As a current school-board member and a candidate for state Legislature, I feel a need to respond to the column by John Florez titled "Parents/taxpayers should hold schools accountable" (Aug. 11). Mr. Florez is absolutely right when he said parents should stop thinking of themselves as the students they once were and become the customer and consumer that they are when it comes to their child's education. I have often heard of parents who feel powerless and intimidated by the idea of going into the school and discussing a problem with a teacher or principal. Sometimes they fear repercussions upon their students. I've pondered the idea of offering classes that teach these parents how to be successful advocates for their children. Here are some things that could be taught:
Suppose that your son is unhappy at a school. When you talk to him about it, you find that his teacher doesn't like him or has mistreated him (according to your son). What should you do?
First, assess if there is any particular reason or incident that would cause his teacher to dislike him. Then, without his knowledge, make an appointment to discuss this with his teacher.
Second, when you meet with his teacher, don't go into accusation mode. Try stating your concern and talk about your son's feelings. This gives the teacher the ability to evaluate his or her own feelings. If the teacher denies anything is wrong, gets defensive or goes on the attack, don't get drawn in. Leave as amicably as possible and make an appointment with the principal. Ask that the teacher be present and try discussing the problem again. But most problems will be resolved with the teacher on that first meeting.
Never hesitate to contact your local school-board member with a problem or a concern. I feel more frustrated at not hearing any problems than of hearing too many. It's important for board members to be aware of parent concerns with schools, curriculum, teachers or principals so that they can discuss those concerns with the full board and administration.
Now I have that part out of the way, I have to say that Mr. Florez is absolutely wrong in assuming that because board members listen during board meetings without acting it's because they don't care or aren't going to act. It often happens that problems brought to a board by the public in regular board meetings are new concerns the board has not heard before. They need time to research the problem and possible solutions. It would be rash for them to act without due consideration. Also, by law, no action can be taken in a public board meeting without being put on the agenda ahead of time.
Mr. Florez is also shortsighted when he assumes that school-board elections are the only ones that are pertinent to parents as customers and consumers of their schools. The policies and practices within a district are increasingly mandated by our state Legislature. At one time, local boards negotiated salaries, set graduation requirements, decided on attendance policies and chose curriculum. All of those things are now being decided on and controlled by the Legislature. Issues that were once under local control are being usurped by our Legislature in spite of the mantra of "local control." Every year there are more and more bills passed by the Legislature in attempts to fix every little parent concern that is brought to them instead of to their local school board. This legislative micromanaging is creating huge financial waste and frustration because every school district has unique, individual needs and circumstances that the state Legislature tries to squeeze into a "one-size-fits-all" category.
Debbie Swenson of Salem is a member of the Nebo Board of Education and a candidate for House District 66.