Monthly Archive for August, 2007

Starting a Parent Advisory Council from Scratch

Starting a Parent Advisory Council from Scratch

There is no parent group in your school and you would like to help start one? How to begin?

Of course, there are many benefits:
• parents feel welcome in their child’s school
• parents want their voice – concerns, praise, issues – to be respected and have follow-up
• families empowered through genuine involvement pass that feeling of efficacy on to their children
• and on and on….the research is heavy on benefits, to family, school and community.

Here are some of the negatives of thwarted parent involvement:
• frustrated, disenchanted, unhappy parents
• unmet student needs because advocacy on their behalf is cut-off
• poor school achievement
• and so forth….the research tells many sad tales.

So, how to begin:

1. One person can start the ball rolling….Gather a few parents and feel out the need.
Concerns might be
___ academic achievement                 ___ parents feel unwelcome
___ bullying situations                         ___ parents not involved
___ special needs students                 ___ concerns not dealt with
___ discipline: uneven, unfair, not there ___ reading problems
___ need a school handbook of policies, rules, procedures, philosophy
2. The structure of a parent group can start out with 2 or 3 volunteers. Call yourselves the Steering Committee who agree to do the basics. Keep notes.
3. See the principal. Two (never one) make an appointment to see the principal requesting the means to set up a parent advisory council. Discuss how a school wide news item (best in the school newsletter) will issue the invitation to a meeting to form a PAC.
4. You can use carefully structured questionnaires to gather input and solicit ideas as part of ongoing discussions between schools and parents. (Example: School Checkup, Checklist for Effective Schools, Parent Satisfaction Index. See this website, under Parent Advisory Councils.)
5. Parent Rights in Education is a general guideline for parents about their role, rights, and responsibilities in education. You can modify this 20 year old flyer or pass it out to parents as is. (See this website, under Parent Rights)
6. Structure of more organized parent meetings should occur at the school at a time convenient for most parents and upon sufficient prior notice. A Chair, Vice-chair, and Secretary are the main officers you need. Class representatives are very desirable. (Do’s & Don’ts of a PAC, Levels of Parent Involvement , see this website, under Parent Advisory Councils)
7. Parent Advisory Councils should meet independently as parents, then the principal can have a set time to attend to hear concerns, praise, suggestions, whatever, or provide a report, news, etc.

Remember: In this day of the Internet it is easy to get sidetracked because there are 1,000’s of sites to visit. “Parent involvement” is one of the latest education fads, and whole industries have grown up to feed this move. But, unfortunately, much is superficial and symbolic here, as with other “reforms”. You, as parents, in your school need to keep your two eyes open:
☺ Integrity – be true to your cause
☺ Independence – don’t get sidelined into agendas of others.
You are fulfilling the most basic of human instincts: Guiding your children to independence and self fulfillment.



Parent Advisory Councils can use this questionnaire: a) amongst themselves, or b) as a survey of school parents as a whole. Feel free to change items as needed. The PAC can use results as a foundation for discussion with the school and/or as ideas for projects to be undertaken.

(Mark with an X or   Circle in RED what needs attention)

1. There is a handbook containing school philosophy, programs, special services, procedures for communication, etc.

2. School rules are made clear to students, staff and parents.

3. There are regular, numbered newsletters to the home with ample notice of school events.

4. Meet the Teacher Night is well-organized and effective and sets the stage for future parent-teacher conferences.

5. Parents can see their children’s files; go over the material and have questionable (damaging or irrelevant) material removed.

6. The Library is an inviting and enriching resource facility for students.

7. There is a parent group which serves in an advisory capacity to the principal.

8. School morale is high – students, parents and teachers are enthusiastic.

9. Follow-through to school work is consistent. Homework and desk work is marked, returned, corrections explained and work to be redone is checked out.

10. Student work is valued. Art, projects, accomplishments are highlighted in the school and in newsletters

11. Student absenteeism is low

12. Staff absenteeism is low.

13. Vandalism is rarely evident (no broken windows, fences, dirty environment, litter, graffiti)

14. Sensory bombardment is low –  no glaring lights, blaring PA systems, overheating and noise (contributing to hyperactivity, inattentiveness, shouting).

