Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Salem School Advocates Question Quick Formation of District Parent Advisory Council

The following letter was sent to the Salem School Committee from Community Advocates for Salem Schools (CASS) regarding the SC's vote this week to form a District Parent Advisory Council. CASS is a group of parents and community members organized as a city-wide education advocacy group currently comprised of approximately 75 members and has been meeting since late April.

Dear School Committee Members
Several weeks ago, before the recent budget crisis, a group of very concerned parents and community members came together to discuss forming a city-wide parent and community advocacy group. This group, Community Advocates for Salem Schools (CASS) has been meeting now for three weeks, and each meeting has been announced on Facebook and is open to anyone who wishes to attend. It is specifically designed to be inclusive. The rationale behind this group was to provide parents and community members with a cohesive voice in regards to the Salem Public Schools. This group is largely made up of people who have felt ill-informed, who have not been well-served by the policies created by the Central Office and School Committee, whose children are struggling in this rigid system and who have been, up to this point, unheard, disregarded, and left to feel as if they've had nowhere to turn.
At last night’s School Committee meeting the Mayor announced her intention to form a District Parent Advisory Council (D-PAC), after reaching out to “certain parents.” This has caused some consternation for us, not least of all because the parents in this group will be appointed. The problem with appointees is that they are often selected to further the agenda of the person who makes the appointment. This is why if this D-PAC should be formed through the democratic process of an open vote, as that is how voices are heard. There are already many concerns regarding the democratic process within the School Committee, not least of all the vote on the D-PAC which was not on the formal agenda last evening
We are very concerned that this group will be nothing more than “Parents Cabinet” designed to disseminate only select information to the community. Equally concerning is the speed in which this cabinet came about. To our knowledge, it was first mentioned in a letter to Schools PTOs yesterday afternoon, and then less than twelve hours later, without even having a place on the agenda, voted on to be implemented with the Mayor offering to take control to get it launched. While we would like to assume that the intentions behind the formation of this council are good, please understand, this school committee has created such a culture of distrust within the community that we cannot assume that this is the case.
We believe that feedback must come from the ground up, not from a select few; all parents must be heard regardless of whether or not their views align with your agenda. It is we, the parents, who are the ones who are truly in this “for the good of the children.” We are committed to our schools, our teachers, our children, and our community, and our advocacy group will continue to meet and we intend to grow this at the grassroots level. To truly show us that you are committed to the democratic process, we ask that you not only give those with aligning views the chance to be heard – you must also meet with and listen to those that oppose your policies so that you can figure out how to best serve the entire community and build the bridges to those that have been long neglected.
Community Advocates for Salem Schools

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