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Our daughter, Meghan, starts kindergarten in August. She was excited after orientation, but now she’s so anxious about it. She cries that she wants to stay home with her little sister. She’s one of the youngest in her class, so maybe she’s not ready. Should we hold her back a year?

Wanting to stay home with her younger sister isn’t a good reason to hold your daughter back a year. Unless there’s something that educators didn’t pick up during her kindergarten screening, stick with your plan.

“Kids pick up on parents’ feelings, so show enthusiasm and stay positive,” says North Bellmore, New York, kindergarten teacher Robin Obey. “Questioning Meghan’s readiness will only reinforce her own hesitancy.”

Kindergarten jitters are completely natural, says Obey. She suggests the following activities to help Meghan overcome her worries:

– Share books about starting kindergarten: There are many great “first day” stories that capture the feelings Meghan might be having. Bookstores, online vendors and libraries feature them this time of year. Reading and discussing them with Meghan can help allay her jitters.

Obey suggests these classics: “Kindergarten Rocks!” by Katie Davis (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2008); “First Day Jitters,” by Julie Danneberg (Charlesbridge, 2000); “Timothy Goes to School,” by Rosemary Wells (Puffin, 2000); “Will I Have a Friend?” by Miriam Cohen (Star Bright, 2009); “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten,” by Joseph Slate (Puffin, 2001); “The Night Before Kindergarten,” Natasha Wing (Scholastic, 2001); “Countdown to Kindergarten,” by Allison McGhee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006); “Wemberly Worried,” by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010); “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Press, 2007); and “Tiptoe Into Kindergarten,” by Jacqueline Rogers (Cartwheel, 2003).

Address her concerns. Meghan may worry about something that you assume she already knows, such as, “How will I get to school?” or “How long do I stay?” or “Will I be able to play?” and so on. The more details you provide — such as driving the school route and showing her how long the trip takes — the better.

Visit her new school if possible. Some schools allow short visits prior to the first day. If yours does, show Meghan her classroom, cafeteria and gym, and check out the bathrooms. (Show her how to flush those noisy toilets!) If you can’t get into the building, visit the playground.

Polish her kindergarten skills: Find opportunities to model and describe problem solving, resilience and independence, says Obey. Look for things Meghan can do to assume new responsibilities, such as helping set the table, unpacking groceries and laying out clothes. Give positive reinforcement when she seeks attention appropriately and waits patiently.

Remember, it’s a transition: If Meghan is still apprehensive when school starts, let her teacher know her concerns and what you’re doing to ease them, but don’t hover at school. Avoid overscheduling Meghan during the first few months. Make sure she gets enough rest and free play to balance the structure of kindergarten.

Be sure to ask those all-important questions: What did you learn today? Who did you meet today? What questions did you ask your teacher? You’ll build Meghan’s language skills, along with her confidence as a learner.

My son just finished middle school and got a notice from his high school encouraging him to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes this fall. I was shocked. He’s smart, but he’s just leaving eighth grade. This is so much pressure! Why are schools pushing freshmen to take AP courses?

Advanced Placement courses, essentially first-year college courses, are offered in almost 60 percent of the nation’s high schools, according to the College Board, which administers them and oversees their academic standards. Courses are given in subject areas ranging from English language to statistics.

The number of students taking AP classes has more than doubled in the last decade. Currently, more than a million students take AP exams each May. Good scores mean that students can “place out” of certain college courses, which is why they are called Advanced Placement tests.

Increasingly, high school teachers encourage enrollment among students whose records suggest that they’re capable of succeeding in AP classes.

There are good reasons, says Lindsay Cohen, who heads up precollege programs for The Princeton Review: “AP classes offer four key benefits.”

One, they prepare students for college.

“AP courses are more similar to college courses than regular high school classes,” she says. “Exposure to the next phase of a student’s educational journey as early as possible helps a student get ready for what awaits in four short years.”

Two, they can help your son stand out in college applications.

“Taking AP courses as early as freshman year opens up a student’s high school schedule to additional AP courses in subsequent years, allowing him or her to display an additional level of mastery to colleges,” notes Cohen. “Universities look closely at a high school student’s ’strength of schedule’ when making admissions decisions. Taking AP courses shows admissions committees that a student is committed to a rigorous course of study and is a strong candidate for college success.”

Three — and this is a biggie for families taking out college loans — AP courses allow students to earn credit at many colleges, resulting in substantial tuition savings.

