School systems can be complicated and confusing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed. To pass policy, though, it’s important to know how the school functions.
Let’s see what the average school district looks like:
The superintendent runs the district and all of its schools. Each school has a principal who is in charge of directing school employees and executing school policies.
District-wide employees don’t have a principal. Instead, they report directly to the superintendent. The superintendent, in turn, reports to a body of citizens elected by the town known generally as the local school board (sometimes known as a school committee).
In most communities, the school board members are elected. In other districts, the members are appointed by a mayor, town administrator, board of selectmen, or city council.
Oftentimes, the school board hires the superintendent. Elsewhere, especially in large cities, the superintendent is appointed by the mayor. The school board makes major policy changes, often at the recommendation of the superintendent or townspeople. Similarly, the superintendent often listens to public opinion and building principals when making decisions. It’s important to consider that district officials outside of the school department still influence school policy, whether or not they do so directly.
Remember that not all school districts operate according to this description, and that this summary is meant as a guideline. Your school district’s governance will vary depending on your location.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the school district, let’s change some policy!
First, you need to know your cause. Make sure your idea is concise and cohesive. Research your issue: What policies are currently in place? Is there precedent for the changes you’re looking for?
Second, establish a network of supporters. Strong communication is essential. Reach out to friends and peers. This will be the first test of your idea, so your proposal should be persuasive, polished, and to the point. Provide your supporters with the resources necessary to help sustain your base. When your movement is large enough, consider contacting organizations like student government, the local parent-teacher organization (PTO or PTA), and even small businesses in the area. Endorsements from these groups will help your cause gain credibility and capital.
Now that your movement has substance, you can do two things: You can meet with a school official, or you can begin a publicity campaign for your issue. Either way, communication is key.
Consider your district’s school government, and make sure you meet with the right officials. Similarly, plan your publicity campaign before you begin to meet with local press.
Let’s say you’re going straight for the gold. Remember that respect is vital for connections and compromise. Heated rhetoric won’t get you anywhere.
If you’re concerned that your movement isn’t large enough, or that policymakers won’t agree, then considering writing to a local paper about your cause. Have your supporters do the same. You can also post flyers, hold fundraisers, send mailings, go door-to-door with citizens to build support, or use other campaign tactics.
We’d love to hear about your efforts, and you’re welcome to send us your questions. Now that you know the way, get started, and good luck!