Schools leader seeks parents' involvement

Grasmick is forming state advisory council

October 27, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Saying she wants to "listen to voices that haven't been heard," Maryland's school leader has launched a campaign to involve parents in decision-making at the top levels of the State Department of Education.

Last week, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced formation of a Maryland Parent Advisory Council, which will confer regularly with state officials on such issues as parents' rights and the roles of parents in student testing. Such parental involvement is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The council, which Grasmick said would comprise about 40 members, would be statewide, but leadership would rotate among regions.

"The idea is to give every parent a voice," Grasmick said, "not just the usual people who show up and do most of the work for the PTAs."

FOR THE RECORD - An article Monday misstated the affiliation of Joyce L. Epstein, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University. She is director of the university's Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships. The Sun regrets the error.

Grasmick is asking for nominees for council membership, and her office sent out 20,000 questionnaires last week asking Marylanders to suggest issues the council and its three subcommittees will take up. Four regional public hearings are scheduled around the state this fall, the first Nov. 19 in Baltimore County.

The questionnaire is posted on the State Education Department's Web site at www.mary landpublicschools.org.

"We've done a lot of work with parents," Grasmick said Friday, "but there's still a pervasive feeling that things are being done to them, not that they have any leadership role. We don't have a coherent way of getting the views of parents to the state school board, and I expect we'll be hearing a lot from parents as the first report cards are being sent home from the Maryland School Assessment."

Research shows that students whose parents are deeply involved in school affairs perform better academically. Grasmick said she hopes to draw on the expertise of Joyce L. Epstein, an authority on school and family partnerships at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, and of Soo Hong, a policy intern from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

The superintendent stressed that the new body won't compete with the state PTA, which she said has grown stronger in the past two years and will have representation on the council, "but the strength of the PTA is spotty around the state, and many schools in the city don't have PTAs."

Some parents have been embittered by their experiences in neighborhood schools, Grasmick said. "Parents sit on school improvement teams, but too often they feel like underdogs. And too many principals talk down to them, overwhelming them with professional talk," she said.

Many organizations in Maryland, such as Tyrone Powers' Children 1st Movement in Baltimore and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, involve parents in their work, but unlike the PTA, they are not affiliated with schools.

Some parents have given up in disgust, preferring to educate their children at home or send them to private schools.

"Unfortunately, Nancy Grasmick is way behind me and many others," said Linda Kleiner, a Cecil County mother who withdrew all four of her children from public schools.

"We found that parents aren't welcome in public schools unless they're raising money."

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