By Mary McGarr

When I resigned from the Katy ISD School Board in 1996, a parent called me and suggested that I should stay involved in the education of students in the District.  He offered to start an organization which we named "tea."  (It was the first TEA party in Katy!) 

I can't even remember what 'tea' stood for, but it was a play on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) which we all thought at the time was way out of control and much too much involved in local school business.

We held one meeting.  About 90 people came, which I've since learned was a pretty good turnout!  There were lots of KISD administrators and teachers, and they were all taking notes.

Can't remember what all I said that night either, but I do have a copy of my handout which is reproduced (and updated) here:

Suggestions for Becoming Involved in the Education of Your Child

1.  Parents should make every effort to attend every meeting that is called for parents at the beginning of school.  Listen carefully.  Write down or record what is said.  Ask questions and make sure you get answers to them.

2.  Start a file for this school year and keep copies of every document or email that comes home or is sent home via email for you to sign or peruse.  (Sometimes the school will send a document home for you to sign, and when you send it back with your signature, you not longer have a copy.  Invariably it will be that document that you will need during the year.)

3.  Keep a file of your child's work during the school year.  As time passes you will get less and less from the school.  Pay attention to the knowledge that your child is being taught and the manner in which it is being taught.  Check worksheets for the publisher's name, the copyright date and look for the phrase "Common Core." Be sensitive to efforts to allow other children to teach your child, to co-operative group learning, to grades for effort, to empty self-esteem activities, to multi-cultural activities in place of American cultural activities, to teaching process instead of content and so on.  Plan to share with our group, assignments that have no merit.  We hope to have a program based on some of these at the end of the year.

4.  Ask to see all of your child's weekly test papers and copies of the tests.  You may see them pursuant to the Open Records Act.  Insist that papers be graded by the teacher only (not other students) and returned promptly according to Board Policy.

5.  Whenever your child leaves a school (moves to another level, etc.) obtain a copy through the Open Records Act of all records, teacher written notes, etc., that have been compiled on your child as well as a copy of all that will be sent to the new school.  This step is a very important one for you to take.  Make sure that any test records have the seal on them of the registrar or the person acting as the registrar. Ask to see your child's IQ scores.  There may not be any, but if they have them, this is useful information for you as a parent to have.  I do not suggest that you share this information with your children.  You have the legal right to challenge any records that you believe to be inaccurate and write a statement of opposition which must be included by the school in the permanent record.  Be sure to check at a later date to make certain that your statement has indeed been recorded as part of the permanent record.

6.  Read the Discipline Management Plan from cover to cover. Don't put off reading it until later.  You need to know the rules that govern your child.  If your child is old enough to understand, please read the Plan with them.  If you see rules with which you do not agree, call them to the attention of the principal.  Some principals  do listen. You need to know that KISD does not provide due process (which the Constitution guarantees to all American citizens) if your child gets in legal troubles. I have tried to fix that, but have not been successful.  Your child does not have the same rights that an adult has in the justice system of our country.

7.  Keep copies of your child's class schedules.  Learn their teachers' names.  Know the principal's name, the assistant principal's name, the counselor's name and any other person's name who is assigned to handle your child's affairs.  Make an effort during the year to have a one on one conversation with those people so they will know you personally.  They will be more likely to treat your child in a positive manner and to be helpful if they have had some contact with you the parent.

8.  Volunteer.  There is no better way to understand your child's school than to be inside of it on a regular basis.  Often parents sign up to volunteer, and they are never called, so they forget about it.  Don't forget about it.  Insist that you be allowed to do something.  If you work, you can still participate when there are special functions.  They need you.  You just have to make sure they know it!  It is especially important for dads to volunteer.  Mostly they will want you to cook, copy, or chaperone (the three C's of volunteerism), but that is a way to get your foot in the door.  Keep your mouth shut until you have acquired some level of respect for your helpfulness, resourcefulness, abilities, and desire to be of help. No one likes a critic, so when you begin to offer suggestions, make certain they are phrased in the most positive manner.  After you have volunteered for a while, do what you can to increase the ways in which parents are allowed to volunteer.  Parents in this school district are an untapped intellectual resource.  The district has to be shown how that resource can be used.

