HARVARD — Made up of parents, teachers and community members, school councils have evolved over the last decade into advisory groups that serve as conduits to the community and vehicles for self-examination and improvement.
Established by the Education Reform Act of 1993, school councils serve as advisory boards to elementary, middle and high school principals across the state.
Harvard’s first school councils were seated in 1994, at a crossroads in the history of state education. It was the first year of school choice, another key conception of education reform.
Harvard was among the first to participate in the program, in which students are accepted from other districts, bringing with them funding determined and paid by the state via the sending district’s Chapter 70 aid. Choice income was credited for restoring some programs and saving others in that very tight budget year.
In 1994, there were four parents on the HES school council, including a non-resident, school choice parent, two faculty members and two community representatives.
Early meetings were exercises in self-government. With no precedent to go by, the question among those first members became how to define the prototype school council and how it would operate. Beyond fulfilling its basic role as advisory board to the principal, its goal is to find ways to achieve goals that benefit students, the school system and the community.
There were consultations, presentations, seminars, deliberations and debate about definition and direction on a variety of issues, including how to increase working organizations such as the PTA and avoid overlap. The new council envisioned itself as a sounding board for the community, among other things.
In recent years, councils at both schools have served as in-house study groups charged by administrators with a variety of tasks, addressing problems and recommending solutions.
This year’s Harvard Elementary School (HES) council roster consists of HES Principal Mary Beth Banios; faculty members Terry Monette, Donna Piche and Sharlene Tuttle; parents Susan George, Beth Rice, Terry Symula and Phyllis Simpson; and community representative Toni Purdy.
As presented to the school committee recently, the 2005 to 2006 HES SIP said the purpose of the council is “to advocate for educational excellence ” Its mandated scope includes assisting the principal to set educational goals, identifying students’ educational needs, reviewing the annual budget and formulating an annual SIP.
The multi-page document also contains a retrospect of the council’s performance via work done on the previous year’s goals and sets goals for the next school year.
Although this SIP was presented midway through the school year it was developed for, the school board plans to change that so the council’s annual presentation of the SIP is made before, not after its objectives are in progress. A new School Committee policy will set the schedule.
To date, all teachers in kindergarten through third grade use Project Read, a program chosen to teach phonics at HES, and an integrated spelling program geared to the same goal.
Also, grade three reading intervention continues. Goals that have been met include increasing intervention services at that grade level and establishing a similar program for grades four and five. In addition, plans call for expanding the fifth grade program.
Other goals included professional development and building the school’s textbook collection.
The eight main objectives also target a new fifth grade math curriculum. The outline in the SIP parallels a presentation Banios and a team of subject specialists and curricular coordinators made at a previous meeting.
Another objective is to improve parent communication. This would include sharing information about the new math program and would be aimed at helping parents understanding their children’s homework and what pupils are learning in class.
Accomplishments listed include providing third through fifth grade teachers with training in targeted skills such as discussing common elements of quality writing.
Professional development programs are part of the ongoing plan for all grade levels as well.
The next objective is to improve the effectiveness of the kindergarten program. This would be done by screening incoming pupils, providing parents with a transportation information packet before school starts, hosting an open house/orientation in the first two days of school, posting orientation materials on the Web site, providing aides in kindergarten classrooms and increasing daily instruction time.
The first four goals have been met and the final three are listed as next steps, including an envisioned new teacher and revised program schedule.
The final four goals are ongoing. They are to support faculty collaboration, use technology to improve communication and instruction, update the HES handbook and work with the traffic committee to solve traffic problems at the school.
Financial considerations are addressed on the last page of the SIP only as an aside of which the council pledges to be mindful as they continue to pursue their main mission “to ensure that HES offers its students the opportunity to achieve their social and academic potential.”
The envisioned environment the council seeks to create is one in which students learn to tackle problems from various perspectives, form strategies, see the value of taking risks and making mistakes, gain respect for individual differences and the contributions each person makes, and learn to be active participants in their own learning both in and out of school.
These are core values, the document stated, to be maintained and enhanced despite financial challenges.