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2022 BOE Election: Question Three

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What should the role of parents be in public school education? It seems like a straightforward question with straightforward answers. Parents should be current with what their child is learning, and advocate for their child in a respectful dialogue with their teachers and the school administration.

Verona parents are involved with many other aspects of our public schools. They have served on action committees that have been created, from mental health and school culture to diversity, equity and inclusion. They have also been tapped for their input to the Board of Education’s five-year strategic plans.

But there have been times in Verona’s past, and present, when parents have sought to be more involved in issues that are beyond their purview, like curriculum and staffing. So we wanted to know where the five candidates running for two BOE seats this November (Diana Ferrera, Denise Verzella, Michael Boone, Sara Drappi, and Aaron Spiegeland), stood on the question of parental involvement. Their responses are presented alphabetically by the candidate’s last name:

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What should the role of parents be in public school education?

Boone: That’s going to depend on who you ask. There’s going to be millions of perspectives on that. For mine, I love to see parents involved in asking questions. Again, the school board meetings are a perfect forum for that, I think. Parents also need to be able to let their children have some sort of sense of agency. I would love to see parents be involved, ask the right questions and advocate for their children but also advocate for their children in such that they are building a level of agency and a level of independence so that they know how to learn to think for themselves. Every involved parent is showing that they are invested in their child’s success. And that’s great. I think the best thing that they can do is just simply show up, be involved, and ask questions to get to know their teachers and get to know their administrators. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an adversarial relationship, but just establish a line of communication. As a parent, I have made it a point to get to know the principal and have conversations; not necessarily interrogate them, but just have conversations that raise questions and concerns. With every principal, from Laning all the way through the junior high and high school, I have felt that, while we have never had always 100% agreement, I felt that I have been listened to. I think all parents really want is to be heard. If parents show that level of engagement, they’re going to find that our administrators are going recognize their concerns. I do hear from parents that their concerns aren’t always heard. And I think sometimes it’s because of how they are communicating with the schools. They should feel that there is an open door and that simply getting to know the people that you are working with goes a long way.

Drappi: It is essential for parents to play an active role in their child’s education. They should be aware of what their student is learning and when they’re learning, which requires effective communication from a district standpoint. Our teachers do an excellent job of communicating what is being learned and how it’s being done. In the end, parents have the right and should advocate for their children on every level. And likewise, it’s the role of the district to make sure that parents understand what is being taught. So not just communicate what’s being taught, but make sure that parents have an understanding of the importance of what’s being taught and how it’s being taught. With that understanding, parents can make informed decisions in advocating for their children. I don’t know that the Board of Education has to define that for each family. There are limitations due to laws and, you know, you know, based on our policies, that would limit the level of involvement. Parents can’t be in the classrooms with their children, but I think that, when parents are educated on what their children are learning and how their children are learning it, they feel involved and they feel prepared to either help or to advocate.

Ferrera: I think that a parent’s role in a child’s life is incredibly important in all aspects, including public education. As a parent of two young children myself, I am very much involved and expect to be very much involved in all aspects of their life. I also am an educator. And I understand the role that both educators and parents play in a child’s life and I think that both roles are incredibly important. But when speaking specifically to parents, I think that parents have a really important role in education. You know, research shows that a strong home school connection benefits children.

Spiegeland: Again, I’m a big advocate of recognizing the parents’ voice, hearing what parents have to say. I’m a public servant, or I would be a public servant if I were selected to serve on the board, and I work for the community. One of the reasons I decided to throw my hat in the ring was in response to some of the uneasiness that I saw at some of the board meetings. Particularly it was one in December where it could have been run better. Our parents were told they wouldn’t be given any answers at a point in time. They were actually reprimanded. The school board took a break because they thought it was getting a little heated. I want to make sure we can avoid that and I want to give every opportunity for parents to contribute.

Verzella: Parents should advocate for their students, or for their children. I advocate for my children on a probably daily basis. There is a role to advocate for your individual student. I think there is a role for parents and the community at large to play within the larger scheme of a school district. The town has a lot of advisory committees. I think the school board could tap into some resources, and some community members and some parents to advise them on things like facilities and athletics so that they are a part of the decision-making process. Not a decision maker. That’s different than an advisor. A good example would be at F.N. Brown. Next to the building, there was a mud puddle that made it difficult for people to get their children. Advising the facilities committee that that’s a problem would be a role that an advisory committee could play. Where I don’t think that parents should be directly involved is in creating curriculum. They’re not educators. The state creates the standards, the school creates the curriculum, the teacher creates the lesson plans. There are certain topics where parents have the option to opt out. And I’m supportive of that. If a parent does not wish their child to hear about a specific topic that they’re permitted to opt out of, then that’s their right and they should exercise it. However, they shouldn’t be specifically trying to influence lesson plans of teachers or influence things that children who are not their children should learn. I believe wholeheartedly in children having access to almost whatever book they want. To be quite honest, there are very few books that I would say a child shouldn’t have access to. So anything that would be involved in removing books from a library or a classroom, I would be immediately opposed. And I do vehemently oppose that. The health and PE curriculum is the one that’s most at the forefront right now. Something like that where a parent has the ability to opt out and that’s their choice and they should exercise it, should they feel the need to.

You can read the answers to question one, more about the role of a school board, here, and question two, about the aftermath of COVID, here. And you can find all of the candidates’ answers to all of the questions asked here.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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