“Students who earn scores of three or higher (on a scale of one to five) on AP exams can place out of certain college courses,” Cohen explains. “High scores can save as much as a semester of college tuition costs.”

Four, taking AP courses in high school allows a student to look into college electives that interest them.

Cohen says that there’s “no compelling research suggesting that there’s a benefit in waiting to take an AP course.” While AP courses are more rigorous, the growth in enrollment among freshmen shows that many rise to the challenge.

Research AP courses with your son before making a decision. Check out apstudent.collegeboard.org. Browse AP guidebooks. Talk with students who have taken the classes. Meet with his high school counselor.

No one knows your son better than you, says Cohen, who advises, “If you feel like he isn’t ready, or you would rather have him ease into the high school experience, that is a decision for you and your family to make. If he decides to pursue the AP path, there’s lots of help available along the way.”

Our school district is offering a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) summer camp for students. I didn’t enroll our kids due to the camp schedule. What are they missing? Can we do STEM activities at home?

Are you ready to unleash your imagination, embrace trial-and-error problem solving and tolerate the wonderful mess of making stuff? Then set up a STEM camp at home, says Nancy Bourne, a STEM resource teacher in the Palm Beach County (Florida) School District.

“The STEM movement is all about encouraging kids to see these subjects as fun tools that help them make sense of the world,” she says. “Kids are extraordinary thinkers and doers. Good STEM activities encourage kids to think, ask ‘what if,’ use their creativity and enjoy learning.

“STEM projects should be about delight and discovery. You want kids to develop a positive mindset about these subjects that will carry thoughout their lives.”

Let these rules guide kids, Bourne advises:

– Dream big. Ask questions. Take notes. Write down what you want to know more about.

– Try new things. “Remember, failure is OK!” she urges. “I tell kids that FAIL stands for ‘First Attempt In Learning.’ You want them to venture their ideas.”

– Be open to what is around you. Observe carefully. “Wonder how to fly? Look at a bird. That is what the Wright brothers did and they invented the airplane,” says Bourne.

She further suggests organizing three types of STEM activities:

– Make and do. Plenty of websites support the “maker movement,” an initiative to stimulate kids’ imaginations with more hands-on activities.

“Find a space at home to invent, construct and get messy,” Bourne advises. One of her favorite sites is Design Squad Nation at pbskids.org: “The directions are good. In no time, kids start creating their own engineered fun.”

Other sites she likes that you might want to browse for more resources include edutopia.org, drawastickman.com, abcya.com/animate.htm and makesomething365.blogspot.com.

– Explore STEM resources nearby. Check out free and inexpensive offerings at science centers, parks, children’s museums and the like. Go geocaching and search for hidden caches using GPS. Try a variation called EarthCaching, where kids learn about unique geologic features. (For more information, go to schoolfamily.com and search “geocaching.”)

– Read for knowledge and inspiration. “Kids build knowledge in STEM subjects by reading a lot,” says Bourne. “There are many excellent nonfiction books in STEM areas that librarians can help you locate.”

In addition, the Children’s Book Council lists the best science titles at cbcbooks.org. Go to ReadingRockets.org to check out science and math titles and author videos. Kids are encouraged to read such nonfiction magazines as Wired, Popular Science, National Geographic, Time For Kids, SuperScience and DynaMath.

Biographies can also inspire kids to make their mark on the world, says Bourne. There are many excellent series featuring innovators from Albert Einstein to Sally Ride to Steve Jobs. Share videos and TV programs, too.

“Kids need to see people exploring this great globe, solving problems and making new things,” she says.

She also suggests watching TED Talks that are appropriate for kids (ted.com). There, Bourne says you can listen to a 2006 talk by English writer Ken Robinson. He calls creativity “as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Make that your STEM camp theme.


My son, Malik, who is just finishing first grade, and another boy got into trouble at school. Their teacher sort of kicked them to get them to move faster in line and they reacted. Another teacher reported her and the principal got involved. It was stressful because no one believed the boys. The principal moved them to another teacher, whom Malik likes. But now Malik wants go to a different school. While I want to support him, and it would just be a transporation issue, should I let him?

I’m sorry Malik experienced this unfortunate incident in first grade. While he learned a couple of life lessons (even when we tell the truth, sometimes the adults we trust don’t do the right things), those alone don’t give a rising second-grader the wisdom to decide where to enroll in school.

