Yes, school is starting soon. It begins, at least in our area, with registration. Registration is where the school district convinces everyone that they need to come in at various different times and dates for various class levels to do all kinds of paperwork to sign their kids up for school. This probably wouldn’t be that big of a problem, except every individual school in the district insists on doing things their own way. Plus, their own way usually means a circus of staff and volunteers completely unprepared and disorganized trying to herd a bunch of parents and kids through the registration process. Combine that with the probability that no one thought to turn on the AC ahead of time in 100 degree heat, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
I’ve got a few suggestions for making registration less of a nightmare:
- Use technology, for Pete’s sake! Publish all the forms online, and encourage parents to print and fill them out ahead of time. “If you have your forms filled out, go to the express line!”
- Even better, give parents the ability to fill out AND submit their forms online. This would save a LOT of time spent by staff or volunteers entering all the registration data back into the computer. It would also save a lot of paper.
- Move registration closer to the start of school, possibly to the day before or even the first day. Most of the teachers don’t even attempt to start teaching on the first few days because of all the last-minute stuff going on, so why not just work registration into those first days?
- Don’t use volunteers. It’s difficult to have quality control when there’s no real accountability.
Now that registration is over, next comes the “meet the teacher” days. This is another seemingly random scheduling of times and dates for kids to come up to the school to spend an hour or so scoping out their new classrooms and teachers. I think the general concept here is to make the first day of school less traumatic for the kids. Most parents these days wouldn’t think twice about dropping their kids off at daycare or pre-school not knowing whether there will be a new face on the staff. Most wouldn’t be a bit concerned about the possibility of their kids having a substitute teacher who they had never met before. Most, as sad as this is, could care less about what’s going on at the school as long as the kids is out of their hair. Also, does the 1 to 1 1/2 hour of “meet the teacher” a week before school starts really give the kids any better familiarity with the teacher or the classroom? Some thoughts:
- If you’re one of the fairly rare parents who actually give a you-know-what about what’s going on up at the school, you’ve probably already scouted out the available teachers, checked with other caring parents to know which ones are the best, and have connived and wheedled the principal into moving your kid into their classroom.
- If you’ve got a fairly young child, you’re probably already planning on walking them in the first day to make sure they figure out where to go and what to do.
- Again, if you’re a parent that pays attention, you’re checking in with your teachers throughout the year to make sure everything is fine. Teachers are so used to parents that don’t really care as long as their kid isn’t the one burning the place down that they’re pleasantly surprised when a parent actually wants to – honestly – know how their kid is doing and what they can do to help.
Along with the start of school comes the infamous school supply list. On the grade school level, the lists are pretty clear-cut, at least in that they are usually already created and distributed ahead of time. If you’re (see above) conniving to move your kid into a better classroom, you can cause headaches with not knowing ahead of time which supply list you’ll need to use. Once you get into higher grades where the schedules involve multiple teachers and elective classes, it gets to be a mess. Each teacher/class combination has it’s own requirements, and trying to put together a list from all the variations can be a mess.
At the schools in our area, the supply lists tend to move outside the realm of what you’d think your kid would need for school. Our teachers demand things like Clorox wipes, Ziploc bags, Kleenex, dry-erase markers, and ink pens (at the elementary level). Obviously these are not school supplies. They are general building supplies or teacher supplies that have been gradually pushed off onto the parents. Many things have gradually been pushed off on parents, either directly or through PTA fundraising, effectively moving school expenses off of the official school budget, while continuing to demand tax hikes to cover expenses – but that’s another article when I have several hours to rant.
Suggestions for school supplies:
- I’ve talked to teachers at other schools that are given a set budget for supplies for their classroom, and are expected to go out and purchase what they need. To me that’s a pretty good idea, but I’d like to expand on it. Have each teacher submit their list of needed supplies. Review the supply lists and add them to a master requisition list. Put the list up for bid by the local business supply stores. Put all the supplies in a supply room and check them out as needed, based on the initial lists submitted by the teachers. If there are extras, they can carry over into the next year. There is the potential for a large savings by purchasing all these supplies in bulk. The retail outlets probably wouldn’t like it, but what they like really isn’t a concern for the schools.
- Again, use technology! If you’re going to have the parents buy the supplies, which (see above) isn’t my first choice, at least have the sense to get the lists online so parents can select all the different teachers and classes their kids are in and get one big master list to use when shopping. It would make the process much less painful if parents weren’t juggling several lists while trying to find supplies in an aisle jammed full of other frustrated parents.
Finally, book fees. Book fees keep on climbing year after year. Our kids averaged around $80 for each, with some high-school classes bringing one up to $120. That’s just outrageous, especially when you realize that each kid is not assigned a book for each class. Maybe that’s why they don’t call it book rental anymore? As I understand it, there are enough books for each teacher/subject combination. Simply put, if Mr. Smith teaches 3 periods of Algebra 1 and there are a maximum of 25 kids in each of the 3 periods, they have maybe 30 Algebra 1 books in that classroom. If a kid needs to take a book home, they can, but they need to check it out sometime after the last period of Algebra 1 for the day and check it back in before the first period of Algebra 1 the next day. So, that $80-120 book fee doesn’t pay for your kid to use those books during the school year, but actually for 1 hour per day during the school year. When I went to school 20-30 years ago, we paid a lot less and I had those books in my locker when I needed them.
In my opinion, it’s another way of shuffling what used to be a school expense off onto the parents and out of the school budget, making room there for other things. I suggest that book fees should be eliminated and moved back into the general school operating budget.
Overall, these are things that would be very popular with parents, and parents are the ones paying the school’s bills in the form of property taxes. If schools want more credibility with parents, and want to convince the public to trust them when they say they need more funding, they should make some effort like those listed here to show that they really want to make things better.