Advocacy for Schools

Advocacy for Schools

              This column ran in the Capital on 6/11/11

                   and the Maryland Gazette on 6/29/11

  

Concerned citizens need an effective way to advocate for change in our schools.  The Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) was created by the state four decades ago to provide a mechanism by which parents and citizens could advise the Board of Education on policies and programs.  Over the years, the CAC has played instrumental roles on important topics such as revising the middle school class schedule and enclosing open-space classrooms.  

Most recently, the importance of parental advocacy was demonstrated as the Annapolis Education Commission successfully lobbied for maintaining the basic, advanced and honors tracks for incoming Annapolis High 9th graders.

Like a lot of organizations, the CAC’s effectiveness has ebbed and flowed over the years.  By the time Carol Kissal and I were elected the new Countywide CAC leaders this February, the CAC was badly in need of rebuilding.  

We started the process by fielding a comprehensive survey in which over 4,000 respondents told us what they most want to improve about Anne Arundel County public schools.  The CAC used these results (available at www.CACSurvey.com) to select five major concerns upon which to focus – large class sizes, bullying in schools, improving science education, decreasing the emphasis on test taking, and the achievement gap between minority and Caucasian students.  Our hope is that our research will allow us to recommend innovative solutions to the Board next year for these problems.  Meanwhile, as people have observed the CAC tackling problems they are deeply concerned about, hundreds of volunteers have offered to join the CAC in the last two months.  

We are well on the way to creating a very strong citizens advisory group that would be a real asset to the Board of Education.  Unfortunately, as we’ve been rebuilding the CAC, long-term frustration with the CAC has caused the Board to simultaneously move to dismantle it.  

As presently organized, each school has at least one CAC representative responsible for communicating issues to the Countywide CAC and other schools in their high school feeder system as well as reporting back on changes that will impact their schools.  The Board of Education is proposing to gut the CAC by eliminating both individual School CAC representatives and the Cluster CACs that have proven their worth in some high school feeder systems.  And since there would no longer be a base of school CAC representatives on which to draw, the Board of Education is proposing that they appoint the members of the Countywide CAC, eliminating any semblance of independence.

Having an effective advisory group is particularly important in Anne Arundel County.  We are one of the few Maryland counties whose Board of Education is appointed by the Governor.  While all Board of Education members are subject to a retention election, the fact that the Board is first appointed, not elected, is an issue that more than 51% of the respondents in our survey said they are very concerned about.  Citizens clearly want more say in the actions of the Board of Education, not less, and this is the role that the CAC is uniquely designed to fill.

If you agree that the CAC should remain a grass-roots organization with the quasi-independence necessary to promote potentially unpopular policies to the Board of Education, please express your concerns to Board members.  And, assuming we are successful in retaining our grassroots orientation, please email me at jconti@makemarylandgreat.com if you are interested in becoming involved with the CAC’s important work.

                         Joanna Conti is Chair of the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee. 

 

Follow Joanna on Twitter

Connect with Joanna