It sounds like the principal acted decisively and Malik ended the school year in good hands. Meet with the principal, if you haven’t already; discuss Malik’s overall performance, your expectations for him and what teacher he’ll have in the fall. This lets the principal know you want to stay closely involved, if you decide to keep Malik in this school.

Assuming that apart from this encounter you’ve been happy with the school, turn the incident into an opportunity to grow, says Diane Stephenson-Moe, an elementary counselor at Jeffers Hill Elementary School in Columbia, Maryland.

“Unless you’ve detected a lack of leadership or a pattern that suggests a troubled school,” she says, “I don’t see why one bad experience should be a reason to uproot him. When we allow children to run away from something unpleasant, it doesn’t teach them skills such as resilience and problem solving.”

Several factors should go into a decision to change schools. First, compare available options. How do they compare on academic performance and other factors that matter to you?

“Think about your child’s needs and your family’s needs and values,” says Bill Jackson, the founder and CEO of GreatSchools. “Consider Malik’s personality. Would he be better in a smaller school … one with a special program that might engage him more fully? Does location matter? What are your before- and after-school care needs?”

List the pros and cons of your decision. Find further guidance at greatschools.org/gk/articles/choosing-a-school.

Life always throws us undesirable situations, “but we have to learn to deal with them,” says Stephenson-Moe. “I understand that parents want to support their child — that’s good — but I’m not comfortable giving a child this much say in such a big decision. Parents can oversupport to the point where we do children a disservice. We can’t rescue and shield kids from every unpleasant experience in life.”

Whatever you decide, take some time to help Malik reflect and put first grade in perspective, suggests Stephenson-Moe. Help him consider the year. What was his proudest moment and his toughest challenge? What was the most fun? What was something hard that he had to learn that he’s now mastered? Who are the new friends he made?

All of this will help him see what he did to get better this school year and what he wants to get better at next school year.

My son’s first-grade teacher suggested that we have him tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), even though he’s well above grade level. He has a hard time paying attention. She says he doesn’t listen, talks with classmates and sometimes makes them mad. My cousin says he needs more discipline. I worry about him taking ADHD drugs. Should we test him?

When a young learner exhibits troubling behavior, parents encounter many perspectives on testing for ADHD — from teachers, learning specialists, pediatricians or other parents. Everyone’s got an opinion, some more helpful than others.

Your son’s teacher is concerned about his ability to function socially and be successful in school. Most children get better at paying attention as they age, so if he’s not showing progress, she’s right to alert you. Making a diagnosis and coming up with a plan to modify the behavior is time-consuming and often a trial-and-error process.

First, do your homework. Websites like understood.org can be valuable resources. Many books also offer advice. Start with “Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition” (Guilford Press, 2013), “Smart But Scattered” (Guilford Press, 2009) and “Raising Boys With ADHD” (Prufrock Press, 2012).

Two, use any techniques from his teacher or from your research that might be helpful in managing his behavior, such as:

– Make sure your son is close to you during activities like reading aloud or playing games, to make it easier for him to pay attention.

– Give immediate and frequent consequences for negative or positive behaviors.

– Give tangible rewards like tokens or play money that can be redeemed for cool stuff.

– Break all tasks, especially projects, into smaller chunks. Describe concrete steps to him (e.g., how to tidy a room).

– Use prompts and reminders, especially for rules and time intervals.

Three, prepare him for possible testing. An ADHD test usually involves observation forms completed by parents and the teacher and a visit to a pediatrician, who does an assessment and makes a diagnosis.

Many parents think ADHD means medication. Not necessarily. Attentional problems should always be addressed first through behavioral and environmental modifications. The doctor may make a recommendation for medication, but the decision to act on it always rests with the parents.

Before you consider any testing, document your son’s behavioral patterns in various settings with a range of people; note differences where there may be different expectations or different stimuli. Observe him in restaurants, shopping malls, after-school activities or friends’ houses. Can he read social cues from peers in these settings? Such difficulties can be signals for learning differences besides ADHD.

Parents must know their child well enough in different contexts and advocate for what he needs to do his best, says Susan Henry, a National Board Certified primary teacher in Massachusetts.

“Your goal, once you learn what factors help him pay attention and what sets him off, is to find ways to modify his activities, put in place counseling and other supports and reinforce appropriate behavior. This could include drug therapy.”

But, she maintains, “Your intervention now will pay off later.”

