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Empowerment Begins With Preparation

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The following post is from Ronda Harmon, a former elementary school teacher, and currently the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils (KASC) in Danville, Kentucky.

The end of the school year means new beginnings.

Rightly, the spotlight this time of year shines on promotions and commencements that mark important final accomplishments. At the same time, however, preparations for the coming school year are taking shape -- in teacher trainings and decisions about hiring staff members who will be instrumental in a school's success. In Kentucky, the closing weeks of school include the election of parent and teacher school council members to serve in the upcoming school year. These representatives are charged with making important decisions about curriculum, classroom management, budgets, professional development and more.

Kentucky is more than two decades into a standards and accountability driven school system. For many of us who have been working in the system for years, what we do, how we do it, and why, can get lost as we move through the familiar cycle. We have to remind ourselves that people who are new to the system need support, direction and guidance; and fresh eyes can help experienced people see the system anew. One advantage of the long summer break is that it creates important new beginnings. The end of the school year is an opportunity to consider and improve how we reach out to new students, new parents, new teachers and new administrators.

Our organization was founded in 1992 to help school councils work within the legal governance structures and to use their responsibilities to improve student achievement. In that role, we are regularly reminded of the importance of conveying the basic tenets of a council's mission, making sure our education system can be explained in plain English, and communicating the idealism of striving for the best possible learning experiences for all students.

School councils grow from the belief that the people closest to students should make decisions on how best to reach education goals. Those people, often new parents and new teachers, need to be informed and involved in ways that allow them to become owners and partners in the kind of achievement we want for all children. Making sure our schools can confidently explain their structure, the applications of what we teach, and the lessons we learn from assessment data are essential to empowering and involving students, community, family members and educators.

In the midst of busy lives and established routines and careers, our practices can seem rote, but education is all about showing the path to those who haven't seen it yet. The call for information and involvement begins now while the new members of the education community are making their way. These are the days to step back and decide how we can better prepare new advocates and partners. As sure as "Pomp and Circumstance," they are on the way. Part of our summer work should be making it easier for more people to understand what our public schools are trying to accomplish and see how they can get involved.

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