District 56 Parent Advisory Council: A Hidden Gem!

During this particular time of the year we are called to take inventory of our blessings. We most recently celebrated Thanksgiving this past week. It is far too common for us to take certain things for granted. We become too comfortable with that which we have and often overlook the many good things we have. Thank God for thanksgiving! It allows us to think purposefully about the things we have but, more importantly, the people we have. I know I am most grateful for my wonderfully tolerant and supportive wife, Terri, and our two marvelous daughters, Katie and Maggie. As superintendent, I am honored and humbled to work with many great people. We have compassionate, competent, and capable educators in our district. Note I intentionally use the word “educators” because this term includes every paid job in the district—aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries, teachers, and numerous other school and district support staff. No doubt, we are rich beyond measure in Laurens County School District 56. Blessed, truly blessed! But this year I owe another shout out to a special group of individuals who aren’t paid—our District 56 Parent Advisory Council (PAC). This group of dedicated parents meet almost monthly with me to discuss the goings-on in their children’s schools. This group often operates behind the scenes but constantly works for improving all of the schools in our district. Earlier this year, we had concerns with containment and security at Eastside Elementary School. Thanks in large part to the support and advice of the PAC, we worked to fence in much of the back playground to increase security. This particular group of parents, many of whom are on their own schools’ Improvement Councils, come together not to snipe or gossip but to express concerns and seek solutions. Research is very clear about parent involvement…the more supportive the parents, the better the school culture. Better the school culture, better the communication between the school and home. Better the communication, better the achievement of the students in the schools. And that is what we are all about…helping our students succeed and becoming responsible, productive citizens. The District PAC is comprised of two parents from each school. These parents meet together regularly to listen to district updates, provide counsel to district proposals, and, most importantly, to assist us in solving real-school problems. Presently, we are discussing ways to lessen the weight of the book bags in elementary school. One parent on the PAC brought their child’s book bag (It weighed nearly 16 pounds…a standard, adult-sized bowling ball). Her child only weighed 60 pounds. Rather than become argumentative and condemning, she came to discuss what we could do as well as to survey if this problem was at other schools. Although we haven’t worked the solution out completely, we know we will because good things happen when people come together to solve problems rather than to fuss about them. This year, I am very thankful for our PAC. There is no more dedicated or supportive group of people anyway. They are a wonderful group of problem solvers. If you wonder who these dedicated parents are, go to the schools’ websites. Their names and emails should be listed. As Helen Keller once noted, “Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much!” (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)

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