Parents as Advocates: How Can You Make a Difference?

Your Rights as a Parent

As a parent, you have the right to be a partner in your child’s education and to know what’s going on in your child’s classroom and school. Your child’s school should provide you with relevant information such as your child’s progress, school safety procedures, and free meal programs. You can ask for more information about your child’s education. You have the right to request materials that the teachers are using, your child’s records on file, and your child’s performance on assignments and exams.
Below are some questions that you may want to ask your child’s teacher while he or she is in school:
  • When will my child have a test, and how will I know that a test is coming up?
  • If my child or I have questions on homework or deadlines, how can we contact you?
  • What are your rules about kids working together on group projects? 
  • If my child is missing homework, how much time does he/she have to turn it in? Will he/she have to miss recess or other activities to complete missing work? Will I be notified that my child is missing work?
  • How will I know how my child is doing in your class?
If you prefer speaking a language other than English, schools must find a translator or give you information in the language you speak. If you don’t understand the answer the school gives you, or if you have more questions – ask again! Your number one concern should be to ensure that your child is receiving the best education and support possible. You are your child’s number one advocate.

Where to Start

  1. If you or your child is having a problem or if you don’t understand why something is happening, reach out to your child’s teacher first. If your child has more than one teacher, ask the one who teaches the subject you have a question about – for example, ask a math teacher about math class issues.
  2. If the teacher doesn’t respond or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can ask another teacher in that subject area or grade level. This teacher might not know the answer about your child specifically, but might be able to help you better understand the school subject or school in general. The key to dealing with these situations is developing relationships with all of your child’s teachers so that the teacher sees you as a partner in your child’s education.
  3. If talking to the teacher doesn’t work, you can go “up the chain” and talk to the assistant principal, the principal, or even the superintendent if necessary. To do this, you will need to set up a meeting time. If you work during the day, some principals might be willing to meet early in the morning before school or after school if you explain why you need to meet at that time.

Terms to Know

CAMPUS / SCHOOL: This is a physical school of any level – elementary, middle, high school, or multiple levels housed together. While a campus refers to a single school, it might have a few buildings. A Principal leads the campus. He or she makes many rules and hires the teachers. A principal may have staff members to help. Your school might also have Assistant Principals (APs) who are in charge of a particular grade level (like “3rd Grade Reading AP”) or are in charge of discipline.
PTO/PTA: These are “Parent Teacher Organizations” or “Associations.” These are groups of volunteers, mostly parents, who volunteer to support the school, the principal, and teachers. If your school does not have a PTA/PTO, you can set up a meeting with your principal to discuss starting one so that parents have a voice at the campus level.
All parents at a school can join, and there is usually a PTA/PTO Board of leaders (President, Secretary, etc.) that are elected by the members. PTA/PTO responsibilities include:
• Raising money through donations, fundraisers, and membership dues for school activities and events
• Address school-wide issues and advocate for changes they want to see at the school
DISTRICT: This is a group that manages all of the schools in an area.
The leader of the District is called the Superintendent, and he or she is hired by the Board of Trustees that make up the School Board (see next section). The Superintendent and his/her staff run the District. They can set the start and end times for schools, set graduation requirements that comply with state laws, and schedule school repairs and athletic schedules.
SCHOOL BOARD: This is a team of people elected by the community to lead the District. If you live in the District, there is one Board Member in charge of your area. You have the right to attend School Board meetings. If you have an issue that is bigger than just your child or your campus you can bring that issue to the School Board during a regular meeting time that is open to the public. Anyone can request to speak at a school board meeting or ask to meet individually with a School Board member, or the Superintendent. School Board Members are elected by the community. Their roles include:
• Making the budget for the District.
• Hiring and firing the Superintendent.
• Deciding on teacher raises or bonuses.
• Creating teacher programs to evaluate how well teachers are doing.
TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY (TEA): This is the government agency responsible for Texas’ public education system. They are located in Austin, Texas. The Commissioner of Education leads TEA and is appointed by the Governor. TEA’s job is to provide guidance and resources to help schools meet the educational needs of all students in Texas. Additionally, they are in charge of all standardized tests, such as the STAAR test.

 

How to Create Change Beyond Your School

PARENT COALITIONS

Sometimes parents have an issue with their child’s education that involves more than just one teacher, year, or subject area. Some children may have learning disabilities, illnesses, special needs, or special interests that require extra attention.
Sometimes schools or teachers are unable or unwilling to provide that special attention. In cases like these, parents with similar issues will meet – online or in person – and share information, stories, and ideas to help their children. By working together, parent groups can often bring changes to schools or districts that individual families could not. For example, a parent who may be struggling with their child’s learning disability would benefit from connecting with parents in similar situations and hearing about ways that other parents have had success both in and out of the classroom.

STATEWIDE ADVOCACY

There are changes that you can make at the campus or district level. However, this may not be possible when the issue or situation affects more than one child, or the school does not have the power to make the requested change. When this happens, parents might have to help change the state laws. As citizens of the state of Texas, parents have the power to advocate for changes in laws. This process can take many years of dedication.
What kinds of issues require legislative advocacy?
Here are a few issues that may be out of your school or even school board’s control that may require statewide legislative advocacy: school choice, school finance, statewide testing, and school calendar, to name a few.
How do I advocate for legislative change?
Sometimes advocacy may involve asking the state representative or state senator assigned to your address to vote for a particular issue or bill. It is best to call or write to your representatives and express your reasoning. Other times you will first need to collect facts and prepare a proposal for change. Once you have a proposal, you can bring this information to your representatives to ask for their support in making the changes.
“Who represents me?”
To find the contact information for your statewide representative and senator visit fyi.legis.state.tx.us/.

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