Working With Your School Committee:
A Student Guide
Section Three: How To Organize Your SAC to SC
The Main Goal of the SAC to SC
Your principal job as the SAC to SC is to advise your school committee on how students feel about the issues your school committee handles. This means that as members of the SAC to SC you need to feel confident that as a group, you can represent the students in your district. Remembering that you are students advising the school committee will help keep your group focused.
Helpful Hints on How to Get Organized and
How to Stay That Way
Select the Best Member to Serve as Chairperson. Establish an election procedure and stay with it. You may want to consider communication skills, experience with other adult groups and other leadership skills as important qualities for your chairperson.
Meet Regularly. You should plan to meet on a regular basis, in addition to attending school committee meetings. You can set goals, share ideas, plan and run activities, and evaluate your efforts best if you get together to do these things. SAC to SC members may be working on separate projects, or certain members may find it hard from time to time to juggle school and personal responsibilities. In meetings, you can divide the work load, put your heads together for some creative thinking and share your thoughts on upcoming issues.
Meet with a Representative from the School Committee Regularly. In many towns, the superintendent is your best link with the school committee. He or she can explain the agenda items and, in general, predict what to expect at any meeting. Also, you may be able to work with a school committee member who has the time to meet with you on a regular basis. In some districts, high school principals are well informed, as are teachers' union presidents. You should attempt to schedule regular meetings with these individuals.
Assign Tasks. A good way to organize any group is to divide the tasks among members on the SAC to SC. One person may be chosen to do the same set of tasks for the group all the time. For instance, the chairperson should regularly schedule and conduct meetings, and will be the one to sit on the school committee. A secretary would keep minutes and maintain records. A publicity person might coordinate posters, newspaper articles and reports to the student body.
Another way to organize is to rotate the tasks among all the members. Each person would then have the chance to try out various jobs and to learn how to do them. One advantage of having a series of students share the tasks, such as publicity, is that more than one student can learn this skill. Another is that the work is divided more evenly. A third reason to rotate tasks is that you can convey the image to the school committee and others that you work as a team, and that your concerns are not just those of one individual. You also share more equally in the challenging work, as well as in the not-so interesting jobs. This method may be difficult, especially at first. Sometimes members may forget which responsibilities are theirs. But in the long run, as the group grows together, it could solve more problems than it creates.
Deal with Interpersonal Problems. Often, personal communication problems or real differences of opinion get in the way of the smooth running of the SAC to SC. This may show up in various ways. You may disagree over who the leaders of the SAC to SC are. Someone may be having a personal conflict with another SAC to SC member. Instead of dealing with this outright, they may avoid doing anything together. On the other hand, someone may feel very willing to argue during meetings about SAC to SC business or about something else altogether. Either way, this interferes with accomplishing the purpose of your group.
Differences and disagreements are natural and very often necessary for a group to deal with if it wants to become strong. But if the conflicts are not really about the committee's issues, you may find the SAC to SC behind schedule, with more hard feelings and maybe fewer members. Encourage the parties to settle their differences, either by themselves or with help. An outside facilitator, such as an adult advisor, is often helpful to guide the group through rough times. Keep reminding members that the group has a set of goals, and try to follow them. If positive change looks doubtful, you may have to figure out how to pick up the slack to get the work done. Remember, uncomfortable moments are natural in the life of any group and they will be resolved eventually.
Set Goals and Plan Strategies. Figure out what you want to accomplish during your term in office. Goal setting is probably the most important activity in the group. It is one that will help keep you organized. The general goals of all SACs to SCs are listed in the publication, "Recommendations," which is included in Appendix 2. In addition, you may have some specific objectives for the committee for any one school year. Review each of the general goals as a way to start designing specific plans for the committee. Set a timeline that shows when you hope to accomplish sections of your goals.
Example: It's September and the SAC to SC decides to propose changes in the high school curriculum. If involving as many students as possible is a goal, an extensive process is necessary. If the school committee will be having its preliminary discussions in March, the proposal should be completed by March 1st. In order to write a comprehensive proposal and have ample time to revise it, the research should be completed by mid-February. Writing by committee always takes longer than doing it individually. If the SAC to SC is planning interviews, an open meeting, polling or surveys, these could be scheduled for early February. In January, the SAC to SC might arrange for collecting data, doing library research and talking to parents, teachers, administrators, and students. Thus, winter vacation might be the optimum time for developing goals, assigning tasks and doing preliminary research.
Keep Files. Keep a file of your activities, for your benefit and the benefit of future students. Use a file drawer and set up a workable filing system. If you have no experience in setting up files, check with the business education department of your school for advice. Make someone responsible for the files and request that individual members store copies of notes or papers that may be useful in the future.
Increase Contact with Neighboring SACs to SCs. Students in other towns in your general region may be facing situations similar to those in your school. You can support each other by exchanging ideas, successes and mistakes. You may want to circulate a newsletter describing activities scheduled in your region or create a listserv. By increasing communication throughout the student network, students can become more organized.
Generate Ideas. At both the goal-setting and strategy-building stages, the group may benefit from "brainstorming," an activity which encourages creative thinking and often produces valuable ideas. Increase contact with other existing student groups. Contact the members of your local student council; student members of the School Council and the Student Handbook Review Committee. In addition, identify the Student Advisory Council to the Board of Education members, SADD chapter officers, etc. Any organized student group can enable you to swiftly gain insight into issues and share information. Networking and coalition building can be valuable tools in rallying support for student issues.
Sit in a circle or in such a way that everyone can see each other.
Use a blackboard or newsprint for list-making.
Choose a recorder, who will write down each idea suggested.
Agree on a question. For example:
What are the best things going on in our school?
- What would we like change in our school?
- If you had a million dollars to spend on the school system, how would you use it?
Set a time limit, usually between three and five minutes.
Agree to withhold any criticism whatsoever of any suggestion. Every idea, no matter how silly or repetitive, counts.
When the session begins, shout out suggestions, additions, amendments or tag-ons. Everything gets recorded.
When members are out of time and/or energy, shift to a critical look at the list. Cross out ideas that really would not work and discuss those that remain. Decide which are most practical, and choose those which have the best chance for success.
Use All Available Resources in the Community to Build Your Skills. Gathering information from people with different areas of knowledge is important. One guide may be a faculty advisor, preferably a teacher or administrator who knows the decision-making structure, has time, energy, and interests and is well liked by SAC to SC members. An advisor should help educate SAC to SC members about a specific issue or in developing a timeline. Staff members can also provide training on topics such as proposal development, polling students or publicity. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has publications on students' rights and responsibilities, copies of laws, handbooks on lobbying and leading student organizations, and resources describing successful student initiatives. By calling the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the SAC to SC members can obtain copies of these booklets. Past SAC to SC members can provide off-the-record advice on who really makes decisions or what is the best way to collect student opinion. After gathering and using all available resources, the SAC to SC will be better equipped to complete any task.
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