Student, family activism can help improve schools

This column originally was published by ECM publications.

Student, family activism helps improve schools

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Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

As a new school year begins, I want to thank parents and students who are helping create more effective public schools. Yes, it’s important to recognize educators, too. But today I want to acknowledge the parents and students who help push the system. This country was founded on and flourishes in part because of constructive activism. Here are a few examples.

Princeton and St. Paul high school students helped legislators understand the value of College in the Schools and concurrent enrollment courses. Acting on their suggestions, legislators expanded eligibility for these courses and provided millions of additional dollars to help make them possible.

Anoka-Hennepin families and students used their frustration and insight to help the district develop more constructive ways of working with LGBT students. This was an emotional, complex discussion that ultimately will lead to more student success.

Richfield and St. Louis Park High School students worked skillfully and successfully with legislators on Postsecondary Enrollment Options. Richfield students helped convince their school board that PSEO courses should be treated the same when it comes to “weighting” on a grade-point average. These young people also joined with others to help convince legislators that state law should require school districts to provide up-to-date information about PSEO on their websites and in material given to eighth- through 11th-graders and their families.

Forest Lake families helped convince their local board that it would be useful to offer a Montessori district option. Thanks also to Forest Lake families who have helped start and maintain two charter public schools, so that families in the area have a variety of public school options.

Monticello parents recognized that there was a problem with a local playground and worked with the district to create a wonderful new play area for youngsters.

A parent questioned the Delano district practice of charging for participation in College in the Schools courses. Her persistence produced a letter from the commissioner of Education, citing a Minnesota attorney general’s opinion that this was not acceptable under state law.

These are only a few of many examples. I welcome comments and stories from people sharing other examples.

Adults who are active with schools or other issues provide wonderful models for youngsters about what it means to be a citizen. Students who are active in various ways are carrying on the best traditions of America.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is co-director at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

3 Responses to Joe Nathan column: Student, family activism helps improve schools

  1. When our founders left control of education to the states and local leaders, they did us all a great favor. Joe cites a great example of local leadership making education better for our kids. When that happens, our schools get better too. It’s not vice-versa. Focus on improving learning and options for our students and parents, and the schools will take care of themselves….charter and non.

  2. These are excellent examples that can serve as models for others. Here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road, where parents and students working together for the common good can have a big impact and make a positive difference in schools, schools that are supposed to be serving their best interests. Another way that parents can ask probing and penetrating questions is to engage with the teachers and especially the administrators in decision making positions. If any parents want a little help in choosing a school, here’s a short, easy to use handbook with a questionnaire in the back.
    “Your Child, Your Choice: Finding the Right School for Your Child” Available on Amazon.

  3. Wayne Jennings says:

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead