Democratic Decision Making In School

In the spring and summer of 2016 a team of youth, teachers, parents and community members did research, a series of interviews on how communities can have a say in schools. We identified the following areas that all our sources from Chicago to New York as well as in literature talk or write about in the context of democratic decision making in schools .

Local Democratic Decision Making in Schools

In Chicago Local School Councils are elected by the schools’ community and are made up of parents, teachers and students. They have some control over the schools funds. They hire and evaluate principals, and give parents, teachers and community members a way to have impact on schools. They serve as the intermediary between the community, teachers and the school board.

Attracting and Retaining Dedicated Teachers and Paraprofessionals

This model attracts teachers and paras who want to live nearby where they teach, and who want to make a long term commitment to teaching in collaboration with parents and other members of the community.

Growing a Social Justice Union

Union members in a fighting union take stances on social justice issues that affect students, parents and communities such as: small class sizes, restorative justice practices, bullying, water quality and access, after-school programming, or high stakes testing. This is different than a service-model union which tends to focus on teacher contracts, pay rates, grievances, etc. Democractic decison making are designed to work in a collaboration with teacher union members who care about community concerns.

Alternative Authentic Assessments

High stakes testing has a debilitating effect on instruction. Schools that gain exemption from the high stakes tests, have the time to engage in more innovative instructional models and the opportunity to come up with alternative assessments that are more in alignment with what matters to communities, students and teachers. Assessments could help students set future goals or be integrated into project based learning or other purposeful work.

Social Justice Curriculum and Teaching Practices

Teachers create curriculum that connects standard content to their students’ lives, current events, and their futures. The emphasis is on teaching students to question and think critically about their world and solutions to injustices. Ideally this becomes a main focus threaded through all core subjects. Social justice teaching practice is when teachers routinely invite students to have input into what and how learning happens so it makes sense to them.

Classroom as an organizing space

Through social justice curriculum, students take back the classroom and challenge the system when it isn’t serving them. Students become their own advocates for both in-school and out-of-school issues while teachers act as allies.

Restorative Justice/Mindfulness

Restorative Justice work is an important way to establish the core values of peace, justice, democracy, humanity and diversity. Restorative justice works as an alternative to suspensions but also as a way to transform school culture into a place where students and teachers are in charge of keeping the space accountable to their own self determined values instead of relying on principals or other school leaders. Any member of the school (staff or student) can be called to “fairness” by any other member of the school. A committee of teachers and students guide a discussion process designed to restore and repair core values that were violated.

Parents (and community members) as classroom mentors

In the Parent Mentor model (as operated in Chicago) parents receive training which is a stepping stone for parents to become paraprofessionals, and enhance their job skills. They get to witness their child’s progress first hand and don’t have to rely on report cards to know their student’s status. They are paid a stipend to be in the classroom. This helps parents build a relationship with teachers. In general, this may also result in parent volunteers in library, office, events, security and as community liaisons.