<The next two items were written in 1996, and I'm putting them here even though I realize they may be outdated.  I cannot find much good information on the KISD website regarding CAT and CIP.  If they still exist, there certainly needs to be an easier way to find out about them.  These efforts, which were dictated by the Texas Education Code were an effort to improve access for parents in their children's schools.  Schools, regardless of their many proclamations have NEVER been interested in parental involvement.> 

9.  As soon as possible you should find out about the Campus Action Team (CAT) [or whatever it is now called] which selects members at the beginning of the school year. [I recall that they once tried to select member in the spring so that the principal could eliminate newbies and have more control over the membership.] Parent members are chosen by a lottery, and each of you have as much opportunity to be on that team as anyone else.  [I worked really hard as a school board member to try to make membership on these committees as fair as possible.] Just follow the rules for signing up.  If you don't get on it this year, try again until you do.  The CAT has much responsibility of the principal is abiding by the rules.  There is a legal policy to go by, and you can read that policy and make sure the principal is operating fairly.  If you don't get on the team, at least attend the meetings.  They are to be announced in a manner that allows everyone to know when and where they are to occur.  If they are not, let me know.  I would love to point out their error!  [I have heard of principals who only held one meeting per semester at the school and all the rest at a nearby restaurant where parents couldn't find the meeting!  That is not in keeping with the intent of these committees.]

10.  The primary work of the CAT is to write the Campus Improvement Plan (CIP).  Those plans have been required by law for about four year (in 1996).  The ones that were written by last years' CAT teams will be presented to the Board for their review in September or October.  Hopefully, this year, the board members will read them.  A copy of the one for your school should be readily available for all parents to read both before it is approved and after.  READ THE PLAN!  If the principal truly cares about the plan, he will hold a public session to review it with parents.  See if the team has addressed the weaknesses of your school such as poor TAAS scores, TAAS scores that fall between grade levels showing lack of comprehension, equity gaps for minority students, low SAT and ACT scores, et cetera. Decide for yourself if there is really a plan.  I have copies of the plans for the last few years.  It would be interesting for you to see, as I did last year, how some schools just change the dates and turn in essentially the same plan.  These schools, of course, were not expecting anyone to read their plan!  The CIP, however can be a great way to bring about change. The plan is essentially one of the main ways the Board has control of the curriculum.  If the students at your elementary school are not ALL reading on grade level, that problem should be addressed. If 25% of the seniors at your child's high school cannot make above 350 on the verbal part of the SAT, that problem should be addressed.  [I also realize that the SAT has removed a great deal of material in an effort to make it easier and Common Core aligned, so finding out the reading level of students is now made much more difficult--by design.] A great many problems can be fixed, but they must be recognized and acknowledged first.

11.  Review your child's TAAS (now STAAR) test.  Don't just look at the scores.  Go to the school and ask to view the actual test and your child's test paper with the answers marked.  Take your child with you and go over the test right there.  Then you will see first how ridiculous this test is.  In going over the test with your child, you will be helping him with next year's test.  You will also be able to comment on the test with the counselor. Perhaps if they hear enough from parents about the stupidity of the test, change will occur.  Please realize that this test, whatever it may be called, is THE standard to which all teachers are teaching.  They may not want to teach to the test, but the superintendent has made it very clear in a number of ways, that this is the standard.

12.  If your child takes one of the SAT8 tests this year, be sure you review that test in the same manner. [I cannot find any reference to this test on the KISD website at the current time, so they may have stopped giving it. The school district also used to give a test called the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as well.  (That test has recently been redesigned to align with Common Core Standards so it is now worthless.) The SAT8 test was implemented because a few of us on the Board wanted to know how KISD students were doing in relation to all other students across the country.  The counselor at your child's school will never admit to you the Katy ISD students are in the average range. Actually Katy ISD students score in the 50-60 percentile range on these tests.) The school will indicate that this range is an OK place for students to be, but it is not, and parents should be aware of that--having average scores on a national standardized test in a school district like Katy ISD is terrible!

