We’re continuing to learn about advocating for our children’s education. Today, Dr. Meryl Ain, education advocate and experienced educator, gives us her thoughts on squeaky wheels successfully advocating for their children.
Melissa: Dr. Ain, tell us about yourself and how you got involved with parent advocacy.
Dr. Ain: I’ve worked in several districts, as a high school social studies teacher, building administrator, and the bulk of my career, I was in central office as an assistant superintendent. I also spent a number of years on a non public school board and led a nursery school. Because my experience is very broad, I see issues from every perspective – parent, administrative, board, teacher.
Actually my dissertation focused on caring leadership in successful schools. I studied principals who focused on an ethic of caring in their schools – to be responsive to needs of each child as a whole child because everyones needs are a little bit different. Those principals got amazing results from their teachers and their students. That’s my passion, caring schools.
I have 3 grown children. I sheparded them through preschool and college and beyond and now, 3 grandchildren – youngest is three weeks old, the oldest just finished kindergarten.
The way this really got started last spring, my daughter-in-law asked me for information and research when their school district tried to eliminate full day kindergarten, one of the reasons they had moved to the district. I pointed them to research and policies. My daughter-in-law said why don’t you help other parents? It’s what I really enjoyed the most, working with parents and working with PTA groups.
The research indicates the more parents are involved the schools, the better the schools are. Your child will do better on a host of areas if you’re involved in the school.
Melissa: Does it help when parents advocate, or speak up about their concerns?
Dr. Ain: In all my experience the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. The school will go out of their way if you speak up. That’s been my experience.
Go through the chain of communication, the channels. Start first with the teacher, if you need to go to the principal, do that next.
Melissa: If you have a child with an IEP and the school isn’t following it, what do you do?
Dr. Ain:There was legislation in the 70s, IDEA with really created a whole system of special education. Make sure you go to the Committee on Special Education and get what you need on the plan. If you have a child with special needs, you need to know who the key players in the school and in the district. I’m sure there is in central administration.
The teacher can’t ignore the plan. If she does, the parent needs to go to district. You can always get an advocate – hiring a lawyer would be the last thing she should do but if she needs to do it, do it.
Melissa: What are the consequences of not following the IEP?
Dr. Ain: Legal action happens. Get a lawyer, meet with superintendent, write to the board of education, write to all the board of education members. These are things that most people don’t do but there are people who do them and they get results.
Melissa: Should a parent try to speak at a school board meeting?
Dr. Ain: I have seen parents do it and they [the board members] will tell you that they can’t discuss it because it’s a personnel issue. They will shut you down but immediately after that meeting they will look into that issue. The board will not be happy with it. They will instruct the superintendent look into it even if they tell parents that they can’t bring up individual students.
Melissa: Here in Colorado many districts use a math curriculum called Everyday Math that many parents despise and want changed. How do you get curriculum changed?
Dr. Ain: Parent advocates must know who works in the district office. That is crucial! Who is in the offices, titles, responsibilities, who is director of curriculum, assistant superintendent of instruction, those would be people they would go to if they can’t get satisfaction from the principal. At the secondary level there may be a director for the subject like director of mathematics, but there is somebody dealing with instruction and curriculum.
Melissa: I told you what happened to me last year and you said it was my right to be treated courtesly. I wonder, how do parents know what are their legal rights are?
Dr. Ain: There are laws and policies. In New York, every district has a policy manual. Now, in most a lot of districts, the district website is a wonderful source of information, it will give you the names of the administrators, when the board meetings are, I would think that the policy manual has been downloaded on to the district website.
One of the things that I’m going to be blogging about is the Parents Bill of Rights. You have an absolute right to know what’s going on in your schools and to be treated courteously. You have the right to access to your children’s records, to attend all public meetings, and the right to complain without fear of retaliation. I know that parents think that there is going to be retaliation. That’s illegal.
Melissa: Tell us how we can get in touch with you.
Dr. Ain: My blog, Your Education Doctor, is just launching. I will be taking on clients and doing speaking and group consulting, individual consulting, phone or in-person consultations.
Parents do have power, especially if they band together and speak out. You have to speak out – even in a private school.
In the public school, the set up is it’s public money. You’re paying the taxes and you are electing the board members. The board members are there to represent YOU.
Bio: Dr. Meryl Ain has worked in several large Long Island, New York school districts as a central office administrator, teacher, and school building administrator. Her more than 35 years in education has also included a 16-year-stint as a member of a nonpublic school board as well as the leadership of a nursery school. She is a graduate of Queens College and earned a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a doctorate in education from Hofstra University. Her doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of caring as a factor in successful schools. Her articles about education, children and families have appeared in Newsday’s Parents and Children Magazine and The New York Times. She shares her insights and expertise on her blog, Your Education Doctor. Dr. Ain offers consulting and other professional service to individuals, groups, teachers and school districts. She assists clients to navigate the complexities of school districts as well as assist districts in communicating better to serve students and parents.
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