Our kids, ages 7 and 10, brought home nice letters from teachers asking parents to read with their children this summer. Attached was a list of “40 books all kids should read before they’re 12.” Who makes these lists? How do we know if the books are worthwhile? What if we choose our own books?

Choosing your own books is just fine. It’s reading that counts! The late California literacy leader Doris Dillon created grade-level-specific booklists for teachers to send home the last day of school. But she always added a note: “These are just suggestions. Nothing is required reading! Have fun creating and reading your very own list of summer favorites!”

Four decades of data show that summer reading keeps kids’ skills sharp, especially when they freely choose the books they read. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at USC’s Rossier School of Education, found that allowing kids to select titles not only improves their comprehension, it can also improve their spelling, writing and grammatical development.

Use compiled lists for ideas, says Carl Harvey, library media specialist at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana.

“Review where the lists came from and who influenced them,” he explains. “Some lists might leave off excellent books with controversial themes. Other lists may lean too heavy on the classics and ignore new titles. Many great children’s books are available. Any ’should read’ list is very subjective!”

With thousands of new children’s and young adult titles published each year — and thousands more on publisher backlists — how do you identify books so compelling that kids won’t want to turn off the lights (or power down the tablet) at bedtime?

Start with their interests, says Harvey.

“Parents often have an idealized notion of what kids should spend the summer reading,” he says. “Does your son play ‘Minecraft’? Look for a strategy book about it. Does your daughter love one author? Find other books by that writer. A captivating series is perfect for summer.” (Most series’ authors have websites that draw readers in.)

Let kids choose. Don’t worry if it looks like “junk” to you, says Harvey.

“If your son love superheroes, encourage comics and graphic novels,” he urges.

Expect trial and error in the selection process. At the library, let your kids choose an armful of books. Read those that click with them and return those that don’t. You won’t have any regrets. If you’re downloading books, the same rules apply.

Don’t rule out books because they’re not the right age level, says Valerie Lewis, children’s literature expert and co-founder of Hicklebee’s Bookstore in San Jose, California.

“There’s really no such thing as a ‘10-year-old and up’ book,” she says. “If your daughter chooses something she’s emotionally not ready for, explain that it’s a book for when she is older. But don’t rule out scary books. We all survived ‘Hansel and Gretel.’”

However, Harvey advises that if parents are concerned about a book’s appropriateness, “The best way to decide is to read it themselves.”

Meanwhile, continue to read aloud to your children, Harvey recommends. Summer is a good time to select a compelling book that’s a stretch for them to read on their own. Stop at a “cliffhanger” point each evening. Reading aloud has tremendous benefits, not the least of which is quality time with Mom or Dad.


I’m tired of researchers telling parents to “limit kids’ screen time.” We want them to be tech-smart, yet we harp at them to put down their digital devices. Come on! Can we get real about kids and video games?

Kids today spend an average of seven hours a day on some sort of electronic device, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Center, “fully 97 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 play computer, web, portable or console games.”

Greg Toppo, a former public school teacher and USA Today’s K-12 education reporter, urges folks to appreciate the learning potential in gaming. He says that games “believe” in players. They “allow learners to learn at their own pace, take risks, cultivate deeper understanding and even fail and try again.”

Gaming encourages kids to succeed in ways that “too often elude them in school, while fostering grit, resilience and a commitment to learning,” says Toppo, who makes the case in his new book, “The Game Believes in You” (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015).

He asks parents to distinguish between games that “require players to test and improve their skills, follow a narrative and take part in teamwork and interact with other people” and those that don’t. Save your worries for games that “pull us away from others and into hours of solitary, uninterrupted play, especially if they don’t require much in the way of skills.”

Research suggests that girls can benefit from gaming because it strengthens visual-spatial skills, such as attention and mental rotation ability, which are generally less developed than in boys. Hank Pellissier, director of the Piedmont, California-based Brighter Brains Institute, points to a University of Toronto study suggesting that “only 10 hours of training with an action video game” decreased or eliminated the female visual-spatial disadvantage. (For more of Pellissier’s education analysis, go to greatschools.org.)

How can you identify games that promote positive outcomes? Media watchdog commonsensemedia.org reviews and rates video games for content and age appropriateness. Children’s Technology Review, a subscription-based source of more than 11,000 reviews of commercial children’s digital media products, is continually updated and available in most school and public libraries. Go to childrenstech.com for more information.

