Parent Involvement and PICS
by Kevin Larson
February 1, 2015
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Welcome to this, my first column on education. Saugeen Times has launched me on this endeavour and I want to thank them.
As a long time education advocate and former school board trustee, I hope to provide information, add insights, and, perhaps, incite controversy in these articles. I look forward to the challenge.
For my first column - I will talk about a success story - about parent engagement and the parent involvement committees (PICs) of Ontario’s school boards.
First, as a parent, what do you want for your children? You want the best. You want to help your children. You want to see them grow. Right?
So, how can you help your child/children with education in Ontario?
[Annie Kidder, Executive Director for People for Education says it best - watch this video. Click Here ]
Therefore, will attending school council meetings, or being a member of the school board’s PIC or reviewing proposed school board policies, help your child grow and succeed? Probably not. But those activities are important just the same.
What is a PIC/parent involvement committee and what is its origin?
There are many who will remember many years ago ... the years of deep parent (and public) dissatisfaction with public education; the never ending labour disputes and the "let’s create a crisis in education" Education Minister. Remember those days?
Then, the government changed in 2003. Changes (and consultations) were launched.
In November, 2004, Ontario's Minister of Education appointed a group of 20 parents to develop recommendations about how to strengthen the role of parents at all levels of Ontario's publicly funded education system. This was known as the Parent Voice in Education Project (PVEP), which came from the original BWDSB PIC terms of reference that I had a hand in writing many years ago.
After completing its consultation, the PVEP determined that parents wanted action in three key areas:
In December, 2005, based on the recommendations from PVEP, the Minister of Education announced a new provincial policy to support parent involvement in education.
The original document was called "Ontario Education – Excellence for All, Developing Partners in Education".
Each of the publicly funded school boards was required to establish a board-level PIC and funding of $4.9 million for the first year was also announced.
The new policy had grand objectives, a few of which were:
* Making parent involvement an important expected outcome for school boards
* Improved communications for parents at the local, board and provincial levels,
* Giving parents greater access to high quality, understandable and timely information about education initiatives at the local, board, and provincial levels
* The creation of a provincial office of parent engagement
* Provincial funds to support projects that enhance parent involvement at a provincial or regional level, and to support school council outreach programs
* Requesting school councils to focus on engaging parents, fostering parental involvement, and the recognition of parent and community volunteers.
This 1995 document was replaced in 2010 with "Parents in Partnership: A Parent Engagement Policy for Ontario Schools".
Regulations for PICs were enacted in 2010 after extensive stakeholder consultation, including PIC members and parents and, in 2012, a PIC manual finally showed up: 'A Practical Handbook for Parent Involvement Committee Members - Making a Difference'. The manual says this about PICS:
"The PIC acts as a direct link for parents to the director of education and the board of trustees.
The PIC participates at the board level to support, encourage, and enhance the engagement of parents in improving student achievement and well-being. The PIC does this by providing information and advice to the board on parent engagement, communicating with and supporting school councils, and undertaking activities to help parents support their children’s learning at home and at school. The manner in which a PIC achieves these goals depends on the local needs of its board and community, and on how the PIC is organized."
School boards receive money to fund parent engagement. Schools can apply for money for parent engagement activities, but not all are approved.
Have the PICs been successful?
According to Martha MacNeil, former PIC chair of Upper Grand DSB and now a trustee, "Our PIC's greatest accomplishment over the last two years has been to significantly increase our membership and awareness of our work within the Upper Grand District School Board. We are now a recognized, respected, and established committee and our well-informed members are sought out to serve on many other Board-level committees."
Within the Blue Water District School Board (BWDSB), Co-Chair Jennifer Miller says that there have been many vested individuals who share a common vision of supporting Blue Water student achievement and well-being.
"The most significant experience has been the ability to affect change and provide input on various issues facing our community ranging from math literacy to the Board’s strategic plan," says Miller. "I have had the opportunity to meet and work with parent leaders across the region in support of their efforts as School Council Chairs and PIC has built a culture of collaboration with the dedicated members of the Board staff."
BWDSB Co-Chair Jennifer Barrett-Parker points out that the Blue Water PIC currently boasts a solid and diverse membership, thanks to the consistent efforts of past and current chairs to invite new faces to participate.
"I see that the key accomplishments of our current PIC are twofold," says Barrett-Parker. "First, in providing a forum for School Council Chairs from across the Board to network and develop their capacity via the annual Networking Events, and secondly, in providing parents improved access to resources on the parent-friendly PIC website and through the improved navigation and design of the BWDSB website."
PIC members have a wide range of contact with the Director of Education, the Trustee representative, senior staff, principals and vice principals, teaching staff, reps from other education committees, school council chairs and parent leaders across the Board.
"This collaboration," adds Barrett-Parker, "should result in excellent supports for parents all across Blue Water."
I agree with all of the above observations. Having a board level parent involvement committee has been a huge success. We’re lucky to have the volunteers and staff who make these PICs so successful.
Is helping your child or your children worth it? Absolutely. Is being involved in a school board and its activities worth it? Yes to that question, too.
There are several resources available to learn more about PICS:
If you have any suggestions for future articles, or comments on this one, please feel free to contact me at: KLarson@bmts.com .
books, sports, movies ...
Monday, February 02, 2015