Bryant recently named 28 parents from across Georgia to the superintendent's Parent Advisory Council. Among those named was Keisha Wilkie, a mother of three, the eldest a sixth-grader at Cass Middle and another a fifth-grader at Kingston Elementary.
Members of the PAC will meet three times this year with the state superintendent to discuss education issues in Georgia. Their primary focus will be increasing parent and family engagement to ensure student success. The meetings will allow parents to provide feedback and input on new policies, projects and materials that influence students and their families.
"I did not realize that this was out there," Wilkie said. "I'm just really excited to start having a voice heard up here. I can't wait to be able to share and see what's going on."
Wilkie has served as a substitute teacher for five years, most recently substituting in a Kingston Elementary first-grade class. She is the school's Parent Teacher Coordination Organization president and vice president of the School Council Board. She previously served as Kingston's parent involvement coordinator for two years.
Parents are nominated to serve on the PAC by their local school district at the beginning of each school year. Members are chosen by a committee of Georgia Department of Education representatives based on applicants' responses to questions.
Wilkie was nominated to the PAC by KES Principal Stefany Howard, who sent her the information on the council from the Bartow County Schools central office. Wilkie said she was more than willing to accept Wilkie's nomination and seize a chance to help the school and the district.
"To try to get our opinions in there for things to start happening up here would be great," Wilkie said. "Seeing firsthand what this school needs, or like a Title [I] school or non-Title [I] school, that would be great, to have those kinds of issues and stuff addressed. Things that we're lacking in and things that we're doing great, people just need to know."
"I think she's dedicated," Howard said about why she nominated Wilkie. "I think some parents wouldn't drive the distance to volunteer their time to be a part of a parent advisory board. I think she's got the buy-in and she actually really has the dedication to pay back to Bartow County Schools, to give up her time."
Howard added that she has seen Wilkie's dedication to Kingston Elementary for several years.
"I've been here since her child was in second grade, so five years I've known her, and she's volunteered through all of our fall festivals, parent things," she said. "She actually worked for us years ago when she was parent involvement coordinator ... so even though she no longer has that role, she continues to coordinate things for us just on a volunteer basis. She wants to be a teacher, she wants to go back to school and get her degree, so I thought this would be a great way for her to get involved in knowing exactly what the parent component of it and the teacher component [is], so it could kind of give her some insight as to what it's all going to be about.
"And she's a good spokesperson for us because she supports the public schools," Howard added.
The first meeting of the PAC is Wednesday at the Georgia Department of Education. Wilkie said she has already jotted down some concerns and topics she would like to bring up during the meeting. She also will have a chance to discuss those and other topics during meetings in January and May.
"I believe, of course, you talk about funding, you talk about taking certain things away as far as for teachers, not having enough [for] curriculum -- I think that our parents need to be so much more involved with our curriculum," Wilkie said. "We change curriculums, not on a regular basis, but once we finally get used to one, we change into another one, so we kind of have to retrain ourselves.
"And I think we need to do a better job of getting involved, as far as knowing what's going on, like the Math Trailblazers that's going on in the schools. That is such a hard concept for the kids -- can you imagine for a parent what that would be like, to try to teach their children? We just need to be more involved in those aspects," she added.
Though she has her opinions, Wilkie said she hopes to share the thoughts and concerns of her parenting peers, as well as teachers, during her time with the PAC.
"I am there for everybody, for the county," she said. "I'm not just there for myself -- I'm kind of everybody's word ... not just parents, of course I would definitely put inputs in for teachers, because you have teachers that have so many children in school also, so their words are just as good, sometimes even better, because they know firsthand what's going on."
PAC members are encouraged to share the information they learn with community members, other families and schools. Wilkie says she hopes to share details of her experience with Kingston Elementary as well as other schools in the Bartow County district.
"Maybe after I've taken everything, of course, that they've given me, make myself my own little notes and what I think, and maybe get some feedback from them also, come home, maybe type up some kind of form sheet, graphs, whatever it may be, and I would like -- because it's not just elementary school -- to get them maybe to every principal at school, even if I just fax it over there, and let them do with it as they see fit," she said. "And then they can give me their input on those things, and then I can bring it up at the next [meeting]."
Howard said she is looking forward to hearing details about Wilkie's experience, adding that the information she returns with could help her school continue to make improvements in various areas.
"I hope she's going to be able to bring some things back to our student and school councils so we can make improvements if there are places that we can have gains," Howard said. "If there's an area that with the insight of things that are coming from the state department, the state level, she can inform us of those things and I can make changes if need be, or I can celebrate with my staff if we're already there. She should be able to get a lot of insight and information, like when [Superintendent John] Harper comes back from meetings to redeliver, I want her to come back and redeliver to the school council, and then I can redeliver it to the staff."