Dr. Charles Haughey
Montgomery County BOE
850 Hungerford Drive
Rockville, MD 20850                                                                                                                                              May 15, 2006

Dear President Haughey and Members of the Board of Education:

               On behalf of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) and the NAACP and NAACP Parent Council, we write together to share our thoughts regarding the proposed revisions to Policy ABA, “Community Involvement”. As always, we appreciate the opportunity to provide input because we believe so strongly that our public schools are integral elements of our greater community and that the vision and direction of school policy is enriched by embracing the community’s perspective.

               We applaud the purpose of Policy ABA and will direct our comments to those specific provisions where we feel the policy can and should more specifically detail the means by which the Board of Education can better foster connections to the community.

               First, in defining the community under Section C.2, we urge you to specifically enumerate groups such as the PTA and the NAACP as examples of “constituents with a vested interest in the education of children.”  Our long time commitment to advocating on behalf of children, and our visibility in the larger community, warrant such specific mention as a means of welcoming and encouraging participation by our members who are often the most actively engaged in educational policy. Citing well recognized organizations as an example does not exclude or minimize the value of other constituents rather it helps to clarify the definition section by offering concrete examples of the types of “advocacy” and “parent or community-based organizations” to which the policy refers.  In keeping with the culture of respect cited elsewhere in the policy, we encourage you to recognize and celebrate organizations such as ours which devote innumerable hours and effort to the school system.

               Similarly, in the effort to be inclusive of “new” organizations in Section D. f., we urge you not to be dismissive of organizations such as ours which are considered the “traditional” voices of the community.  We wholeheartedly support the policy’s goal of reaching out to “traditionally underrepresented communities” and, indeed, each of our member organizations strives to do the same all the time.  Yet being more inclusive of new organizations does not require the devaluing of the traditional advocates such as the PTA and NAACP.   The tone of Section D.f. leaves our members believing that the BOE is less interested in our input than in that of “newer” groups.  We urge you not to create this perception.  The goal of greater inclusion should treat input by more established advocacy groups with the same interest and enthusiasm as the input of newer constituencies.  Our organizations have worked for over 61 years volunteering our time and services and we feel that we have earned our place at the table.  We have historically always welcomed and will continue to welcome any “new” organization which comes to take a seat beside us as we strive to work cooperatively to seek to ensure that NO CHILD IS LEFT BEHIND.

               Second, we believe that it is critical for Policy ABA to promote meaningful community involvement – fostering truer partnerships and fully open collaboration—rather than simply to continue what has sometimes been a practice of  inviting the public to serve on advisory committees in order to pay lip service to the obligation of  having community input.  Our members often feel that they are asked to serve on a committee in order to permit the administration to “check off the box” that a parent or other community member was present.  Policy ABA can communicate and direct more meaningful engagement of the community but to do so will require more concrete guidance.  For example, Section D.2.c. states that the Board of Education          will “seek and support the involvement of local organizations” and D.2. d. states that the BOE will “provide access and opportunity” for participation but does not specify how this will occur.  We suggest adding language that discusses efforts to schedule meetings and hearings at times which accommodate community members’ work schedules.  We suggest adding language that the time frame for work with community members will be adequate to allow community members to participate thoughtfully while juggling other demands. We suggest adding language that conveys an intention to seek other, more open means of engaging the community than the traditional public comment period and structured advisory committees through informal outreach such as open-ended “town hall” type forums.  In short, Policy ABA can only convey a commitment to fostering meaningful involvement if it addresses the barriers which have created obstacles to such involvement in the past.

Policy ABA makes a commitment to solicit input from many diverse voices. We applaud this effort, however, to be effective it is imperative that the Board of Education is prepared and committed to listening to and integrating the input you receive into your decisions.  The Board of Education must accept responsibility for facilitating the collaboration of ALL of the diverse voices to work together cooperatively. A “culture of respect” requires that the Board of Education be very careful not to “divide and conquer” but to seek out the commonality in diverse input while at the same time respecting the unique perspectives of each organization’s constituents.  At the end of the day each group involved should be able to leave the discussion with the belief that their input was heard, valued and given equal consideration in the ultimate decision.  Everyone who takes the time to participate should feel that their opinions have been valued and their perspectives have been considered and that they are equal partners in the ultimate outcomes that impact all children.

Diversity training and cultural understanding are essential to facilitating the collaboration among the diverse constituent groups who come to advocate on behalf of the children who attend Montgomery County Public Schools.   This is a mandate that must be taken seriously by every person who chooses to serve on the Board of Education, because failure to do anything less will lead to chaos and distrust of the community. Policy ABA should specifically articulate the Board’s commitment to diversity training.

Finally, inherent to the success of Policy ABA is the development of outcome measures that are apparent to the community.   Policy ABA needs to include language that clearly spells out how the Board of Education will assess its success in engaging the community. How will the Board determine when its efforts at outreach and collaboration have been adequate and when more needs to be done?  This analysis should be expressly incorporated into Policy ABA.

In sum, we, the PTA and the NAACP, are proud to be a part of the smorgasbord of rich ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity that constitutes Montgomery County.  We believe that you, the Board of Education, must be prepared to sample EVERY plate at the smorgasbord before you can experience the full flavor of the community. We urge you never to select just one favorite flavor but rather to continually come back for additional samples until you develop an appreciation and respect for all that is offered.

Henry Hailstock, President
Montgomery County Branch, NAACP

Cindy Kerr, President

Cc:          Dr. Weast, MCPS Superintendent
               Stephanie Williams, MCPS Department of Reporting and Regulatory Accountability