15. The rate of disciplinary actions is low, both within the classrooms and those handled by central office.

16. Are the washrooms dirty?

17. Is the principal rarely seen? (A good principal feels comfortable in the school, among staff, students and parents.)

18. Are lunchroom facilities noisy, messy?

19. Is communication with the school difficult…hard to get past the secretary…teachers uncommunicative?

20. Is there much theft in the school?

Do’s & Don’ts for Parent Advisory Councils

Do’s and Don’ts for Parent Advisory Councils

The most frequently asked questions from parent groups go like this: “How can we be more effective? We are fed up with doing tea and cookies, fund-raising….We want to know how to help kids in school.”

Circumstances, whether it is the parent group itself, or the principal, have cast too many groups into the “tea and cookies” image. There is now, however, a trend showing that more parent groups and principals are wanting to change that image.

If your parent group seeks to be the right-hand partner in the educational function of the school, than the first thing it should do is agree that it wants an advisory or consultative role in the school. Meaning, that the parents should be consulted before decisions are made which affect either the parents or the students.

This consultative/advisory role should be clearly understood and written down (______ Parent Advisory Council). 

 Functions can include:

          suggestions about learning experiences

          suggestions or changes to school policies and procedures

          evaluating innovative programs

          assist parents to get information about school programs and procedures

          be informed about events affecting educational programs

          recommend alterations and renovations

          review curriculum

          recommend on code of student conduct

          help set program priorities

          advise on means to ensure racial and cultural understanding

          help ensure the safest possible environment for the well-being of all

What most parent group models fail to spell out are the pitfalls to avoid,
  1. Don’t defer to the principal. If your voice is to represent parent opinion, don’t ask the principal what he thinks, ask the parents.
  2. Don’t accept someone-else’s agenda. Stick to what the parents want on the agenda, unless there is a legitimate item brought to you for your consultation. (What color the walls should be painted is hardly an item for consultation!)
  3. Don’t think that being busy is any sign of accomplishment. Such involvement can be empty and meaningless to the quality of education at your school. Pick your targets, determine priorities.
  4. Don’t assume the parent view will automatically be listened to. Put it in writing, take minutes and have these circulated among parents and staff.
  5. Don’t hesitate to delegate jobs to sub-committees, or to refer a question for further research and recommendations. Sub-committees can greatly lessen the load and aid in good decision-making. (Sub-committees are a good place for those parents who want to be involved in fund-raising or “auxiliary” activities.)
  6. Don’t (ever) get discouraged because only a small number of parents are involved in your advisory group. Statistics show that only a small number of parents want to be involved at this level, but if this group is wise, it will not only ensure a parent voice at the school, but will also make sure that all parents do have opportunities for meaningful involvement, whatever their level of need or interest.

 Change occurs best when we question policies, behaviors, practices.  Don’t attack persons, personalities.  It’s far better to say, "I don’t think that practice is educationally sound", rather than "That teacher is incompetent."  But DO make sure your concern is passed on to the right authorities so that they can make a judgment and take corrective action if necessary.  DO be persistent in a just cause.

Levels of Parent Involvement

In his report, The Public’s Role in Education (1972), Dr. H.A.Wallin noted:

“…not all persons who seek involvement seek the same level or amount of involvement.”

He clearly discerned 4 levels: a) some just want to focus on the individual youngster in school, b) in addition, the second group is interested in some volunteer work (field trips, assisting in the library, playground, lunchroom) , c) the third group seeks more involvement with educational questions at the school, especially when innovations are concerned, and d) the fourth group feels they “have a right” to influence the kind of education children receive and seek input on goals, curriculum, instructional methods, and teacher training. Wallin said this fourth group believes:

“that it is an irresponsible society which permits, usually by default, education to be left up to the educators. It would be just as irresponsible to leave matters of defense up to the military or the nation’s health to the medical profession.”


WARNING: This next item is reprinted to show how “lightly” the subject of parent advisory groups was taken in the late 70’s. This was included in a principals’ workshop, hopefully to elicit “positive” suggestions. (Maybe, it IS a good teaching tool. What do you think?)





Eight ways to destroy an advisory group:

  1. Stall.  Hold the first meeting in November.  The momentum will be lost by January, and June will soon be there.
  2. Be subtly negative in your communications, always declaring willingness to co-operate.
  3. Offer no leadership.  Try to avoid an agenda for meetings and bring no ideas.  Talk endlessly.
  4. Dominate meetings.  Discourage discussion of sensitive topics.  Hide behind legalistic obstructions.
  5. Involve the group in an elaborate and lengthy report.  Then let it gather dust.
  6. If they mean business, isolate the advisory group’s leaders.  Provoke a quarrel (always in private); effectively end communication. Brand the activists as trouble-makers.
  7. Cultivate a tame group of parents.  Make it obvious that there is a split in the community.
  8. Let your staff know you are standing between them and a bunch of meddlers.  They’ll get the idea.