13.  Be aware of the policies under which our school district operates.  There is a Board Policy Manual, a two volume rather large set of legal and local policies (which are also legally binding) that have been approved by the KISD school board.  A copy of these books is located in every school.  The principal may be sitting on them, but you are allowed to look at them.  I encourage all of you push for the placement of these manuals in the library so there is free and easy access. [At the current time, the policies have been placed on line.  One may access them by going to ]  There is also a book of Administrative Regulations which are supposed to exist to  implement Board Policy. [Unfortunately you will have a hard time finding this document--they haven't put it on line.  I used to point out that during the time I served on the KISD school board, lots of Board policies were passed, but I never saw any of them placed in the Administrative Regulations book.  Not sure how they can operate without doing so!] These also should be available for you to see.  Whenever you have a question concerning the rules, these should be your primary sources.

14.  Pay attention to the Newsletter that is distributed by your child's school.  There is usually a great deal of information there. [Now of course, most communication is carried on over the Internet, and that information has a way of conveniently disappearing so take screen shots of whatever they have for you to see.] Read the information sent to you with a critical eye.  You have a right to expect the school to be doing what is proper.  You also have a right to see communications that are literate, grammatical, and have words spelled correctly!

15.  If your child encounters a problem, whether it is academic social, physical or whatever, first talk to the teacher.  The teacher needs to know that you believe there is a problem.  Most teachers want to help your child, so give them the opportunity.  If the problem is not resolved at that lever, request a conference with the principal and the teacher or any other employee that you think can help.  Both parents should attend a meeting at this level.  It is unfortunate, but having Dad there is very effective in getting some favorable action.  Do not allow the administration to put you off.  You have every right to be able to obtain access to them.  Do not allow yourself to be manipulated. The meeting should be held in a timely manner at your convenience.  When you walk in, make sure that the chair arrangement is equitable.  If there is a long table, and you are on one side and ALL of THEM are on the other, move your chair to the end of the table and suggest that the far end move around on the other side so that "everyone can hear."  YOU set the table!  Take a tape recorder. Chances are the school will be taping you, so you might as well return the favor.  Don't be timid about any of this.  Do not let them intimidate you.  You have a right to tape conversations if you want as long as you notify them that you are doing so.  Be certain that during the meeting you ask for what you want.  If you just express the problem, they'll say thank you very much and forget you.  Be specific.  Outline the course of action that you expect to happen.  If you are questioning curriculum or methodology, ask to have a copy of the curriculum to take home and review.  That is your right. Question, question, question. If you do not ask the right questions, they are trained to respond with non-answers.  They will not volunteer information.  Don't allow a conference to become a "you against them" situation.  Don't be confrontational, but do insist on respect and answers.  If you are not satisfied with the answers that you receive, ask to speak to the principal's supervisor.  You may take your problem to the superintendent also.  There is a chain of command that you must traverse.  This process is addressed in the Discipline Management Plan. If you still are not satisfied, ask to be placed on the school board's agenda for a private conversation with them. If you are still not satisfied, you can sign up to speak at the school board's public forum.  There you may speak for up to five minutes or less if there are too many speakers to finish within 30 minutes total. If you indicate that you are there to speak about an employee, the Board will recess into closed session to hear your complaint.  However if you are just speaking about your own child, you may insist that your conversation be held openly in the public meeting. The Superintendent may respond to you if the Board indicates that he should.  Always follow up any verbal communication with the District with a written letter immediately.  Send copies to everyone involved.  Explain, once more, the problem as you see it, the solution that you desire, and how you want that solution implemented.  Practice articulating what you believe is the problem. You must be able to explain, so that no one can fail to understand, exactly what you do not like about what they are doing with your child. Write it down and read it if you must.

