Does Montgomery Discriminate Against PIAs?
An exchange on the dais of the Montgomery County school board introduced a new acronym to the local vocabulary of educationese. Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), the board's vice president, told the group yesterday that school principals "might not pick PIAs," [translation: pain-in-the-you-know-whats] to participate in school governance.
The board was discussing School Improvement Teams, groups of administrators, parents and faculty that meet regularly to make important decisions at public schools. The teams are central to the concept of local school governance: that running a school is the job of the entire community, not just the principal and a few sycophants.
The panel got into a heated discussion over the governance teams: Are they open to everyone, or is membership limited to the principal's picks? Are they public, or secret?
Board member Judy Docca (Gaithersburg), a former principal, said she had never known administrators to keep the groups hidden.
Board member Laura Berthiaume (Rockville-Potomac) disagreed: after having children in two of the county's elementary schools, "I had no idea there was such a thing as a School Improvement Plan or a School Improvement Team." If people are being excluded from school governance, she said, "most of them probably don't even know they're being left out."
A quick and random survey of school Internet sites found some support for each woman's claim. The sites of three high schools--Churchill, Blair and Gaithersburg--made no mention of either a School Improvement Plan or Team. The terms were mentioned on web sites of two out of three middle schools (Eastern and Kingsview, but not Briggs Chaney) and two of three elementaries (Chevy Chase and Fallsmead, but not Brooke Grove).
And who gets to participate on such groups? According to board member Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring), principals "look for team players. So if you find parents who aren't necessarily cooperative, I don't know that you're going to get invited to sit on a team...."
Berthiaume bristled: "If a team is composed of people who always say yes and never say no and never say 'but', then what you get, unfortunately, is a war in Iraq."
O'Neill said school governance is meant to be exercised by a small, responsible panel, not an auditorium full of parents. "I am not aware of groups being excluded," she said. "I am aware that if I was a principal working on this, I might not pick the PIAs...in the school to be at the table doing it."
Leaders of the Parents Coalition, a network led by some prominent PIAs, posted video of the exchange to YouTube, where it had been viewed 118 times by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
--Dan de Vise
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