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Parent involvement committee meets for the first time

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By Mackenzie Mays 
The Charleston Gazette

Kanawha County School parents and educators hope that a new committee will give new life to legislation created decades ago that was meant to bolster parent voices and break down barriers between school administrators, teachers and parents.

The first Parent Involvement Committee was held Thursday. The initiative — started by new Kanawha County School Board Member Ryan White — involved Board of Education officials, principals, teachers, parents and community leaders. The group outlined its top priorities for the future, including reaching out to parents more about the ins and outs of their children’s curriculum and working to garner more volunteer support to help turn around student achievement.

But by law, part of what the Parent Involvement Committee aims to do should already be happening.

Local School Improvement Councils were created in 1990 by the state Legislature, and must be made up of a variety of stakeholders including principals, teachers and parents.

School board members are mandated by law to attend the LSIC meetings of every school in the county in order to be properly accredited by the state.

But on Thursday, several members of the Parent Involvement Committee said LSIC meetings do not involve engaging discussions with parents like they were meant to.

Joanie Panger, president of the LSIC at Capital High School, called the required meetings “a dog and pony show.”

“There is a vehicle, but it just isn’t effective. We need for these gatherings to be useful,” Panger said Thursday. “We’re just checking off a box. It’s something we’re required to do. It’s a legislative mandate, and it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Last week, dozens of parents attended the Capital LSIC meeting after news that a drug rehabilitation center would be built near the school — but there was no discussion about the project during the meeting, which instead included a slide show of student achievements, and most comments came from the school’s principal, Clinton Giles.

However, several parents voiced concerns about the rehab project to the Gazette following the meeting. One parent said she didn’t bring up her concerns because the issue wasn’t an item on the structured LSIC agenda.

“Teachers and parents are limited in the topics they can discuss there, and that’s why it’s turned into a dog and pony show,” said Dinah Adkins, president of the Kanawha County Education Association. “They need to be able to be more open and honest. They’re missing an opportunity.”

Rosemary Jenkins, a representative of the state and county branches of the American Federation of Teachers, said LSIC meetings often don’t have a good turnout and that parents don’t know that they’re allowed to speak up more.

“The very few that do go aren’t aware of the power that they have,” Jenkins said. “It’s very good legislation, but [parents] aren’t made aware of everything that’s in that law. It’s excellent.”

Mark Milam, assistant superintendent for high schools, said LSIC meetings are the perfect place for the Parent Involvement Committee to go with its initiatives.

“That’s the first place to go. It’s already there. It’s already organized,” Milam said. “Parents should be more visible at all of our schools, all of the time, at all levels.”