School councils hold promise for community

info@islandpacket.comOctober 25, 2012 

With greater participation, School Improvement Councils could do a lot more to improve schools in Beaufort County.

They need help from parents, neighbors and businesses.

And the Beaufort County Board of Education must abide by its policy to meet with School Improvement Council representatives twice a year. It has met once this year, but a second meeting had not been scheduled as of last week.

School Improvement Councils have offered a way for the community to help schools since they came into being under a different name in 1977.

They were written into the landmark Education Improvement Act of 1984, which codified the make-up and duties of the councils.

The Early Childhood Development and Academic Assistance Act of 1993 extended the role of the councils, requiring that they participate in strategic planning and report annually to parents.

The Education Accountability Act of 1998 added more responsibilities, including review and adjustment of the school improvement plan if the school were rated unsatisfactory, and participation in the preparation of the school report card.

The councils offer people outside the school system -- people who are not board members or administrators -- a stronger voice in what goes on in the schools. And the mandatory council make-up includes teachers and students, the voices least heard but most important in education.

It is a shame to waste that opportunity with anemic School Improvement Councils -- which is the norm for Beaufort County.

When parents got up in arms about potential school closings a couple of years ago, school board chairman Fred Washington Jr. wisely saw that the school district could better communicate with the community -- and vice versa -- if the existing avenue of School Improvement Councils was used to the fullest.

By establishing a policy to meet regularly with School Improvement Councils -- and encouraging board members to meet separately with councils within their districts -- the school board made an important statement. It indicated it sees parents as part of the solution, not the problem.

Now it is up to parents -- and the school board -- to act on that promise.

Around the state, the best School Improvement Councils tackle problems specific to their schools -- from low reading scores to poor traffic flow -- and bring about solutions. They may take on poor attendance, tardiness, empty library shelves, rundown playgrounds, technological divides, parental involvement, behavior, school pride and community indifference. They take an honest look at what they are up against demographically. They establish goals for the year, then engage businesses, churches, civic clubs, grandparents, politicians, law enforcement, utilities and other governmental agencies to help make things happen.

Beaufort County finally produced one of the state's finest School Improvement Councils when Port Royal Elementary School was a finalist this year for the Dick and Tunky Riley Award for SIC Excellence. Others should strive for the recognition. If nothing else it verifies that the councils are in place legally and can prove they are carrying out their legal duties -- including regular meetings with minutes recorded.

The state offers guidance and assistance to all who need it in building up local School Improvement Councils.

Another committee in an of itself cannot do anything to help the schools. But if the School Improvement Councils are taken seriously, they can do a lot.

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