Within the province of Ontario, as well as within the education circles, there is still not a lot of awareness of what a “PIC” is.  Although these board level Parent Involvement Committees were mandated to be established in 2006, some have been making final steps in their establishment this year.  Even though these committees are relatively new in Ontario, many of the parent participants have been involved in education for a much longer time.  Some have been involved at their school and in the community.  Some have also been involved in school councils and also regional councils similar to the current PICs.  Some have been involved in provincial associations and networks.

With each annual provincial People for Education conference I attend, I have had the opportunity to meet many passionate individuals and parents who have been involved in advocating for children, communities, and public education for many years.  It is reassuring to know that others have committed many hours of volunteer time invested in helping other parents navigate the education system and support those who may not be able to. Many do this with a commitment that is truly remarkable.  And while there are few awards and recognition opportunities for this volunteer role in education, the work continues.

There are plenty of links and resources that I could post about these committees and their mandates and structure, but the intent of this blog post, and a subsequent post to follow, is to offer a way for others to hear about the work and different responsibilities that a few parents have had in their roles as chairs of these committees that support parent engagement in education.  There are 72 school boards in Ontario which would each require a parent as chair of these board level committees to support their district.

It is my pleasure to have Birgit Knoll-McArthur (@BirgMac) and Arlene Morell (@Arleie) share and reflect on their experiences regarding this role in each of their districts:

Birgit Knoll-McArthur, My Boys’ Mom

PIC chair (2009-2011), Superior-Greenstone District School Board.

As a parent of a 20 year old university student, and a 17 year old grade 12 High School student, parent involvement has taken me on a path, which started when my first son entered elementary school. Since then my involvement has grown from being a member of school council in various roles including chair for many years at the elementary and secondary level, to being chair of our Board’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). I am part of a Northern Board, which faces declining enrolment, is geographically enormous, and consists of 17 “small” schools.

The objective to being involved simply was “just wanting to know what was going on at the school”,

As I have given my time as secretary, treasurer, vice chair, chair, PIC member, and PIC chair, I have learned about Ministry initiatives, Board initiatives, changes of policies, by-laws, school improvement plans, development of resources, action plans, and many more useful tools to help parent engagement.

My objective is still the same. I still “just want to know what is going on at the school.”

Although school councils and PICs have evolved and changed over the past years, some of the issues remain the same and there is still much work to be done to be as effective as Parent Engagement can and should be.

The Ministry has mandated school councils and PICs to be established. Guidelines, hand books, policies, and tool kits have been researched and drafted with the help of various groups and stakeholders. Grants are being offered for initiatives to encourage parent engagement. However, these grant applications take much time, energy and effort, which parent volunteers often have not available.

As I have been involved, several challenges still remain, which are close to my heart: Respect, Communication, and Compensation.

All members of the school community need to respect each other, to be able to achieve common goals. Students need to respect teachers, teachers need to respect administration, parents need to respect teachers, and vice versa. From my own experience and from conversations with other parent leaders, the respect parent volunteers deserve is often lacking. Are parents too often seen as a stumbling block? If so, why?

Communication between administration and school councils has to be improved in order to reach parents and provide the necessary information. School councils must have Board contact info provided, and the Board must have updated school council info available. And use it in a timely fashion. Why do some councils get the info and resources, and others are still unaware?

When mentioning compensation, a future action plan should include a Ministry funded full – time board position(s) as Parent Engagement Coordinator. This coordinator would provide consistency, experience with school councils and/or PIC, time and opportunity to help coordinate parent involvement initiatives and events at individual schools, as well as energy and creativity needed to get and keep parents engaged.

In my eyes, parent involvement and parent engagement are just as important to student achievement as the rest of the school community involvement is, and it must be recognized as such.

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Arlene Morell, Parent Engagement Advocate

Thames Valley District School Board PIC, Founder and Chairperson 2006-2011

Parent Involvement Committees (PIC) are at best parent driven, parent organized, and founded on the involvement of parents for parents. PIC’s have a similar focus much like school councils to “enhance the accountability of the education system” and promote the involvement of parents, both at the local and system level. Fundamental to the work of parent involvement and engagement is the evidence based definition for the involvement of parents in education, and the incorporation of this definition into the core work of the committee.

Parent involvement is defined as parents as participants whereas parent engagement is defined as parents as partners therefore  implies a true partnership between parents and educators in that each takes an equal responsibility for student outcomes. Parent engagement occurs in the relationships of both partners in welcoming and respecting the knowledge and expertise that each brings to the partnership.

I have a vision for parents as partners with education in the province of Ontario; I refer to this vision as a new vision of parent engagement and leadership, which is defined by the original concept for parent partnerships in the context of school councils. Today I am a parent engagement advocate because someone took the time to invest in me, saw the potential for partnerships with parents, provided the information relevant to the system of education and encouraged leadership development.

I speak to parents and school councils, developed the PIC Networking Google Group, along with developed parent leadership training in the context of effective school councils and parent engagement.  Although my children have recently graduated from the public education system (my daughter attends Kings College, UWO and my son has successfully completed a Skilled Trade Apprenticeship), I still see myself as a champion for public education and the role parents have as engaged partners in public education. At the local level, my community still embraces the leadership, knowledge and expertise I have developed over the past 15 years.  I continue to be called upon to assist and support parents and school councils focus on their purpose of enhancing the accountability of the education system and promoting parent involvement.

I didn’t get to where I am overnight, since the release of funding (Parent Involvement fund and PRO Grants) in 2005-2006 to support the purpose and core work of school councils; I have developed firsthand knowledge of the expanded focus and actions of school councils beyond fundraising and coffee with the principal.

Changes still to be made in order to see the full outcomes for students through parent involvement and engagement. For the meaningful success of school councils and PIC’s a paradigm shift towards parents as assets must occur. True parent engagement focuses on the actions of parents in their home and parents as leaders in schools. Parent leadership focuses on parents as assets, the shared responsibility for student success with schools councils and PIC the leadership councils/committees as the strength based collaborative approach that will see results for students, schools, boards and the Ministry of Education.

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Thank you, ladies!  Your dedication over these many years is remarkable!  Thank you for guest posting here to share your insight and vision ahead for parent engagement.  I know I have benefitted from learning from each of you!  I hope others will share their visions ahead for parent engagement in education and we can continue to learn from our experiences that give us insight.  Feel free to leave questions for Birgit and Arlene, or connect with them on Twitter!

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