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So You Have a Concern?

Spotlight on Education

So You Have a Concern?

            This business of schooling is a very complex enterprise. The performance and success of the student is the focus of our attention. The multiple stakeholders include first, the student, the parents, family members, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers. By its very nature, public education is very public! It can’t be any other way. In fact, the public pays all the operating expenses of our system.

            Parents, guardians, and grandparents often have anxiety about what happens in school with their children. The relationships between these multiple stakeholders may include miscommunication and misunderstandings. People can also have legitimate differences of opinions. Mix in a good measure of emotion, and you have a recipe for some potentially tense situations.

            So you have a concern about an issue with your child at school? What should you do about it? To whom should your concern be addressed? How should the issue be resolved? First, the old sage advice should always be remembered: There are always two or more sides to every story. A wise Kindergarten teacher once told a parent, “If you won’t believe everything your child tells you about what happened at school, then I won’t believe everything he says happened at home.” Ah, yes, the imagination and creativity of young minds.  

            Some people often think that the best way to get to the bottom of a problem is to start at the top. Neither in my personal or professional life have I found that approach to be effective. The best place to start is to begin closest to the source of the issue. During my 13 year tenure as a high school principal, I often received expressions of concern from parents, family, and community members. As a Director of Schools, I continue to receive the same. When I responded as a principal, I would ask if the caller had talked to the teacher. If not, then I facilitated a meeting between the teacher and parent. If my administrative involvement was needed after this conversation, then I was readily available. Most of the time, the issue was resolved at that level. As a Director of Schools, I will ask again if they have talked to the teacher or coach or whomever is the appropriate person. If the answer is no, then I ask them to set up a meeting with the teacher. If the answer is yes, then I explain that they should talk to the principal. I also advise that if the matter cannot be resolved with a dialogue between the caller, teacher, and principal, then they are welcome to contact me again. In cases that involve older students, then they too should be involved in such a discussion. Rarely do I receive a return call.    

            Let me provide other suggestions about what not to do. First, the problem is not likely be resolved by a public discussion without hearing from the school employee closest to the perceived problem. Notice I said perceived problem – because most such issues are about perception which typically has very little to do with fact or truth. Neither the beauty shop, shopping aisles of the grocery store, nor the steps of the church is suitable locations for such discussions unless all parties have an opportunity for input. Most such problems are the result of a lack of communication. In some cases, we as educators have not clearly communicated with students and parents. On other occasions, the story told at home is inconsistently with what really happened.

            Occasionally, a concerned citizen decides the best place to start is by calling a school board member. By all means, please communicate with school board members on matters of policy and procedure that are of interest or concern to you. If the matter involves an accusation against a school employee, then it needs to be handled through established policy and administrative procedures. Morgan County Board of Education Policy GAEA states, “Whenever a complaint about an employee is made to the Board as a whole or a board member as an individual, it will be referred to the school administration for study and possible solutions. The employee involved will be advised of the nature of the complaint and given opportunity for explanation, comment, and presentation of the facts as he/she sees them.” This does not mean that school employees are infallible. Far from it, we do occasionally make mistakes. But this policy assures due process and helps to protect the reputation of these employees. Policy also includes a provision of appeal to the School Board for consideration of a hearing. Rarely, is such action necessary.  

            Another improper method, although quite popular, is writing anonymous letters critical of school employees. All educational leaders receive such treatises. Although occasionally entertaining, these diatribes are totally ignored. These cowardly acts are often slanderous and libelous, and they deprive the victim of due process. The negotiated agreement between the School Board and the Morgan County Education Association states, “No anonymous complaint shall be given any consideration.”

            So, you have a concern? Please take your concern to the school employee closest to the issue. If that doesn’t work, talk to the immediate supervisor of the employee. In the vast majority of cases, you will find school employees who are genuinely concerned for your child. Generally, there are logical reasons for many of the procedures in our schools. We do want strong partnerships with parents, families, and community. Let’s communicate, resolve any issues, and work together help our students be the best they can be.