By Franchesca Warren
As a child growing up, my mother had many rules, but the one I have found essential as an adult is when you know you’re wrong, apologize and make amends.
As a mother to four children, it’s something I find myself doing continually as I prepare my own kids for the real world. This belief in admitting mistakes and making amends is something the Fulton County Board of Education doesn’t seem to grasp.
Over the past four months, the 900-plus parents from our Fulton Facebook group have been vocal about the issues within the school system. We’ve emailed our concerns, done interviews about proposed solutions, met with our school leaders to show support and even drafted nine non-negotiables that we wanted addressed by the school board. We don’t want these concerns addressed with just our South Fulton board members, but with all who took the pledge to represent Fulton students.
Throughout our advocacy, we’ve had many difficult conversations with other parents, teachers and even select board members throughout the entire county. It’s apparent there’s work to be done to make the needs of students, teachers and parents a priority. Parents from both the south and north sides of the county have united under the belief that policies must change for solutions to be addressed.
This past month, we nervously waited to see if the school board would say, “We know these are valid issues. How would you suggest we begin to fix these things?”
Instead, we were met with hastily assembled agendas from board members that asserted all nine things we demanded were figments of our imagination, that our concerns didn't represent real problems and, essentially, we were just overreacting.
We are not giving up. We will continue our advocacy for changes that will help all schools and press the board to embrace solutions that will help all students. Among those solutions:
-Parents must be on the search committee for the next superintendent to replace Dr. Jeff Rose. Over the last half dozen or so superintendents, we've witnessed the board follow the "business as usual" tact in which the district ends up presenting parents with one main candidate. This system has not worked as evidenced in the turnover of superintendents. We need a coalition of parents, teachers, and students from across the district in on the selection committee.
-There must be more board members for the south/central sides of Fulton County. There's no reason that 2.5 Fulton County board members represent 50,000 students. In nearby Decatur, they have five members for only 5,600 students, compared to Fulton with 100,000 students and seven board members. We need more representation to ensure our voices are heard and we are adequately represented in decisions that affect our students.
-Allocate funds to schools to pay for the arts in all K-8 schools. One of the "solutions" that seems to be a favorite of all board members is to say that schools can work through their school governance councils to bring arts to their schools. This would be great if most schools weren't cash-strapped and unable to come up with the $200,000 or more to restore a vibrant arts program. Principals have to make decisions that will ultimately allow them to educate hundreds of children; they shouldn't have to pick between a math coach and an arts program.
-Create a branding campaign around the mental health alliance that's supposedly in South Fulton. I did a survey of our parents and almost no one knew of the mental health offered in some of their schools. That's a problem. If parents don't know there are professionals to help our most vulnerable students, then the services don't exist. Learn from the Fortune 500 companies in our metro area and market what's available.
-Fulton County Schools must answer emails from constituents. We heard board members countywide saying they have websites and newsletters, but that still doesn't replace replying to an email when a constituent has a concern. Understanding board members have other jobs, it's critical there is an administrative assistant to answer inquiries from the community.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start to avoid a board vs. parent mentality and to instead create a collaborative group working to make Fulton County Schools a place where parents feel good about sending their children.