When “Helicopter” Parents Take Over a School Board/4-Point Plan to Improve Student Achievement
What happens when “helicopter” parents take over a local school Board? That was my question to my initial “go-to” sources: Google search and Siri. Neither provided a definitive answer.
I met my first “helicopter” parent in year three or four of teaching. My unsaid thought was good luck with that when your student goes to college, as I could not remember a professor I had who would be moved by a parent intervening in the face of perceived or justified unfairness.
As it turns out, my in-depth internet research indicated helicopter parents are so “old school,” as there are designations for stealth bomber, lawn mower, drone, submarine, and thermostat parents. I won’t spoil the plot, but thermostat parents are preferred at the college level.
This intellectual exercise was driven by a thought that members of a Board of Education view their role and the school system they are charged with administering through a lens shaped by their experiences. If you have ever attended a Board meeting, you have likely heard a current Board member say (as a setup for what they are about to say), “As a parent of students in Jefferson County Schools” or “I know from my child’s experience.”
What is missing for me is the view of Jefferson County Schools through the lens of experiences of a single parent wanting the best for their child. The viewpoint of the socio-economic challenged in our community, who we measure for federal funding, but fall short in delivering effective programs. And, the viewpoint of the parent who says, I wish my child could go to that school, but they go to this school because of where we live. The public relations slogan of “One Jefferson” is a myth, if according to members of the current Board that it means that a student can transfer to any school in the county and have the same educational experience and opportunity.
The annual rating of student proficiency by the Department of Education, which would be a failing grade on a report card, reflects a disparity of educational opportunity, and, quite frankly, school board ineffectiveness.
For example, the current incumbents tout a dual-credit arrangement with Shepherd College. It comes at a cost and primarily benefits those already achieving. Left out are students that the current curriculum and instruction focus did not serve fully to prepare them for this opportunity and it may be the case for many that their families cannot afford this opportunity.
The current Board stood by as the highly regarded and effective advanced placement (AP) program at Jefferson High School was dismantled. As a former member of the Jefferson High School teaching staff, I can tell you that this program, those teachers, created post-high school opportunities beyond the expectations of parents and students. But, again, even this highly regarded high school AP program was out of reach for those ill-prepared academically for this opportunity.
Student achievement in Jefferson County Schools, as reflected in yearly student proficiency scores, cannot and will not rise with a narrowly-focused curriculum and instructional model that takes the easy road of promoting programs for students and schools that are already achieving. The hard work, the necessary work, is to broaden the focus on students and schools that are not currently achieving.
This requires a different focus, a new perspective, and, yes, a new lens through which to view and address student achievement in Jefferson County Schools.
I propose a four-point plan in support of broader student achievement.
Effective Instructional Leadership – The School Board needs to take responsibility, as outlined in state law, to provide “a proper framework and the governance strategies” for monitoring and improving student achievement. They oversee the school superintendent, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, all 5 coordinators of differing levels of curriculum and instruction, and school principals, who have the leadership responsibility for improving student achievement. There is a need to examine and evaluate the current multi-level curriculum and instruction model that continuously delivers poor results.
Data-driven Strategies – There is no shortage of gathering data. In fact, a few years back, when the high schools’ coordinator position was being refilled, it was decided to make them not only responsible for overall academics at two high schools, but to saddle them with the responsibility of being an “instructional data analyst for secondary mathematics,” which includes middle schools. That is a tall order. In short, there is data available. Yet, there is no meaningful follow through in effective use of the data to drive instruction and improve student achievement.
Meaningful Parent and Family Engagement — Parent and family engagement is recognized as a key to student achievement. It is not enough to say, we try, without working to identify the barriers that exist to greater participation of parents and family, including socio-economic circumstances. I advocate a sustained outreach to engage parents and families to help them meaningfully understand how to monitor their child’s progress and how to work with educators to expand student opportunities and student achievement. I propose a Parent/Family Academy focused on strengthening parental and family engagement in support of student success now and in the future.
Professional Development in support of student achievement – There is a clear need to revamp how Jefferson County Schools delivers professional development for educators in the 21st century overall, but there is a glaring need for purposeful and focused professional development to the benefit of teachers in support of student achievement. A one-off professional development falls short. Data exists for instructional leaders from the school board and superintendent, through a level of curriculum and instruction coordinators, to school principals. What is missing is ongoing and relevant professional development that engages and empowers teachers. Let’s not forget that teachers are knowledgeable and licensed professionals. They are dedicated, underpaid, and love their jobs and students. They are in the best position to evaluate the data, add their classroom experience to enhance the usefulness of the data, and to deliver on the goal of increased student achievement.