Parents should realize that “games with adult ratings carry them for a reason,” says Toppo. He asks parents concerned about a particular game: Have you sat down and played the game with your kids? Have you asked them what they’re getting out of it?

Children’s media advocates suggest parents and kids engage in “joint media engagement, a fancy term for sitting on the couch playing with your kids and talking about what’s happening onscreen,” says Toppo.

When you do this, monitor your own reactions. Do you take failures in stride? How do you react to being killed by the same bad guy in the same spot? Do you do a victory dance or gloat when you win?

“As with real life,” Toppo explains, “your kids are watching, though they may not seem to be. They’ll learn as much about you from your failures as your successes, so fail well.”


What summer activities do you recommend so kids don’t forget what they’ve learned and are ready to start their new grade in the fall?

Teachers love this question, because summer learning loss is real. Research by Duke University professor Harris Cooper shows that without stimulating activities to keep kids’ brains in gear during the lazy days of summer, their new knowledge gets hazy.

Studies find that students who “veg out” during vacation show little or no academic growth over summer, at best. At worst, they lose one to three months of learning.

Learning loss is greater in math than reading, says Cooper. He hypothesizes that most parents encourage kids to read over the summer, but are less likely to pay attention to math.

That’s why Charleston, Illinois, teacher Pam Evans recommends that kids practice math skills they’ve haven’t mastered.

“If kids don’t know their basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts fluently,” she says — meaning, “by heart” — then summer is the time to nail them.

Evans suggests three websites for fun practice: sumdog.com, straightace.com and tenmarks.com. She also encourages parents to involve kids in everyday math; this can include measuring items around the house, graphing daily temperatures, estimating shopping costs and using fractions while cooking.

Wendy Breit, a South Beloit, Illinois, second-grade teacher, thinks that younger children are less likely to experience a “summer slump” when parents actively reinforce skills. On the last day of school, she sends home weekly activity cards and a calendar with different skill-builder suggestions for students and parents to do together. She says they offer easily scheduled “personal time with children and just enough structure to make the transition to back-to-school routines less rough.”

Lisa Ann Schoenbrun, an El Paso, Texas, educator, says the best way to energize young brains is to make each vacation day count.

“Limit screen time to one hour a day,” she urges. “Get kids outside. Have them cook up projects — make a lemonade stand, bake cookies for neighbors, clean out toys and books and donate them to a shelter; make a difference by volunteering.”

Schoenbrun suggests giving kids a notebook so that they can “keep a daily journal over the summer. Nothing intense — what they ate, who they played with. Every few days, using a dictionary and thesaurus for fun, have them add descriptive adjectives and adverbs and correct punctuation.”

Schoenbrun suggests taking advantage of summer programs at “local museums, zoos, bookstores, parks and recreation facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and nearby universities — especially those with education departments.”

Team up with other families for educational trips to nearby nature centers and historic sites.

As the new school year approaches, have your children brush up on their skills and also look at the curriculum for the next grade, advises Schoenbrun.

“There are many inexpensive books to guide you,” she says, “such as the ‘Summer Bridge Activities’ series” (Carson-Dellosa Publishing).

Keep a schedule during summer, encourages Helen Merante, a retired Wisconsin principal.

“Sure, kids benefit from unstructured time, but maintain some routines,” she says. “Plug in time for reading and other brain-boosting activities. Routines help kids get back on track when it’s time to go back to class.”

Celebrate National Summer Learning Day on June 19. For more, go to summerlearning.org.

This summer we plan to visit colleges with our son, a rising senior and B-plus student with a learning disability. His counselor is pointing him to our community college, but he wants to go away to a four-year school that isn’t a “pressure cooker.” Are those college guides on Amazon.com reliable for making a list?

They’re a good place to start. The major college guide publishers include Barron’s Educational Series, College Board, Sourcebooks (e.g., “Fiske Guide to Colleges”), Peterson’s and Princeton Review.

Before you invest in any of them, go to your local library or bookstore and give them a “flip-test,” says Sally Reed, editor of CollegeBoundNews.com, a monthly publication on college admissions and financial aid.

“Assess their potential usefulness,” she says. “Some are easy to use. Others may have information you don’t need. Make sure the books are up-to-date. Librarians and major bookstores usually keep current editions on the shelves.”

