Friday, August 13, 2010

The Most Important Election

It is the most important election in which you should participate. No, it is not the election for president or head of state. It is the election of the local governing board which oversees your child’s school. At the local level, this body wields an enormous amount of power and authority over your life; whether you’re a parent or not. It may not be the case in all countries, but whatever body has control over your school system and is elected; then that’s the election about which you should be concerned.

The notion of just how important my vote was really struck home this week as I sat in a local school board meeting. I must admit that I haven’t attended many of these meetings, but probably more than most in the local community. I live in a small town, so I am familiar with most of the members of our school board. On this particular night, I wished that I had paid much more attention to their election. Not so much because of the issues they were deciding, but because many seemed so lacking in knowledge and out of touch.

Our school board is the final authority on the hiring and firing of all district personnel from the administration to teachers to the janitorial staff. They vote on the funding for everything from textbooks to which sports will be played and extracurricular activities offered to teachers’ contracts. In essence, they determine the quality of education your child will receive.

In the past year, budgets for gifted education have been slashed throughout the U.S. and many parts of the world. With the exception (or not) of those school board members who are gifted parents, the likelihood that they firmly believe all of the myths surrounding gifted education is pretty much a given. The idea that their constituency may include the next Jonah Salk or that supporting gifted students could affect national security is far beyond their consciousness. Their main concerns are tax payers and the disgruntled parent whose child was wronged in some way.

In my opinion, gifted parents need to understand the entire power structure in their local schools and vote according to their vested interest in gifted education. They need to attend school board meetings as a group and continually hold board members accountable. Parents must remind the board that their primary responsibility is the quality of education made available to all students. Parents should voice their opinion over cuts to gifted programs. A parent can attend all the IEP (individual education plan) meetings and parent-teacher conferences they want, but it won’t matter if the funding isn't there. When a school board member looks at cutting a sports program that generates revenue for the school or cutting a gifted teacher, it isn't rocket science which will go first.

The most effective step gifted parents can take to have their voices heard by their local school boards is to join together in advocacy groups and influence local elections by voting for candidates who respond to their concerns and understand the importance of gifted education. If you are fortunate to have the right to vote, exercise that vote and make a difference in your child’s life!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lisa

    Is it possible for parents in the US to ask that a specific member of the school board is nominated as the lead on gifted education issues?

    In the UK, some school governing bodies have a nominated lead governor of this kind - though there are pros and cons to this approach.

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