WILMINGTON — The Wilmington School Committee invited a few parents who had reached out previously to present their idea for a parent-guardian advisory group at the meeting last Wednesday night.
In this presentation, the parents explained that their group’s intent is to create a district-wide parent and guardian group to help form a partnership between parents, teachers, and administrators, increase the visibility of district-level initiatives, and create an opportunity for shared learning between parents and guardians.
Some of the areas that the proposed group could focus on that they named were curriculum changes, school scheduling changes, community engagement, facilities planning, extracurricular activities, and strategic planning. They said that their next action would be to start a working group in order to define the structure, scope, roles, and procedures of the proposed parental advisory group before they would seek School Committee support.
School Committee member M. J. Byrnes was concerned the suggested work is currently covered by groups that already exist for parents. Instead, she thought that they could work with existing Parent Advisory Councils and focus on enhancing parent engagement.
The presenters maintained that they had already contacted several PACs in hopes of collaborating but saw the group as doing complementary work outside of what the PACs do. David Ragsdale also wanted to make sure that this group didn’t step on the toes of other already existing groups.
That said, Ragsdale said there was certainly a place in Wilmington for this type of group. Jay Samaha supported the working group figuring out where they should fall and how they’ll work alongside with the PACs.
Jenn Bryson shared that she sees an opportunity for parents to talk with administration, teachers, and the superintendent.
“I think the public comment alone over the last year has told us that parents and guardians want us to hear them,” she said.
She agreed that it seemed apt to capitalize on this time of increased interest from parents who are excited to get involved.
While agreeing that communication could be better, Byrnes continued to say that she couldn’t see the proposed group fitting as a subcommittee of the School Committee and would prefer something more “outside of the box.”
“We can’t host a subcommittee beyond our purview,” she said.
Jo Newhouse reminded everyone of a previous district advisory committee that fell under the superintendent, made up of parents from every school, teachers from every grade level, and community members. Bryson suggested reviving the Family Community Engagement Subcommittee as a starting point for collaboration with the working group.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand commented that he’d look forward to engaging with this group in whatever form it takes shape.
“I don’t think it’s anything but something to be gained,” he said.
He added that he’s open to building more opportunity for parent engagement.
Bryson named the members on the Family Community Engagement Subcommittee as herself, Samaha, and Newhouse. She also said she’d be hesitant to assign another thing onto the superintendent’s plate when Jesse Fennelly said that that would be his preference.
“I think the subcommittee is going to do some of [the work to determine the scope and role of the parent-advisory group],” said Samaha.
As the board discussed what restrictions would be placed upon the working group if they began under the aforementioned subcommittee, Fennelly wondered if the working group should start determining where they want to fall without being subject to the subcommittee and open meeting laws.
Byrnes asked the parents what they would prefer. The presenters also seemed hesitant to be subject immediately to the subcommittee. They agreed in the end that the working group would start their work and report to the Family Community Engagement Subcommittee, who could in turn report back to the School Committee.
In correspondence, Byrnes read a related email from a member of the Shawsheen Parent Advisory Council. The email stated that the PAC had received information on the proposal to the School Committee only the night before, which didn’t leave them enough time to respond in the public comment section of the meeting.
“PACs are independent, elected by parents, and don’t need a committee of unelected individuals overseeing them,” it read.
The PAC asked the committee via email not to take any action on the proposal until all of the PACs had received the parent advisory group’s proposal and had an opportunity to respond, which was in the end what the committee did.