I can’t recall an election year that featured the school board slots as the hottest races on the ballot before this year. I think that is a good thing, even though my youngest child is a senior in high school, and both of my children were catholic school kids from kindergarten through graduation (if my youngest can keep it together a few more months). Quality public schools are a vital responsibility of our government and our community, and I won’t waste time listing those reasons. It’s how we achieve that quality that should be at debate this election season. I started doing research on my Election Day options for the IPS school board this week, and frankly, I’m disappointed in them.
My dad raised seven kids that were almost exclusively public school products in at least six different school districts. He told me once that no matter where he was, or when he was there, the school system was in crisis. He never lived in Indianapolis, but it sure seems like he does. If he could be the guest blogger this week, I know his advice to the city would be simple: pick a plan and implement it, and the only truly valuable thing missing from a successful IPS, is an effective plan to achieve parental engagement.
The one thing that must be a part of our solution is we must find a way to have our students’ parents invest in their children’s success. I use the word “invest” in the broadest possible sense of the word. There is no substitute for it. There is no shortcut around it. When our children live their educational experience, and their families live it with them, the results show.
My parents lived the educational experiences with me and my siblings. School success was the hands down, no questions asked, most important thing that the gaggle of children in our house was in charge of contributing. A bad report card or Heaven forbid, a call home from the school, was feared uniformly. There may have been occasion for us to even turn on each other if someone stepped out of line. And I happily passed that gift from my parents down to my children.
I vividly remember my mom fighting with my junior high school over their terrible algebra teacher. Nothing put more pressure on me than having my mom tell the school that their algebra teacher was an idiot when I was having trouble spelling algebra, let alone understanding it. Thanks Mom. I did eventually become good at it, but I still get a little tense whenever I need to figure out what x equals.
Any way, I love listening to parents complain about all of the things their child’s school is forcing them to do. If the parents are complaining, it usually means they are participating. It’s when the parents are apathetic that the schools fail.
So what’s the Contrarian point? It is this: on my ballot in IPS District 5 on Tuesday, I have not seen any candidate, in his or her campaign material in mail or on a campaign website that details a parental engagement plan as a priority. In fairness, I did uncover one at-large candidate that mentions its importance, but no plan or details were added. They all support kids. They all support teachers. Refreshingly, Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee apparently has plenty of support from all of the candidates as well. So why should any of us vote for any of these board candidates over any other?
Here is my pledge: I am voting for the first at-large candidate and the first District 5 candidate who contacts me with a promise to make parental engagement a priority for IPS. I will also put a campaign sign in my yard for them. If the big winner of my one vote wants me to do so, I will help on social media (admittedly, that could backfire as my loyal readers can attest).
In closing, I need IPS to do well. Even though my kids never went there, it is still wildly important to me. It is a measure of success for our community. It drives property values. It drives economic prosperity. It directly correlates to our public safety. It is vital to all of us, like it or not.
Dragging the parents into the school debate and engaging them in the process is a necessity. This is the part at which we are failing. And most disturbingly, it is not the campaign priority of any candidate for whom I can vote. There will be parents that fight more being asked of them. I don’t really care to hear it. Parents are the missing piece in IPS. And it’s time to give them a giant homework assignment.