May 1, 2015 10:34:12 AM
In the past two months, 24 Golden Triangle parents and community members graduated from a course that educates parents on the inner workings of public schools.
Sally Gray, the northeast Mississippi parent coach with national non-profit "Parents for Public Schools," led parents from Columbus city schools, Lowndes County schools, West Point schools and one from Noxubee County.
"It was a very engaged group," Gray said.
The four-day course was stretched out over two months and challenged parents and community members to become more involved and aware of the inner-workings of school districts. Those enrolled in the course were asked to attend a local school board meeting and to complete homework assignments between courses.
Gray said much of the course is spent informing parents how much information there is about their public schools. She teaches parents how to navigate through the Mississippi Department of Education website to find out about graduation rates, test scores and demographics at their local schools.
She said parents were most surprised to learn about the legislative side of education. This year, the 1997 Mississippi Adequate Education Program received the most funding from the Legislature it ever has. However, the Legislature did not fully-fund the schools. Ballot Initiative 42 is seeking to change the law in 2016 to force state representatives to fully fund MAEP every year. According to Mississippi Department of Education records, the schools have been shortchanged by approximately $1.5 billion since 2010.
Those in the parent-training course made their own plans for how to improve their districts.
"We want all of them to work on a leadership plan that will address how to decrease obstacles to learning for kids at school, in their homes and in the community," Gray said.
Some of those parents are already making their voices heard within local school districts. Some Columbus parents who went through the course have met with CMSD superintendent Dr. Philip Hickman. Some of those parents will be among those helping to choose new principals at Columbus High School and Columbus Middle School.
"When schools and parents work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer and like school more," Hickman said. "Using a slightly different approach, we had a few dedicated parents who were trained to help lead a movement in our community to assist and educate other parents while helping them get better connected with the school and ultimately be involved. I am excited about this great opportunity to provide any resources this group needs to change the culture of our community and to forge a total school-home partnership that focuses on bettering our children."
Gray said she keeps in contact with her pupils after graduation to see how their leadership plans are working. She hopes to lead another Golden Triangle group in the future. Allowing parents to use their training to bring about change in their districts excites her.
"Parents at the table, as part of the process is always a good thing," Gray said.
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