School Based Decision Making Council Parent Member: Marian R. Vasser

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School Based Decision Making Council Parent Member: Marian R. Vasser

By Marian R. Vasser

My name is Marian R. Vasser and I currently serve as the Director of Diversity Education and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Louisville, where I have been employed for over 24 years.  My personal and professional passions include working to build climates that are more inclusive and equitable for all.  In addition to being engaged in this critical work at UofL and throughout the community, I also get to blend it with another passion of mine, which is being a mom.  I am the proud mother of three talented, intelligent, and handsome young men.  My oldest son (Trey), who was also a JCPS student, is now 23 and working at General Electric.  My 14 year-old twins (Tavon and Tobias) are currently 8th graders at Noe Middle School.  I am very active in my children’s education and try to serve in ways that not only increase their chances of success, but the success other children as well.

When my oldest son was in school, I had several unpleasant experiences as a result of inequitable practices.  I recall being very frustrated far too often and deciding something had to change.  Many of the teachers I encountered were simply following policies and procedures, while totally unaware of how certain students (including my son) were being ushered directly into the school-to prison pipeline as a result.  The more engaged I became, the more I learned about policies and procedures that needed to change.   At that time, my schedule was less flexible and I was only able to show up at the school periodically.  Although my son graduated on time, I was extremely frustrated by this experience and now concerned that I had twins entering the same system.  My oldest son had a really rough time navigating his educational experience.  Fortunately, my twins had a better experience for several reasons.  They became more focused and I was able to commit more time to getting involved in their school.  It made a world of difference, let me tell you.  In addition to being active in PTA, even serving as president several years, I also became a member of the School Based Decision Making Council (SBDM).

The SBDM Council is responsible for setting school policy (consistent with Jefferson County Board of Education [JCBE] policy) that will provide an environment to enhance student achievement and to help students meet established academic goals.  The SBDM Council has authority in the following areas:

  •  Determination of curriculum, including needs assessment, curriculum development, and responsibilities under KRS 158.6453(19);
  •  Assignment of all instructional and noninstructional staff time;
  • Assignment of students to classes and programs within the school;
  • Determination of the schedule of the school day and week, subject to the beginning and ending times of the school day and school calendar year as established by the local board;
  • Determination of use of school space during the school day related to improving classroom teaching and learning;
  •  Planning and resolution of issues regarding instructional practices;
  • Selection and implementation of discipline and classroom management techniques as a part of a comprehensive school safety plan, including responsibilities of the student, parent, teacher, counselor, and principal;
  • Selection of extracurricular programs and determination of policies relating to student participation based on academic qualifications and attendance requirements, program evaluations, and supuervision;
  • Adoption of an emergency plan as required in KRS 158.162;
  • Procedures, consistent with local school board policy, for determining alignment with state standards, technology utilization, and program appraisal; and
  •  Procedures to assist the council with consultation in the selection of personnel by the principal, including but not limited to meetings, timelines, interviews, review of written application, and review of references.

The law requires membership of the SBDM Council to include PARENTS, teachers, and the principal of the school.  Getting involved, as a parent, means YOU are empowered to contribute to the decision-making process that directly affects the learning environment.  I remember the first year I served on the council, it was a bit intimidating as I did not know much about school budgets, policies, or procedures.  The first year, I sat back and tried to learn as much as I could.  I remember feeling like it was a waste of my time originally because it felt as though I was as an outsider looking in.  Once I began to build relationships with other parents on the council, I realized it was our duty to speak up.  It was not long before I was consistent in asking questions and even challenging policies and practices that seemed inequitable.  One of the things I constantly reminded myself of was the fact that my position on the council came with privilege.  Many SBDM parents likely have more flexible schedules than some of the parents that need policies changed the most.  With that in mind, I made it a point to become more involved and ask questions until I understood fully, even if it meant utilizing the full time allotted to the meeting.  During this process, I also learned more about the role of the teachers and administrators.  Although some of the revelations were heartbreaking, in terms of how much agency teachers lacked, I felt empowered that my contribution could affect change positively for children and teachers.  As a parent, we do have a say and we should most definitely exercise that right. 

I have served as an SBDM council member for approximately 6 years now and I am proud to say I have contributed to many positive changes at the school where I served.  In addition to revising dress codes to be more inclusive, I have even witnessed positive changes in leadership as a result of the SBDM.  My favorite poet, Maya Angelou, says “Nothing will work, unless you do.”  I encourage those of you who have schedules permitting to please get involved.  The more involved we are, the better JCPS can be.  There are many ways to be involved, so if your schedule doesn’t permit you to serve on SBDM, stay in touch with your SBDM reps so your voice can be heard.  Hold us accountable!  I realize as an SBDM parent-rep, I am not there only for my children, I am there representing those voices that often go unheard or unconsidered.  The SBDM is a perfect avenue for challenging policies that perpetuate inequitable disciplinary actions, lack gender equity, widen educational achievement gaps, etc.  While I realize the lack of diversity on most SBDM councils are the result of inflexible schedules, I strongly encourage parents who are minorities to consider serving. 

My twins are blessed to be at a wonderful school that values parent involvement, although I know this can be a challenge in other environments.  When I have ever felt a level of discomfort, I have always received valuable feedback and advice from Dr. Shawna Stenton, who is responsible for SBDM councils throughout JCPS.   Shawna is extremely knowledgeable and approachable and has played a major role in the success of my tenure as an SBDM parent-rep.  The experience, for me, has been extremely rewarding and I am willing to personally mentor any parent wanting to be involved in this capacity.

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