First Person

Chalkbeat Roundtable: Should parents have a say in curriculum?


In a recent story about about parent involvement at the Highbridge Green School, a new middle school in the Bronx, Principal Kyle Brillante said he’d rather involve parents in planning the curriculum than the school dance.

“We feel like the heart of engagement for parents and students is to meaningfully involve all of our stakeholders on instruction,” Brillante said. “That’s what’s going to push student achievement forward.”

Teachers, parent coordinators, and parents contacted us with their own thoughts on the story’s premise, with some praising the Green School’s efforts to involve parents in curriculum and others arguing that parents should steer clear of the classroom. Here are six perspectives.

  • Learning Leaders’ Jane HeaphyParents need tools to be full participants
  • Queens parent Kimberly Coleman: Parents’ opinions can never be objective
  • Teacher Jose Vilson: Parents should have some voice in curriculum
  • Parent coordinator Michele Farinet: Parents and educators have different expertise
  • PTA president Matt Schneider: Parents and educators work together powerfully
  • Parent coordinator Taneesha Crawford: Contributing isn’t realistic for all parents

Parents’ involvement in curriculum can be useful, if they have the tools

Jane Heaphy, public school parent and executive director of Learning Leaders

One of the most interesting questions raised in the piece is what parents and educators need to learn in order to partner effectively. I am thinking about Brillante saying he wants to involve parents in curriculum-related decisions even if it means teaching them about the issues first.

Researcher Karen Mapp at Harvard University talks about this, needing to give parents the tools to be full participants. Of course, this has to happen in a way that respects parents’ own expertise and builds on their experience.

It is not easy to build consensus, to even get deep feedback. But some schools do it very well. The Green School seems to be on an excellent track, in spite of, or arguably even demonstrated by, the expressed frustration some parents feel.  The promising part is in the conversation. It appears that the school leadership is listening.

Parents can advocate for their own kids, not all children

Kimberly Coleman, parent and Mom in the City blogger

While I understand the desires of some parents to play a role in planning a public school’s curriculum, I don’t think that they should. I say this from a dual perspective — as a parent of sons in public school and as a wife of a public school teacher. As a parent, I know that (as much as I might like for them to be) my opinions are simply not objective.

I would primarily advocate for the issues that concern my kids — academically advanced boys – the most. However, I know that public schools have the tremendous challenge of teaching kids with a wide variation of academic abilities and I don’t think that the vast majority of parents (including myself!) are adequately equipped to give input into the curriculum.

Particularly when it comes to history, parents need to have a say

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 7.25.00 PM
Jose Vilson, math teacher at I.S. 52

My lens happens to be a race-based one, so when I hear about parents trying to get involved in curricular decisions, I think there should be some voice. Parents should have a hand in curriculum, especially as it concerns pedagogy and material. That’s why, for example, some parents felt like they had to create their own schools. Some of the topics they wanted to see covered and methodologies they’d like to see implemented weren’t being seen in the schools they had around them. Parents are often frustrated with our current curriculum, especially as it concerns U.S. history and how history is often taught from the lens of the victor, and alternative histories also matter.

Parents should support student learning by offering input, not direction

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 6.24.14 PM
Michele Farinet, parent coordinator at P.S. 41

All schools want an engaged and involved parent body and parents who think and reflect and offer constructive feedback — within limits. Here’s how I think about those limits:

A person who has a loved one facing medical issues ideally should help, guide and be an active presence in his or her loved one’s journey, which can take them from partnering in choosing doctors and hospitals, understanding the course of treatment being undertaken, and through the daily highs and lows of the process. But that person does not stand in the operating room and dictate to the doctor what to do during the loved one’s surgery and that person does not write the subsequent prescriptions or perform the subsequent therapies.

Likewise, in committing to the public education system and the idea of the “community at large,” we as parents must respect and work with, not in place of, those people who have trained, worked in, and dedicated their lives to the education profession.

Structure is important and the Department of Education can help

Matt Schneider, PTA co-president at a Manhattan elementary school

As Chancellor Carmen Fariña looks for ways to meaningfully engage parents, she could focus on helping School Leadership Teams  and parent-teacher associations become more than the “superficial structures” that some are, as Principal Brillante pointed out.

In our school, the SLT, a governing body that includes parents, teachers, and others, has moved beyond measuring achievement and progress to analyzing actionable problems and solutions. Last year, one of our goals was to assess the potential for a foreign language program. An SLT committee made of parents, teachers, and the principal spent the school year researching potential extra-curricular and curricular programs, surveying parents, and writing a proposal. The proposal was approved by the PTA, which then set out to find grants and other funds to implement the program. The funding came through and we implemented our new Spanish program this past fall.

We need to keep in mind parents’ schedules, and be flexible

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.31.44 AM
Taneesha Crawford, Parent coordinator at South Bronx Preparatory

I think what that community has done is amazing! I feel like under the Bloomberg administration parents were stripped of their voice. Parents have be to be incorporated back into the school culture, and the way involvement is measured needs to change. We can’t just measure parent involvement by how many parents show up to a meeting.

Working parents in particular need flexibility. People have to work, so how can I be upset if the majority of my parents can’t make an evening meeting because they are working, or fearful of taking off because of what their supervisor may say? We should be paying attention to the needs of parents that can’t be as physically involved because they have to work. Social media would be a great way to have parent meetings via Skype or forums/conversations via Twitter and Facebook.

Want to share your perspective? Join in below in the comment section or send us an email.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede