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Many Hats of Parent Partnership

September 5

When I received my call in 2007 that my daughter Maria was eligible for a spot in kindergarten at FFCA, I was ecstatic!  I had done my research, looked at all the choices, put my name on the waitlist and it happened…we would be going to FFCA!!  And when I say “we”, I mean “we”.  One of the key reasons for choosing FFCA was the emphasis on parental involvement, volunteering opportunities and learning along with your child. We were in this together.
So, off we went to Kindergarten Orientation night!  We were given the “dos and don’ts” to have a successful year and the expectations for the student and the parents, and were shown the many ways to partner with the school.  One presentation really struck me as a way to be involved in the school, but also help make decisions for the campus at the same time – School Council. There were many positions available, so I decided to go to the first meeting and volunteer my time.  That decision changed my life.  I joined School Council and stayed there for 3 years.  We spent our time organizing school events and fundraising, and looking at volunteering opportunities. It was a fantastic way to get to know our staff and parents, and to better understand the workings of our campus.  
During our School Council meetings, we had a Board Director who would come and talk to us about what the Board was working on and political events affecting Charter schools.  I loved hearing about our partnerships with post-secondary institutions, our connections world-wide, policies, and politics!  It was easy for me to live in my own campus - my “bubble” - and I sometimes forgot that we were 7 campuses with hundreds of students in each.  The Board brought an incredibly different perspective from our day-to-day way of operating, and I wanted to understand what other things they may be working on.  I decided to start attending the monthly Board meetings.
My first Board meeting, I walked into a room with 9 Directors, our Secretary-Treasurer and our Superintendent - talk about intimidating!!  However, once the meeting started, I forgot all about being nervous, and became focused on what was being discussed.  Meetings with MLA’s, misconceptions about Charter Schools, our struggles in the community, policies that would affect all the students…wow!!  I was hooked!  I attended the Board meetings for a year and decided to run in the next election.
When I became a Director, I could hardly wait to begin working.  I attended my Director training and hit the ground running, but it wasn’t as easy as it had looked in the meetings.  The Board is a governance Board, which means we set strategic direction, high-level goals and policies, and work with our Superintendent to ensure the outcomes and goals of the organization are being met.  While I was on School Council, we worked with the operations of the school – or the day-to-day of the campus.  Being a parent with a child in the school, I talk about and look at the day-to-day all the time through my conversations with my daughter, with her teachers, with the communications with the school, and campus events.  It was easy to immerse myself in the campus and all that entailed.  When it came to the Board, it was a completely different lens, and one I found difficult to navigate at first.  
During my Director orientation, we were told about the many “hats” we would have to try to wear when we became a Director, and it was very true.  I wanted to be a part of the Board to make a difference and to help an organization that my family felt privileged to be a part of.  So, when I learned that governing meant looking at the school as a “whole”, and not through the perspective of my daughter’s daily life, it was hard to do.  How could I focus on what was best for FFCA if it wasn’t necessarily what was best for my daughter or my family?  How could I go from talking about daily homework, signing fieldtrip permission forms, and talking about the events of the day with my daughter, to looking at the FFCA budget?  I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that leap successfully. It took some learning, many questions and conversations, but it did happen.  The key for me was clearly defined expectations and the relationship the Board had with the Superintendent!  Our conversations around the Board table became about collaboration with stakeholders, “big-picture” goals for the organization, advocating for Charter Schools in the outer community and with the politicians, working with the other 12 Charter Schools to ensure a better future for Charter School students, and putting policies in place that gave a structure for students and staff to grow and learn.  It was about what is best for ALL students!  They were not about what textbook was being used in each campus, what different fieldtrips were happening or what units were being taught at a certain time.  Directors didn’t talk about the “day-to-day” details, so it was easier to put on the “Director” hat and leave the “parent” hat off.  The issues and topics we discussed were so far removed from my “family” life, the overlap was almost nonexistent. We are all parents, and that experience does change our perspective, but not in a negative way.  It gives us a sense of belonging, of community, of being part of an organization that we are proud of and have a sense of ownership in.
I have learned an incredible amount in my 11 years at FFCA.  I feel very privileged to have been a part of the campus, the School Councils, and being on the Board.  And I still have more learning to do.  As our school grows and the times change, we have to learn to grow and change along with it.  At the core of all we do is the plan for the future; that the education that my daughter has received will be available for generations to come.  Though I may wear many “hats”, the one thing they all have in common is the hope for a lasting impact.
Cindy McGlashan-Beaucage
Chair, FFCA Board of Directors