Mpaza S. Kapembwa is a student at Williams College, studying on a Gates Millennium Scholarship, among other scholarships. A 2011 graduate of DeKalb County’s Cross Keys High school, Mpaza has written two essays for the Get Schooled blog, which you can read here and here.
Here is his third:
By Mpaza S. Kapembwa
While opponents of the charter school amendment say it takes away control from local school boards, I argue the state hasn’t gone far enough in limiting that control.
The debate has been wrongfully focused on local versus state control, parent choice and whether or not the amendment will create publicly funded “private” schools. These issues have made both sides forget that they are all fighting for the same thing: A better system.
Creating more charter schools might give parents a new option, and they need that choice because they are the major stakeholders in the system, but choice alone won’t do much. The fact that no student is guaranteed a spot in a charter school, given the lottery selection process, serves again to minimize parental power.
If our ambitions with this amendment are to give parents a greater voice in how schools are run, we have to limit the power of school boards. Nancy Jester, a DeKalb school board member, pointed out in her recent column that real local control involves “a volunteer group of parents, teachers and community members” coming together and working for the interests of all students.
Mark Elgart, president of SACS, said the DeKalb board operates as nine political figures, fighting for their own special interests. This isn’t the local political atmosphere we want. In order to give parents a stronger voice, we need to constitutionally change the structure of school boards. Thus, several steps must be taken to limit the power of school boards.
The first step would be to make positions on school boards all unpaid. Part of a general public distrust of politicians comes from the perception that there is something monetary to be gained by being elected. Passionate community members who will run and know they won’t be paid will assure parents and teachers that the focus of debates and decisions would be for the best interests of the students.
Second, school boards shouldn’t be the ultimate deciders on who the superintendent should be. The board should do the searching and come up with a list of finalists, but the voters should decide. The candidates won’t be in a political campaign because we don’t want to politicize the office.
Candidates should attend forums, separately, in every attendance area around a county and convince voters they deserve the job. Too often, we see parents and teachers unhappy with the school board decision. School chiefs need approval from voters. School boards, like Congress, will still retain the power to impeach a superintendent who isn’t performing well.
Lastly, school board members should be elected in county-wide elections. Some board members manage to hang on to their seats even if they are not serving in the interest of all students because they are continuously elected by their district. Decisions these board members make affect every student and parent, and their fate should lie in the hands of all the people who are affected by their decisions.
No matter the results of the charter school amendment vote on Nov. 6, public education will still require more sweeping changes than state-authorized charter schools. Amendment One shouldn’t be seen as undermining public education but as a wake-up call, proving that enough people have lost faith in our public education system, which will fall apart without the support of the governed.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog