Parents Take Pride In New Moniker

By Daniel de Vise and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 21, 2009

Parent activists have been appending the title "PIA" to their names in e-mails and online postings in response to Montgomery County school board Vice President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase), who last week suggested principals "might not pick PIAs" [translation: pain-in-the-you-know-whats] to participate in school governance.

Critics seized on the quip, uttered during a school board meeting and posted on YouTube, as further evidence that leaders of Maryland's largest school system systematically exclude anyone with a contrary opinion. Others applauded the longtime board member for stating a hard truth: Some parents are simply too contrarian to play a role in running a school.

The board was discussing School Improvement Teams, groups of administrators, parents and faculty members that meet regularly to make decisions at public schools. The teams are central to the concept of school governance: that running a school is the job of the community, not just the principal and a few sycophants.

School board members got into a heated discussion over the governance teams and the rules surrounding them: Are they open to everyone or only 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, she said, "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 added, "most of them probably don't even know they're being left out."

A glance at 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 the Web sites of two of three middle schools checked (Eastern and Kingsview, but not Briggs Chaney) and two of three elementary schools (Chevy Chase and Fallsmead, but not Brooke Grove).

And who gets to participate on the teams? According to school 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 countered: "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 288 times by Monday.

Workforce Scholarships To Target Needed Careers

County Council members have created a scholarship program designed to encourage students to pursue careers in fields such as engineering, mathematics and early childhood special education, and to teach mathematics and science in the public schools.

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