This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press on August 14, 2001 at http://www.freep.com/voices/columnists/esmith14_20010814.htm.

BY KIMBERLY SAMS-SMITH

Flat Rock's two elementary schools' recent decision to establish a formal procedure that gives parents a voice in deciding which teacher their children will have could be a signal that parental involvement in Michigan will never again be limited just to baking cookies or attending parent-teacher conferences for the sole purpose of retrieving a child's report card.

Giving the parents at Flat Rock's Bobcean and Barnes elementary schools the option of suggesting three teachers they'd like their children to have sends a positive message to parents that their input is welcomed, and children begin to realize that their education is important enough for their parents to get involved.

This idea of giving parents a greater role in deciding who teaches their children is sure to spread to other districts throughout Michigan.

Let's face it. Choice is the name of the game these days. That's why, in early July, nine Catholic parishes decided to offer financial aid so that more children can attend two Catholic schools in Detroit and one in Redford Township when the new school year begins -- all in the name of choice.

Even former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett is opening a new online charter school in Pennsylvania, ever widening the scope of parents' choices there.

Somehow, having parents select a child's teacher, the same way students choose instructors at the university level, doesn't sound like such a bad idea considering that last year, the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy found that Michigan colleges and businesses spend $601 million on remedial education each year teaching adults who are deficient in basic skills.

Parents in Flat Rock should be applauded for wanting to be involved in deciding who teaches their children, for making sure their children will receive the proper foundation that will prepare them for future success.

Research has shown that when parents become involved in schools in meaningful ways, not only do children improve academically, but behavior also improves, there's greater student motivation, a pattern of regular attendance is established and students develop a more positive attitude toward homework.

School doesn't have to be drudgery. It's impossible to deny that some teachers have that little something extra that makes them stand out, that little something that still gets children excited about learning.

What parent wouldn't want their child to have a teacher who doesn't mind being covered with chalk dust by the end of the day because he's so excited about what he's teaching?

Take Timothy Hammar, who has taught in the Flat Rock Community Schools for more than two decades. Hammar won a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in 1996, and his third-graders at Bobcean Elementary School in Flat Rock were national winners in the 1995 Geography and Science Olympiads.

Allowing parents in every school district in Michigan to choose at least one of their children's teachers could only lead to greater parental involvement across the board. And since that's what schools say they want, maybe it should be a requirement instead of an option.

KIMBERLY SAMS-SMITH of Detroit is a former Detroit Public Schools substitute teacher with a master's degree in education. Write to her in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.

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