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State schools Superintendent largely ignores recommendations to strengthen and diversify her new Parent Advisory Commission

At the end of March, Every Child NC, a community-led, statewide coalition of organizations, parents, teachers, and students who advocate for every child’s constitutional right to a sound, basic education, sent a letter to state schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt with recommendations that would have strengthened Truitt’s new Parent Advisory Commission. Unfortunately, recent reporting has shown that Truitt ignored these recommendations. As a result, the commission is unlikely to represent the diverse stakeholders who are engaged in North Carolina’s schools.

The coalition’s recommendations sought to make commission membership more accessible and representative. Unfortunately, Truitt ignored the following recommendations:

  • Making the application to serve, all subsequent documents, and both the review and selection process available to the public in Spanish, and ensuring language accessibility in all commission meetings, events and reports;
  • Removing the requirement that all candidates receive a recommendation from either school personnel or a public figure;
  • Ensuring that the commission is designed with an intention to be inclusive of significant and proportional minority representation and to make public the mechanisms by which such representation is achieved;
  • Rethinking and reframing the composition of the commission so that public school families are adequately, equitably, and proportionally represented (currently, only one-third of the seats on the commission are guaranteed to parents of traditional public school students even though about 80 percent of children attend a traditional inclusive public school); and
  • Opening commission participation to educators and students.

Every Child NC’s concerns were clearly prescient. We learned last week that nearly 80% of applications were thrown out for being “incomplete.”

The coalition further recommended that Truitt ensure the commission operates effectively, equitably and transparently by taking the following steps:

  • Creating a plan to compensate commission members for their time, travel and childcare, to encourage a more economically diverse commission profile;
  • Providing commission members with the technology appropriate to ensure that they may participate in virtual meetings, and for DPI to commit to hold in-person meetings in different regions throughout the state, to provide equity in access for families who would prefer in-person engagement but who cannot participate in extensive travel;
  • Releasing the selection rubric used to evaluate applicants, the specific process by which commission members will be selected, and the names of the people responsible both for screening applications and for making final decisions on commission appointments, and being open to suggestions for improvement to the rubric that has been selected;
  • Making public the answers of all selected applicants so that all North Carolinians may evaluate for themselves whether the commission represents the state’s ideological diversity;
  • Providing a clear statement addressing how changes to commission membership will be handled.

Truitt has released the names of the DPI staffers who will review applications. But Truitt has yet to publicly commit to any of the remaining steps.

Truitt created the commission to “elevate the voice of parents in students’ education.” Her decision to ignore Every Child NC’s recommendations reveals a lamentable preference to elevate the voices of privileged over the voices of the families who have historically been excluded from public education policymaking.

With no selections having yet been made, it’s not too late to start over with a process that incorporates Every Child NC’s recommendations to ensure the commission will truly speak for all of North Carolina’s students.

Kris Nordstrom is a senior policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education & Law Project. Note: the Justice Center — parent organization to NC Policy Watch — is a member of Every Child NC.

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