Each publisher offers a general guide. Some publish supplemental titles too. For example, in addition to the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” Sourcebooks publishes the “Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College,” a book that helps students browse more than 2,000 four-year schools in the U.S.

Peterson publishes the “Four-Year Colleges” series as well as the “Scholarships, Grants and Prizes” series — information on millions of privately funded awards available to college students.

The College Board published the “College Handbook 2015,” with information on 2,200 four-year colleges and universities and 1,700 two-year community colleges and technical schools. The College Board also published the “Book of Majors 2015″ to explain various majors and what graduates can do with them after graduation.

Princeton Review published the “Complete Book of Colleges, 2015 Edition” and has annual editions of “The Best 379 Colleges” and “Paying for College Without Going Broke.” You might be interested in checking out its “K&W Guide to College Programs and Services for Students With Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” which is a good resource for students who need additional support at college.

Reed recommends searching the website Colleges That Change Lives (ctcl.org) and the book by the same name (Penguin Books, 2012).

U.S. News & World Report is famous for its rankings (or infamous, depending on your perspective). Its “Best Colleges 2015″ ranked schools according to different criteria and offered data on application to acceptance ratios. The U.S. Department of Education is also creating its own rankings system.

Some publishers offer digital versions, but Reed likes paperbacks because families can browse them together.

“While the ultimate decision is your son’s,” she says, “students benefit from family feedback in the narrowing process.”

Don’t overschedule college visits. Unless the colleges are very close, one a day is optimal.

“Leave time to visit the campus outside the organized tour,” says Reed. “Engage students. Get a sense of the atmosphere. Encourage your son to take photos and notes and keep contact information of people you meet so he can ask questions once he returns home.”

Reed advises families to keep it simple: “College visits should be fun rites of passage for families. Don’t ask your son to tell you what he thinks after each visit. Let him digest all he’s learning. Wait until you return home to weigh the pros and cons.”

Four teachers I respect started a charter school that’s now struggling. I’m an accountant, and they’ve asked me to join their board. I love their mission — to put low-income kids on a college track — but wonder how I can help. What are the responsibilities of a school board?

School boards have key responsibilities, including hiring and managing the school leaders, ensuring financial best practices, promoting the mission and overseeing student progress. Board members are central to a charter’s success.

Charters operate independently from public schools, are free from most government regulations and often form teacher-union contracts. They are approved by an outside authority that differs from state to state.

The authorizer holds schools accountable for student performance and financial viability, and can close schools if they don’t produce satisfactory results. Some charters are run by CMOs: for-profit or nonprofit “charter management organizations” that manage several schools.

During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 6,440 charter schools in the U.S. serving 2.7 million students. During that time frame, 640 new schools opened and roughly 200 existing charters were closed. This 3-to-1 ratio has held steady for five years, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Low enrollment, financial problems and poor academic performance are the most common reasons charters get shut down.

In the early days of charters, board selection was often an afterthought. The thinking was, “Find a good principal and teachers, and we’re good to go.”

As the movement matured, charter leaders began to focus on school governance to avoid pitfalls such as schools abruptly closing due to financial instability, poor test scores and crony hiring.

The late Mary Mitchell, co-founder of Girls Prep in New York (now part of Public Prep Network), said of her experience, “You can’t have a successful charter without a team of energetic, informed and honest-broker board members. The board chooses the principal, helps build staff capacity, sets standards for professional development, oversees budgets and raises money to supplement public funds. It ‘owns’ student performance. Schools don’t fail; boards fail their schools. When that happens, we fail the kids.”

To promote good governance, some authorizers require or strongly encourage charters to bring on objective board members with governing experience and required skill sets.

Do your due diligence before signing on. Read June Kronholz’s piece, “Boot Camps for Charter Boards,” in the summer 2015 edition of Education Next (educationnext.org). She describes how nonprofit Charter Board Partners recruits, trains and places professionals willing to serve on charter school boards.

Read The Top 10 Mistakes of Charter School Boards at boardontrack.com, a website that provides guidance for board members.

Go on YouTube and watch Carrie Irvin’s TEDx Talk, “The Key to Great Schools is Great Boards.”

Delve into data on charter school performance at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (publiccharters.org).

Know where you stand on controversial issues. For example, should your school “back fill” seats — admit new students whenever current ones leave? How equitable is your application process?

Visit charter schools in your community, including the one whose board you may join. May 3-9 is National Charter Schools Week, and many schools plan special events for parents and visitors during this time.

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