The Superintendent Parent Advisory Committee was created by Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer in late 2002.
Now entering its fifth year, the Bryan County Board of Education wonders if the public really understands the committee’s purpose.
At a called meeting on Aug. 6, the board discussed ways in which the committee could increase the community’s awareness of its functions. Brewer said the committee serves as part of the "chain of command" for parents to utilize when they wish to voice ideas and concerns.
"They are people who are active in our schools already," Brewer said. "The school councils elect the Parent Advisory; nobody has any input on who they are, primarily me."
Jeff Morton said he’s spoken to members of the community, and thinks that despite the way the system currently works, the general consensus is that Brewer is the one choosing the advisory.
"I think there’s a perception out there that it’s hand picked…I was thinking if we could do it through the PTSO, there’s a bigger group of parents out there that attend that, as opposed to school council," he said.
There was some disagreement over changing the way the advisory is elected. While Morton stuck by his PTSO suggestion, Frances Meeks said it would "naturally" take a while to change public perception."It’s hard to communicate that to the community, and for them to know – this is what you do, you have representatives, you go to them," she said.
Brewer disagreed that changing her system would be beneficial to the advisory.
"Well here’s the thing – why would set up something and ask people to come and tell you what’s honestly on their mind, and then try to control it? I would really like to leave this the way that it is, until it stops working," she said.
Chairman Eddie Warren said if there isn’t going to be a change in the way the system works, then the board needs to change how the public perception comes about.
"Without upsetting what has been working very well, I can ask (the committee) to go make a presentation at the PTSO – they’d love it," Brewer said. "They can tell the PTSO, this is how this works, here’s how you can get information to me."
Right now, there are two representatives per school; Brewer said she does not want to add more to the group at this time. All members are listed on the Bryan County Schools web site, and can be reached through a letter to their respective school, or email if provided.
"I said to the principals early on, if you get something to this person’s name, you be sure to stick it in an envelope and mail it to them," Brewer said. She noted while they do get mail, more often than not, they get input at the ballpark, or at the PTSO meetings, or when they come to the school to volunteer.
Brewer said only one rule applies to their meetings:
"Don’t talk about anybody in a way that is identifying them. And I say to them, if you have issues with a staff member, you may come to me privately, and they do," she said.
"There’s no holds barred, they can say anything they want to. But I have never had a member who was there for any reason other than they wanted our schools to be better than they are," Brewer said. "It’s a very honest exchange."
Brewer said she received phone calls last year regarding some of the board’s "hot topics," from people wanting to know how to get their issues heard. When she explained how the council worked, they asked how they could be added to it.
"They were one-issue people. I don’t need that kind of person. You have to be a pretty brave woman to go in a room with 18 parents or nine teachers, and say to them: ‘Ask me anything you want to,’" Brewer said. "Not everybody could do this."
"We don’t change big things," she continued. "Most of what’s important to our staff and parents are little things. The example I use all the time: Who would’ve thought you could make so many people happy by taking a check for school lunch?"
Meeks said she feels many people have been accustomed to going to PTSO to voice problems. She said the advisory should advertise their meetings and who their speakers are.
"They should also promote how the Parent Advisory system works," Warren said.
Brewer said that when she first meets with the advisory this year, she will make plans for them to go to the PTSO’s and talk about what their function is, how parents can get to them, and what their particular role is in the school district, Brewer said.
The board all agreed this would be helpful and important.
"Nobody’s ever been punished for anything they’ve said," Brewer said. "Nor would they be. I wouldn’t have these meetings if I didn’t really care what they said. I’ve told them, the most foolish thing you can ever do is ask someone ‘what do you think,’ or ‘what should I do,’ and then pay it no attention. That’s deadly. And we never have."
The advisory will meet four times this year; the first will be in mid-Sept. More information can be found about the Superintendent Parent Teacher Advisory on the Bryan County Schools web site at www.bryank12.ga.us, under the "Bryan County Information" tab.