School Council Member Perceptions and Actual Practice of School Councils in Rural Schools

Article excerpt

In a time of growing interest in accountability, sharing school governance with parents, teachers, the community, and business leaders has become a norm. School councils or advisory groups have become a requirement for schools in many states. This research examined school council members' perceptions of issues addressed by the councils and council effectiveness in rural Georgia. Additionally, this research examined the relationship between council members ' perceptions of school council effectiveness among council member constituent groups and the difference between council members ' perceptions of issues addressed and actual issues addressed. The research identified factors school council members believed to be important for school council effectiveness. The data were gathered through a survey of school council members in the forty-one county Valdosta State University service area. Actual issues addressed were obtained through a content analysis of school council minutes. Implications for educational practice in rural schools included a process of involving of a variety of constituents in policy making at the school level in an attempt to improve student academic performance and principals hold the key to council effectiveness.

In the United States before the 1960s, community involvement in schools was synonymous with supporting schools, paying taxes, voting for board members, and working with traditional school/parent organizations. Most educators believed the community should not be involved in school governance, although they often called on key community members to rally support for school policies (Davies, Clasby, Zerchykov, & Powers, 1977). Today the situation is much different. School councils have been mandated in many areas, some serving in an advisory capacity and others having decision-making powers. The purpose of this study was to examine member perceptions of the school councils in a mostly rural region of one southern state.

Federal programs of the 1960s and 1970s initiated the move toward implementation of school councils (Brown, 1994). Several states followed the federal lead and established school councils that gave advice and made recommendations to school site administrators. In many cases, councils of this era served to legitimize administrators' decisions (Davies, Stanton, Clasby, Zerchykov, & Powers., 1977).

In more recent times, school councils, as a mechanism to implement shared decision making, have become a cornerstone of school improvement activities. Fullan (1997) noted that the presence of school councils per se will not improve student achievement, but nothing motivates a child more than a climate in which learning is valued by a partnership of school, family, and community. Ballard and Waghorn (1997) pointed to the need to find balance between opposing interests of various constituent groups. School councils were seen as a way to achieve this balance (Malen & Ogawa, 1985).

Chicago, in 1989, and Kentucky, in 1990, enacted sweeping school improvement designs that included creating school councils with decision-making powers. These plans were implemented to address low student achievement, high dropout rates, discipline problems, fiscal problems, and low public support for schools (Easton & Storey, 1994; Lindle, 1992b).

In 2000, the Georgia General Assembly passed the A-Plus Reform Act of 2000, a major component of which was the formation of school councils. These councils consist of the principal, two teachers, two parents of students in the school, and two local business partners. Their mandated role is to provide advice and recommendations on any school matter, including recommendation to the board of education of a candidate for the principalship of the school in the event of a vacancy in the position. (Georgia School Council Institute, 2000). The school councils in Georgia were created to bring communities and schools closer together in a spirit of cooperation to solve difficult educational problems, improve academic achievement, provide support for teachers and administrators, and bring parents into the school-based decision-making process. …