16.  Get to know your local school board members.  Even if you do not know them or like the things they have been voting for or against, you need to know them.  Call them whenever you like (within reason of course--most people like to be called between 9 and 8) because their job is to be your representative.  [Over the years superintendents have managed to sway not so smart board members into believing that they are a "team of 8" which is utter nonsense.  The plan is to herd them down a chute and make them behave according to the will of the superintendent.  Board members are elected individually by "place," and each one has has much authority as the next one.  When they, among themselves, elect a president, he/she can be a spokesman, but not to the exclusion of the rest.  ANY of them can speak to the public, the press and any other entity whenever they like.  They must be cautious about what they say, but as long as they are speaking the truth, and/or their opinion and identifying it as such and do not violate confidential matters, they can say what they want.  The school district is a government.  As such it MUST have elected officials in charge of it.  In no other government will one see the administrators of that government calling the shots.  It's insane to think that they should! The problem is that the public has been brainwashed into thinking of the public schools as an extension of a private enterprise.  It is not.  IT IS A GOVERNMENT!!!  Board members who will not take calls from the public need to be voted out of office.  [When KISD had only 25,000 students, I took 1,500 calls a year which I documented.  I could not do anything myself for the callers, but I COULD tell them how to work the system, and if the issue were one of common application, I could work to place it on the Board's agenda.] Board members run for the position they hold, and they owe citizens of the District the courtesy to talk with them if they have a concern.  Any time you as a parent write a letter to a principal or someone in a higher position, copy the school board members if you want quicker results, but give some thought to this action before you do it!  A letter to the superintendent or board president will not automatically be shared with all the other members of the board unless you send them copies yourself. Here are their names, addresses and phone numbers:  (Joe Adams, Jim Brasier, Jean Richardson, James Peters, Judy Snyder, Larry Moore, and Joe Kimmel were the board members in 1997.)  [ The Board members in 2016-2017 are Rebecca N. Fox, 22110 Broken Pebble Ct., Katy, TX 77450, 281-398-2422; Ashley P. Vann, 3707 Marble Cove Ct., Katy, TX 77494, 281-392-2012; Courtney Doyle, 9607 Moonstone Mist Lane, Katy, TX 77494, 281-574-4076; Bryan Michalsky, 819 Windsor Woods, Katy, TX 77494, 832-437-5344; Henry Dibrell, 4203 Glade Shadow Court, Katy, TX 77494, 713-451-9015; Charles Griffin, 1811 Breezy Bend Dr., Katy, TX 77494, 281-391-0531; George H. Scott, 518 Earls Court Dr., Katy, TX 77450, 281-392-2163. Members of the Board are elected at large and so represent all residents of the district from any area.

17.  [I include number 17 because KISD used to have "instructional audits," but they no longer do.  They proved to be too much trouble for the superintendent, too much trouble for some of the Board members, and the face to face, no holds barred interaction with the public proved too complicated for the superintendent and the board members to handle.  I liked them!  It was a way for the Board to actually hear the problems as well as the compliments from the public.] If your school has an instructional audit this year, make certain that you attend the hearing that is held for parents.  The track record for schools' notifying parents of this opportunity is not good, but if you are looking for it, you will find it.  An instructional audit is held mostly to review the curricular activities of an individual school, but you should take advantage of the opportunity to attend the hearing.  The hearing is your chance to visit with the superintendent, probably the curriculum director(s), and a couple of board members.  The floor is open on any subject.  There is no better opportunity for parents to have input into the system.  These are public meetings and anyone who resides in the district can attend.  No school employees other than the ones mentioned are allowed to attend.  My personal belief is that these individual school hearings will cease in our school district as they are too open!  [And cease they did as soon as I was not there to demand that they remain open.]

18.  Write letters to the editor.  We have five papers that are delivered in our area.  We have one that is placed in stands at the MTA bus stops.  There is one online "paper." 

The Houston

The Katy Times, Greg Densmore 

The Rancher, [Hard to tell--I think they don't want to hear from anybody!]

The Katy News, [I don't think they take letters to the editor]

Community Impact, [I don't think they take letters to the editor]

The Houston Press,, all articles allow for comments, so your input is timely and instantaneous.  Sometimes the editor decides to review all comments first, be he's pretty quick at doing that and pretty permissive with what he allows.  The best part is, he likes to hear from his readers.

Expressing yourself is very important! The more of us who write letters, the better the letters will be, because papers will only print the best ones.  Newspapers like LTTE's because that garners them readers.  They would be foolish not to print them!

