Becoming a parent changes most people. In many cases, we go from thinking about our personal needs, and the stakes we hold in our community begin to include our children’s needs as well. And because our children are young, they may not have all the insight and awareness their parents have. In some cases, our children may literally need us to speak on their behalf—if they are non-verbal or have other developmental differences, if they can’t explain or understand the challenges they face in their communities.
This is why a parent’s voice is so important in the conversation on their school district. In St. Charles County and the Francis Howell School District, involved parents have been able to advocate for their children’s needs, and the community has benefited from the time and effort of parents who are already busy with professional and other personal obligations.
But how inclusive have those conversations really been? The National School Boards Association reports turnout for school board elections typically ranges between 5% and 10% of the community. An even smaller percentage of those voting are actually parents of students currently enrolled in any given school district. And ignoring the obstacles to voting once during an election cycle, being a part of the ongoing conversation around the education of our children is a significant time investment.
In 2023’s FHSD school board election, about 17,000 people voted (less than 17%% of all registered voters in St. Charles county) . Just over a 5% percent margin (under 3,000 people) determined the current school board’s composition. There are only a bit more than 17,000 students among schools in FHSD. The question then remains, who has been a part of the conversation? Who has not? And when we think about the rights and responsibilities of students and parents to help move us forward, who have we left out?