Parents, if you want your school to work for your child, you have to make a mental shift from student to customer.

Some parents, when they walk in to their child's school, regress to the role of student they once were, when they thought principals knew best, didn't question what they were told and, more importantly, had to get past the office secretary — the designated gatekeeper.

For some, it's an intimidating experience. They are afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid, since professionals know best.

But if you want your school to work for your child you must shed a couple of myths. First, you are no longer a student. You are a grown-up parent who has the responsibility to make sure your child has a safe school that provides the knowledge and skills needed to make it in a fast-changing and unknown world.

Second, schools do not belong to the "stakeholders" (education administrators, unions, special-interest groups) as some would like you to believe; schools belong to you as a parent/taxpayer. You are the customer, the consumer, who should expect good customer service and receive a quality product — a world-class education for your child. You should expect to be welcome in your school and receive answers to your questions but don't waste your time with administrators who can't give you a direct answer in a timely manner.

Don't hesitate; call your local elected school board member to answer your question(s). He/she is responsible for overseeing the operation of schools in your district. And don't let him/her brush you off by saying you need to go up the chain of command. That's his/her job. Ask when you can expect an answer, and then follow up. That's accountability.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to find out who are your state and local elected officials responsible for making policies and supervising public education. They are the ones you must hold accountable for making sure your school meets the educational needs of your child, not the district superintendent or principal. They are simply carrying out the policies and practices handed down from your elected officials, who often put you through a maze of bureaucratic hoops designed to wear you out.

Some superintendents act as though their main job is to protect board members and make them look good. In many instances, district board members, upon being elected, are quickly brainwashed into believing the education administrators know best and board meetings are designed to hear from the public, each for two minutes, and then to dismiss them with a courtesy thank you. Some districts have created committees to tire parents out who do not have the time to listen to lengthy descriptions of what is being done.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your board member or candidate as you work to improve your child's education: How will you make sure teachers are trusted and treated as professionals and have the freedom to practice their profession? How will you get principals who support teachers as professionals and free them from having to waste time with stuff that has nothing to do with student learning?

Children are learning constantly and not limited to the school walls where they spend seven hours of their day. Parents are the most important factor in a child's education, and your responsibility is to make sure your child gets a good one. That includes calling your board members to make sure they are carrying out their promises and duties.

Want accountability? School board elections are coming up. As a voter and parent you will be deciding whom you will elect to run your schools. That's your duty as you make the mental shift from student to parent/customer.


A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net.