By Sam Miller, Chief Administrator, Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA)

With the school year back in full swing, this is a great time to talk about the importance of parent and community involvement in our local schools. Researchers, educators and policymakers alike have all noted the importance of parent involvement as a key factor in helping students learn at their highest levels.

But what does involvement and support look like? How can you give your child, and your child’s school, the best chance of success? Here are three ways to help:

Open up the lines of communication with your child’s teachers. Make contact early and let them know that you are their partner this year. Be sure to indicate your preferences regarding how you wish to be contacted and explain that you want to hear not just concerns, but also good news, about how your child is performing. If your child is struggling, reach out early and be honest about your concerns. If you are having difficulty helping your child at home with homework or behavior expectations, let that be known as well. Your perspective is critical and sharing information back and forth between home and school can be extremely valuable in problem solving.

Back away from social media and talk directly with teachers and school administrators when you have concerns or something positive to share. Ask any teacher, principal or superintendent today and they will tell you how weary they are from social media posts. In many school districts, well-intentioned parent groups have turned into the first place some parents turn when they have a complaint. Others join in and the story spirals downward due to a lack of factual information and interest in common ground. Sometimes school officials don’t even know what has been written and later get blindsided by a disgruntled group who seem to “know” everything about a situation. Ask yourself whether you would want to be treated the same way and also whether this behavior does anything to really help the situation. I’ve heard countless stories regarding the distraction this has become to the hard work of educating students today.

Recognize the challenges local school districts are facing–especially in our rural areas. I recently saw a map that showed the shifts in population in our state and the projections for the coming decade. Generally, the trend shows Iowans moving closer to four main urban centers and away from our rural areas which means fewer “per pupil” dollars for school districts with declining student enrollment. This creates a secondary problem for many rural school districts which is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers. It’s not uncommon to hear school administrators talk about having only one or two applicants for hard to fill positions or seeing teachers stay for a short time and move on. Combine these two factors with the increasing behavior and mental health needs of many students and you quickly realize why many school districts are feeling stretched. As parents and community members, consider acknowledging these very real challenges and advocating for your school district with legislators and others who can make a difference. Without quality teachers in the classroom and adequate funding, student learning can indeed suffer.

A friend with school-age children recently commented to me that, “raising kids today isn’t easy work given everything happening in society.” Neither is educating them. We’ll all be of greater service to the children of our state when we are on the same team and communicating in healthy ways. Parents and community–we need you!

Sam Miller is the Chief Administrator with Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA), based in Cedar Falls. He can be reached at smiller@centralriversaea.org. Central Rivers AEA serves over 65,000 students in 18 counties of Iowa.