19.  Join the parent organization at your child's school. Attend all of their meetings.  If most of their work is done by the executive council, ask for open meetings of that group.  The standard procedure of these organizations is to collect your dues--sometimes holding classroom contests for the best rates of collection thus forcing you to keep your child from being embarrassed if you don't join, hold meetings in conjunction with school programs so there is enough attendance to justify their existence, spend your dues money on trips for their officers to attend regional, state and national conferences and conventions, and buy items from teachers' wish lists. They also send a large portion of your dues to the State and National organization if it is the PTA. Whether or not any of this activity benefits your child is anyone's guess, but you need to be involved at a level that YOU can discern that benefit for yourself.  If your local school organization is not existing to help the children of the school, then you need to work to change it.  The benefits need to be direct and not second hand.  Signs on the sides of buildings, pictures on the wall, scholarships for teachers to attend more brainwashing staff development sessions, a plush chair for the principal, Smart Boards for students, accouterments for OBE like math manipulatives, and so on are not DIRECT benefits to your child.  Playground equipment that is functional, not just attractive, a track, good books for the library, traditional classic books for the classroom, and such items as these DO benefit your child.  Although you will never hear this statement come from a principal, in this school district, most of the items necessary for your child to receive a sound academic education (other than of course spelling books and science books) are already in place at your child's school, and most of the fundraiser are unnecessary and a gimmick to make you as a parent feel like you are doing something constructive to help your child. Too often the organizations' funds are transferred to the principal and are used as a slush fund with no oversight.

20.  Speak at the public forum session of the regular [now work study] session of school board meetings.  Any subject that concerns you probably concerns a multitude of other parents.  If you talk about your concerns, very likely some mention of your comments will be made in the local media [not so much any more].  When that situation occurs, then you will have more support for your cause.  In order to speak, you must sign up before a certain time, so make certain you know when that is.  You will only have minutes to speak (or less time if there are too many people), so make sure you can finish in that amount of time that you have.

21.  If you have a daughter, make certain that her opportunities during the school day and before and after the school day are equal to those of your sons.  These equal opportunities include, but are not limited to, equal class opportunities when they are single sex oriented, equal numbers of employees to service these classes or extracurricular activities, equal facilities and equipment, and equal access to all facilities.  For example, if your daughter on the volleyball team has to use the gym at 6:30 AM while the boys' basketball team always gets to use it at 2:40 PM, that is NOT equal access.  If the football team is provided with all of their uniforms and shoes, but your daughter must pay for all of her uniforms and shoes on the drill team or the girls' track team, that is NOT equal access.  If the football team has 14 coaches for the boys, but your daughter's drill team only had one sponsor, that is NOT equal access. If there is a class for the boys' baseball team but not one for the girls' softball team, then that is not equal access. The law which governs these rights is called Title IX. Get used to saying it often--TITLE IX.  A copy of the law can be found on the Internet.  The means for addressing the types of problems described here appear in the law.

22.  In mid-winter, announcements will appear telling of the opportunity to view proposed instructional materials to be used for instruction and which are up for adoption.  Most years NO ONE looks at these materials.  It is very important for parents to view, first hand, the proposed instructional materials.  Otherwise, a committee of teachers and administrators make recommendations to the Board, and these are usually rubber stamped.  This committee could have parents on it if our school board decided to put them there.  Even if you have no knowledge of the subject matter, if you have a brain and some common sense, you can see what is being done with these materials. Also, in the spring, a process at the state level begins the review of materials that are up for adoption the following year.  The public, at least at this time, is allowed to testify regarding these materials before the State Board of Education.  ANY citizen can participate, but precious few even know about this process.  tea will talk about this event at the appropriate time.

23.  Learn about the State Board of Education, the Texas Education Agency, the Regional Education Service Centers and the Commissioner of Education.  These entities are very influential in deciding what your child will be doing at school, but the public rarely hears about their work.  Jack Christie is your representative on the SBOE. [Now it is probably Donna Bahorich, and SHE is chairman of the SBOE.] He is also the chairman of this group. The things he is currently advocating would probably not meet with your approval, but you are never told what he is doing (his votes, etc.) in the Houston or Katy papers. [Donna Bahorich has more sense and usually is a conservative member.

The rest of the items 24-28 are outdated and of no current value.