Are School Governance Councils Fake News?


The Hartford Board of Education Parent and Community Engagement Committee Tuesday dove into the issue of School Governance Council (SGC) functionality and came up with good guidance on this crucial topic.


Committee Chair Julio Flores, who has served as a parent on SGCs at two schools, did not mince words: “We need to start scheduling the schools to come into our meetings in September.”  In his SGC experience, he said, the only time he experienced a superintendent coming to meet with the group was back when Dr. Christina Kishimoto was at the helm.  Administrators need to be held accountable for their SGC responsibilities, he also emphasized.


As outlined in State law, SGCs are advisory bodies at each school, representing parents, teachers, and community members.  When active, they participate in helping guide budget deliberations, selecting a new principal, refining parent involvement approaches, articulating a school compact regarding school goals, and even assisting in school surveys regarding educator evaluation.


When the SGCs are only marginally functioning, however, it’s a different kettle of fish.  “We haven’t been able to get parents to be trained,” Chief Operating Officer José Colón-Rivas told the committee, as it reviewed the log of Hartford Parent University (HPU) PTO and SGC trainings since November.  Only the Mary Hooker and Rawson Schools completed the training; 10 other schools have not.


“The reason only two schools got SGC training is that so few are fully functioning,” HPU Executive Director Milly Arciniegas told the committee Tuesday.



The Bottom Line


Of course, it is near-impossible for an SGC to advise on a belated, unformed budget, one still percolating but not yet brewed by the higher ups in the General Assembly and City Hall.


Notwithstanding the unusual Fiscal 2018 uncertainties, however, the infusion of parent and community views at the school level is as important a parent engagement activity as there is.  High-functioning SGCs can be the right arm of activist principals.  Weak SGCs simply fail the responsibility laid out in the law and miss the opportunities both to inform parents – and to be informed by them.  A faux SGC can indicate that a principal is weak.


But it’s more complicated than the blame game.  SGCs are where the rubber hits the road between school improvement and stakeholder engagement.  The fact is, if every school had a high functioning SGC, the District would not have to exert so much effort to generate family engagement; high-level SGCs can handle that.


To understand how to improve SGCs, all we have to do is look in the rear-view mirror.  Past Superintendent Steven Adamowski made these councils a priority; the District hired a full time coordinator to take calls on Sunday nights.  Achieve Hartford evaluated the SGC implementation.  From the vantage point of the rear-view mirror, Hartford was on its way to changing the city culture – all pushed by parents, most notably Hartford Parent University Executive Director Milly Arciniegas (at the time serving as head of the council of school-based parent organizations).


We all know what happened to the collective momentum when SGCs were de-prioritized and their evaluations became less than rigorous.


It is a good thing at this time that Executive Director Arciniegas has been able to take her advocacy work up a notch to train SGCs and PTOs throughout the District.


If the District is looking for a cost-effective solution to the problem of lackluster parent engagement, high-functioning SGCs are a good bet.  No number of Powerpoint presentations in empty rooms can ever match the power of empowered parents working hard to spread the word that they can have a voice through School Governance Councils.