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How Schools Work

Now in session: School Health 101

Parents, we’re not the only ones who feel overwhelmed. Schools are trying to accomplish more with less, and the many challenges school personnel face are often daunting. Resistance may simply be a symptom of exhaustion. To become a successful school health wonk, you need to know something about how schools work, tips on building relationships, and how to access resources.

Key Players – Meet the players and decision makers in your school and district:

School Board: Oversees public schools and ensures they are in compliance with constitutional responsibilities.

Superintendent: Oversees and enhances educational programs, implements rules, regulations, policies, and procedures and increases student achievement.

District Administrators: Oversee specific areas such as curriculum and instruction development, student services, special needs, English Language Learners, athletics, transportation, federal programs, testing and assessment, finances, etc.

District Advisory Teams/School Improvement Teams: Formal committees composed of community members, school leaders and parents who advise the school district or individual schools (name may vary by district) and create improvement plans.

Principals and School Leaders: Oversee school operations, provide staff with necessary skills to fulfill educational goals and ensure that rules, regulations, policies and procedures are enforced and fulfilled.

**Building administrators, especially principals, hold the greatest power to create a healthy (or unhealthy) school environment, so it’s important to get their support from the very beginning.

Parent Committees (PTA/PTO): Parent-Teacher committees support school/family social interaction, enhance educational efforts through classroom assistance, information sharing and fundraising.

Teachers: Interact with students daily and assist them in gaining the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful in life.

Support staff: Provides support services, e.g., counseling, scheduling, communications, nursing, cafeteria service, etc.

Students and Parents: The system exists to serve students and parents, whose needs and concerns influence a wide range of policies and practices. Research shows meaningful family engagement is important to student success. Having parents included in the decision making process will make the biggest difference.

Ten Tips for Success

  1. Keep the best interests of children as your top priority.
  2. Building administrators, especially principals, hold the greatest power to create a healthy (or unhealthy) school environment, so it’s important not only to get their support from the very beginning but also to understand their vision, philosophy and priorities.
  3. Take time to get to know the teachers and principal. Give positive feedback and ask what you can do to support the classroom. This opens dialogue and builds a trusting relationship. Both will be important as you move forward.
  4. Engage the parent community. If you can show that a majority of parents are supportive of your efforts, school leaders will be more likely to get on board. Align your team’s project with the principal’s and the school’s priorities.
  5. Join groups in your school, like your PTA or PTO, and in your community; or volunteer at school in other ways. Build relationships and ask questions.
  6. Familiarize yourself with requirements that relate to your interests. Showing up with research on your topic can also help you make your case.
  7. Take a positive and constructive approach. Always be professional. Ask for feedback. School staff will likely have insight that will make your work more successful.
  8. Be sensitive when discussing any changes that involve food. Food is personal — for those who consume it and those who prepare it!
  9. Consider the school calendar. Certain times of year are better than others for making headway.
  10. Compromise does not mean defeat. View compromise as a partial victory that lays the foundation for future efforts. Start small and put practices in place that will ensure sustainability over time.

Categories: Making Change Happen