With the wave of their right hands, the members of the Columbia County Board of Education recently added another layer of school supervision by authorizing the first school councils.
In three years, all of the schools will have one, but for the first year, Columbia County is testing the concept at Harlem High, Riverside Middle and Evans Elementary schools. The board approved the organizational plan for the councils at its last meeting Tuesday. School systems are required to begin forming school councils as part of the governor's A Plus Education Reform Act.
"How to increase student performance is the bottom line," Columbia County school Superintendent Tommy Price told board members at a recent board workshop on school councils.
The council will be comprised of the principal, two teachers elected by other teachers, two parents elected by other parents, and two business partners, one appointed by the Board of Education and one which is selected by the other members of the council.
Members will serve a two-year term, undergo training twice a year and receive no pay for their service. They will also be held to the same code of ethics as teachers.
While every school now has an advisory council, the school council is a more "formalized" body which will operate as a government entity. In essence, they will function like mini boards of education, with meetings open to the public.
As a group, they can appoint committees to study issues or use advisory groups. Additionally, they will be in control of monetary awards based on school performance, which is a part of the governor's education reform plan.
But the powers these councils will have are limited.
"The key word is advisory," Mr. Price said. "They work with schools and school principals and ultimately they will be bringing significant recommendations, but you will act on those recommendations. But the main objective is to work together to improve student learning."
In May, teachers at the three pilot schools will select two teacher representatives and parents will elect two members to the council.
The training and the first meeting will both be held in July. At the first meeting, council members set their yearly calendar, adopt their school's bylaws and elect officers. In training they will learn what they can and can't do.
"They are not to run the school, or to take the place of the principal or to tell a board how to proceed," said Carole Jean Carey, staff development coordinator. "We need to be together on this as a central office."
School council members will be encouraged to maintain a "school-wide perspective," and their function is to advise, recommend and assist the board of education, Mrs. Carey said.
"Councils are not there to talk about personnel or individual student achievement," Mrs. Carey said.
Under the open meetings act, councils are allowed to go into executive session for the purpose of providing input on the selection of a school principal. Any action by councils cannot contradict school board policy.
"You are the ones in charge; you are at the top of the ladder, not the school councils," Mrs. Carey told the board. "And the principal is the principal. We are not going to have school councils running our schools on a daily basis."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.