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Parents helping shape education policy through council
0225melinda smith
Melinda Smith

Two local parents will be on hand to deliver input on the progress of schools at today’s meeting of the state’s first Parent Advisory Council.

Andre Jones of Gainesville and Melinda Smith of Dahlonega will join 26 others in the first of two meetings this year scheduled to give parents a platform to help shape educational policy in the state.

Selected by members of their local academic communities, Jones and Smith were appointed in January by state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox. The council was created to supplement existing councils of teachers, principals and teachers, said Matt Cardoza, a Department of Education spokesman.

“These are parents that are highly involved in their district,” Cardoza said. “They all bring a different perspective to policies that impact them. All of the feedback and ideas ultimately help us when we’re developing education policy here.”

With three children attending elementary, middle and high schools in Gainesville, Jones said the idea of bringing parents from across the state together is a good concept.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” said Jones, a commercial real estate agent. “We become more knowledgeable of the opportunities available to progress education and sharing information with parents.”

Jones also works with the Parent Teacher Associations at both Gainesville Middle School and Gainesville High School.

Despite teacher furloughs and a sharp decline in state funding for schools, he said he remains impressed by the performance of his children in Gainesville schools.

“My kids have done wonderfully academically, and I have not seen any drop-off in teaching quality, accessibility, tutoring or mentoring,” he said. “I’m very impressed with how they’re handling it.”

But some legislation making its way through the General Assembly, such as a bill that would potentially base teacher salaries on student performance, needs to be addressed by the council, he said.

And parental guidance over policies is crucial at the moment, Smith said.

“I just feel that this age is an important age to remain involved with your children,” she said. “I thought it was important to step in and try to get more parents involved.”

Both said they are throwing their support behind teachers who have been hurt by furloughs and tighter budgets.

“We do unfortunately face challenges where we have to cut back, and there are situations where some subjects are being cut, which I understand,” Smith said. “Technology is important, but you need to have more teachers there. There’s no substitute for an excellent teacher.”

Though the group’s focus will be on state-led curriculum, the primary goal of the council will be ensuring that parents still take an active role in their children’s academic performance, Cardoza said.

“They’re the ones that are on that ground level, seeing their kids in schools, seeing what’s happening in their communities,” he said. “Really, (the point) is for us to listen to them and we’re then able to respond. It’s a give-and-take.”

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