Parent Satisfaction Index

Parent Satisfaction Index                                           

Parent Advisory Councils can use this questionnaire to gather information and as a basis for seeking improvements during school discussions. Feel free to change the questions to serve your specific needs.

SA – Strongly Agree    A – Agree        N – Don’t know, not applicable     D – Disagree    SD – Strongly Disagree


   (First 10 items about satisfaction with school, next 10 about state of communications)


1. My child likes this school


2. He/she is getting the right programs & attention


3. He/she is reading at a level sufficient to keep up to class


4, Discipline is fair and consistent


5. There is good effort to help students be kind, thoughtful, co-operative


6. The principal knows most children & families


7. Most at the school act as a team, consistent on discipline, programming, school spirit


8. There is a sense of purpose about this school


9. My child feels comfortable to talk about this school


10.  My child will be well-prepared for the next level of education or training


11. The school keeps me well informed about my child’s progress or problems


12. Homework is relevant. I have a good idea of what is to be accomplished


13. The Philosophy/Mission of the school is clear to the parents


14. Newsletters arrive home regularly and in time to plan for school events


15. Newsletters are useful: describe rules, programs, holidays, events, personnel


16. I have been made aware of the channels to pursue if I have a problem or concern


17. I have good parent-teacher conferences and get to talk to teacher(s) when needed


18. The parent group deals with substantive matters & and is consulted by the principal


19. Parents can easily get in touch with the parent group and pass on concerns & interests


20. Invitations to attend parent meetings are genuine & held when most parents can attend


 PS:  This chart PRINTS OUT very nicely, especially if you use Landscape View in Word.

Effective Schools Checklist

Don’t blame the parents. Don’t blame the kids. Don’t blame the neighborhood.
If we want effective schools let’s look at the schools.
Ron Edmonds of Harvard who put the term “Effective Schools” on the map with his speech “Some Schools Work and more Can” in 1978 said

We can whenever, and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need, in order to do this. Whether we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

It’s a scandal! Nearly 30 years later most school people don’t have an inkling about these findings, or if they do are more prone to debate or ignore the research than implement it.
Of course, this is typical because there is little up-take within a system when there is no motivation to improve (or worse still, a feeling that improvements aren’t necessary – the problems will go away).
What we need is to open up the discussions – let parents in on the scene to ensure effective schools. You can be sure, parents won’t let the matter die or gather dust for another 30 years! Resolve, commitment, the will to do things comes when there is a “dynamic” going on – when parents and educators CARE together.

We can’t let another two generations of school children slip through.  This checklist is from the 1983 archives of Education Advisory, a consumer service for parents in the 70′ & 80’s.

(from the original work of Ron Edmonds, Harvard, 1978)

___ 1. Instructional Leadership Principal is an effective communicator (with staff, parents, students, school boards), an effective supervisor, & the instructional leader in the school
___ 2. Focused School Mission General consensus by the school community (staff, parents, students ) on goals, priorities, assessment, accountability. The mission statement is specified and reviewed periodically.
___ 3. Orderly Environment Purposeful atmosphere, not oppressive, and is conducive to teaching and learning.
___ 4.High Expectations Demonstrated high expectations not only for all students but for staff as well. The belief is that students are capable and able to achieve, that teachers are capable and not powerless to make a difference.
___ 5. Mastery of Basic Skills In particular, basic reading, writing and math skills are emphasized with back-up alternatives available for students with special learning needs.
___ 6. Frequent Monitoring of Results Means exist to monitor student progress in relationship to instructional objectives (and results can be easily conveyed to parents).
___ Means to monitor teacher effectiveness
___ A system of monitoring school goals
___ 7. Meaningful Parent Involvement Parents are kept well-informed re: programs, goals, etc. There is ample opportunity for them to keep in touch with their child’s progress. They are consulted for feedback about the school and when changes are foreseen Parent-initiated contact with the school is encouraged.
___* 8. Avoidance of Pitfalls Up-to-date awareness of good educational practice plus retaining currency in the field concerning promising and discredited practices.

*Most “effective schools studies” repeat the first 7 points. But, Edmonds’ original work stressed “one of the cardinal characteristics of effective schools is that they are as anxious to avoid things that don’t work as they are committed to implement things that do.”