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School Daze

by Kelly Chopus

June 6,2007

As we careen toward summer vacation, one community topic remains constant – Charlotte’s obsession with all things CMS. We’ve had almost a full year of the Pete Show (4 out of 5 stars!), more national and local kudos for the Teach for America professionals assigned here to some of our most fragile school environments, and another strong outcome for the Communities in Schools program in those same fragile elementary, middle and high schools. I am boggled, and sometimes bogged down, by the sheer number of education stories which all lead back to CMS.

A slim window of opportunity exists to get education consensus. Ironically, elsewhere CMS is perceived as a huge success and a model for mega-districts across the country. We are all invested in CMS being the top producer of work, college or global society ready, productive citizens. Quality public education is a leading indicator of economic, social and political factors… and of business drivers. Ask anyone how critical the CMS challenge is and you will get very thoughtful and passionate responses highlighting the correlation between public education and relocating businesses, public education and a strong local and regional economy, public education and crime. It all comes down to kids and their parents. And really, the buck stops at and with parents.

I have experience in the public education arena as the parent of three elementary aged kids at one of Charlotte’s finest south-side schools. Shout out to Sharon Elementary! I also have some experience with a few other fine public schools, on the west side, where I have volunteered as part of my work in this community. Shout out to Amay James Pre-K, Reid Park Elementary School and Westerly Hills Elementary! Two things these schools have in common are skilled and caring principals and talented teachers. Another thing they share is great kids. Loving, sweet and innocent kids. What I can’t speak to in both cases is the parent equation. The parents in my kids’ school are super involved in the school as volunteers and out of the school as the rightful stewards of their children’s education experience. I hope the parents in the other schools are just as involved.

A close friend has a firm and positive perspective. He thinks, and I believe him, that education is all about the access and navigation factors for parents. Parents of school aged children who do not have a positive frame of reference for the machinations of the school system, for whatever reason, will pass on that wariness to their children. They will be less willing to walk into the school to ask a question, discuss a problem or guide their child. If they suffered in school years ago, or their parents before them did not know to ask the right questions at parent teacher conferences, or how to work within the system to have a child’s special needs met, they have no benchmark to advocate for their own child. We have to figure out a way to guide all parents in the system either through (and this is my contribution to the thread) formal family advocacy programs in every school or through outsourced community resources like the Parent Leadership Network, which trains parents to serve in their kids’ schools. Help parents navigate the tricky bureaucracy we created in public education and kids will thrive.

We as parents are running the business of our children’s educations. We are the CEO’s. We are the experts in our children – their behavior, their uniqueness, their promise. It is our job alone to ensure the quality of education meets our high standards. Teachers, and the CMS system as a whole, are the consultants we hire to lend the professional and specific expertise we might lack. I don’t hire a consultant to tell me how to run my business. I hire a consultant to help me tweak and improve my business. I happily outsource the teaching of calculus and leave that to the true experts in their fields, but I know in my heart that it is my duty, honor and privilege to check my children’s homework each night and make sure she, she and he are learning it. And like most CEO’s, sometimes I do a fabulous job, and sometimes I swing and miss.

Parents need a little teaching too.

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