MANCHESTER, NH – A newly formed school board committee will focus on giving parents a voice at the table.
The Special Committee on Parental Involvement will hold its inaugural meeting March 14 at Bakersville Elementary, 20 Elm St., at 7 p.m. Committee Chair Jimmy Lehoux, who represents Ward 8, says the story of how the committee came to be is actually kind of funny, in a kismet sort of way.
“A couple of years ago I was a frustrated parent, and so I started a group with other frustrated parents – including Joyce Craig – to see how we could get a parental advisory committee at the board level. We came up with a mission, and every member was given a task. Joyce and I were actually tasked with speaking to board members at that time about how to get a committee like this up and running,” says Lehoux
He eventually disbanded the group after he decided to run for school board and Craig threw her hat in the ring again as mayor, because he didn’t want the parent group to become politicized.
And now that Craig is Mayor and Lehoux sits on the school board, they’ve come full circle. They also found that creating the committee was possible with the support of School Board Vice Chair Art Beaudry, who not only was strongly in favor of such a group, but is responsible for creating special committees.
The hope is that on March 14 parents interested in being engaged will find their way to the meeting to bring ideas and suggestions.
“It’s not meant to be a gripe session, although I expect there will be some of that,” says Lehoux. His experience as a former frustrated parent will inform the process of making sure there is a pipeline to bring parental concerns to the board for consideration.
“This isn’t for the big-ticket items, like budget concerns or redistricting. It’s more about figuring out what’s holding back parents and guardians from getting involved with the schools,” Lehoux says. “Like why a parent would choose to attend a sporting event, but is too busy to attend other types of school events.”
Lehoux says he realizes it can often come down to hard choices – two-parent working families or single-parent homes mean that sometimes it’s just a lack of availability, or scheduling conflict. He recognizes that as students transition to middle school and beyond, the communication breaks down on all fronts – kids are less enthusiastic about telling parents how their school day went, and it’s easier to connect with one teacher, than the team of teachers your child gains in the upper grades.
But he also believes there are many parents out there with talents and ideas who could be doing more to contribute to building up the school community. Maybe they don’t know they’re needed, or how to get involved.
“Just because a parent isn’t physically involved with a school doesn’t mean they’re not involved with their child or student, so what we want to figure out is how can we help them at home, and open up those lines of communication – whether it’s through technology, or finding more opportunities to communicate with teachers,” says Lehoux. “This first meeting is an open forum, more of an idea exchange and discussion meeting.”
Going forward, the committee will meet monthly to review any parental concerns or issues raised and report back to the full board, but hopes that perhaps blue-sky sessions could be held quarterly. Lehoux says schools are not meant to be babysitting services, and that city schools will only meet their full potential toward educating students and bridging gaps when parents are added to the equation.
“Schools need help, input, and guidance. It has to become a working partnership,” Lehoux says. “A lot of times parents don’t know how to become involved. I believe 100 percent that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been a frustrated parent. And I’m going to take that experience and use it to try and help other parents be heard.”
All are welcome to attend the March 14 meeting. Those who wish to send ideas or concerns in advance of the meeting should email Lehoux at firstname.lastname@example.org.