Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Councils Up and Running; Districts Well Ahead of Legislative Mandate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

School Councils Up and Running; Districts Well Ahead of Legislative Mandate

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- A three-year plan to create citizen councils to advise all Georgia schools is ahead of schedule, with about 70 percent of the groups up and running at the halfway point.

And while some education advocates say the councils often act as no more than yes-men for school bureaucrats, supporters say the groups are helping inject fresh ideas in Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform plans.

Created in the governor's 2000 education-reform act, school councils are made up of a school's principal, two parents, two teachers and two members of the business community.

The councils advise local boards of education on issues involving their school and help set policy on issues including dress code, conduct rules and curriculum.

By Tuesday, 50 percent of the schools in every Georgia district must have councils in place. But the state is well ahead of that timetable, and officials expect about 70 percent of all schools to have councils by Tuesday's deadline.

"For some systems, it was, 'Why do it one school at a time?' " said Cathy Henson, chairwoman of both the Georgia School Council Institute and the state Board of Education.

Clarke Middle School in Athens was one of the first schools in the state to start a school council two years ago.

The council is now helping with a three-year improvement plan and has come up with ideas, including a more consistent system for sending homework assignments and special messages home to parents.

"All of those [suggestions] were gratefully accepted on our part," said Principal Ken Sherman. "We didn't have anybody coming in with some skewed agenda -- some political or religious or other agenda.

"For the most part, the people who wanted to be involved in it were people who were already involved with the school."

Advocates say getting local voices involved in improving schools is the whole point behind the councils.

"These people are the ones who have a stake in those students and that school," said Angela Palm, executive director of the corporately funded Georgia School Council Institute. "It makes a difference to them personally how that school succeeds and how those students succeed. …

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