I am no stranger to committee work. When we moved to Wisconsin, over twenty years ago now, I immersed myself in our local school system. I had a boy entering kindergarten within a year and was expecting my second son. Getting involved in our school district was one of the most fulfilling and important jobs I’ve done. Part of my involvement has been committee work.
Committee work is not for the faint of heart but can be a good investment of time if the committees are run well, members are able to have open discourse, and time is used productively. Not all the committees I served on fit these characteristics but most have fit enough that I return for more.
I remember the first committee I was a part of in our school district. My oldest son was in a multi-age room and his teacher suggested I sit on the report card committee. We were transitioning to a new report card system and they needed parent representatives on the committee. So, I participated. As you can imagine, this committee brought out many strong opinions from the members. I remember becoming flustered when a teacher told me my son should not be getting 100’s on everything – that was my point exactly! Where were challenge and differentiation indicated? Something needed to be implemented and then shown on the report card to reflect the level of rigor! Yes, even at the elementary level. I believe we did implement something like an asterisk. Once the new cards were finalized, the committee ended.
I also sat on the curriculum committee for a while many years ago. This committee both fascinated and frustrated me. I love curriculum when it is of high quality, student-centered, hands-on, and reflective. I also love to develop it, implement it, and evaluate it. However, all that takes time. One of the biggest frustrations of the curriculum committee was seeing how one curriculum might be chosen over another – basically, lessons are chosen by opinion and politics, with some fiscal responsibility thrown in for good measure. Obviously, this is not ideal for the student. And, then, if curriculum is only used for a short time – let’s say a year or two – how can one properly evaluate how it was implemented and how effective the curriculum was at engaging the students and stimulating their learning. Too often, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, in my opinion.
Over the years, I served in other ways that were not deemed committee work but functioned much the same way. These groups included the PTO and the Band Parent Group at the High School. One of the most important ingredients in a well functioning committee is to have a leader that allows everyone a chance to talk and voice their opinion. The leader must also keep things moving forward without committee members feeling they are being pushed into decision making before the time is right and all discussion has been exhausted.
This afternoon, I will begin participation in my second year as a member of the Student Learning and Achievement Committee for our school district. My youngest son is a high school senior. There is still time to try and make a difference. At midpoint last year if you asked me if I would continue being on this committee, I would have said no. But, at the very last meeting in May, we had a great discussion over grading policies. Not everyone agreed on what was being set forth. It stimulated questions and discussion and participation of administration at the high school. It was productive! It was during that meeting I decided to continue being a committee member!