellas County school superintendent, Mike Grego, it's a great time for Pinellas parents to speak up. Think of ways to get more involved in your child's school — from volunteering, to attending more events, to having more dialogues with teachers and principals.

And on a countywide level, parents can make an impact by joining the P4PS effort. The next survey is scheduled to begin today, running for the next week and a half. It's important that Pinellas parents take the time to participate. Visit voiceofP4PS.org for more information, and make your voice heard to school officials by signing up to take part in the survey. It's free — all P4PS wants is your opinions.

Dewey Caruthers is president of dewey & associates, a Tampa Bay-based management and strategy consulting practice that works nationally on education reform, juvenile justice reform and obesity prevention. His firm conducts the P4PS surveys, as well as holding focus groups with parents that help in determining what questions to ask. His two daughters attend Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School, a public school in Pinellas County.

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