2020/2021 Advocacy Focus Areas
Our focus areas are determined based on feedback from PTA members in Alachua County, Florida PTA position statements and priorities, and meetings conducted with school administration and PTA leadership.
This year has been incredibly difficult for our students, families, teachers and school staff. PTAs have, understandably, had to shift their goals and expectations based on the fluidity of the school year and continuous flow of information from many places. School-based PTAs are responding to the needs of their families, and ACCPTA is responding to countywide needs as well.
In an effort to remain flexible and responsive to the needs of our local community, our advocacy goal this year is to ensure decision-makers at the state and district level are aware of the impact the pandemic is having on our school community. This will allow their decisions to be made in the most compassionate way, based on timely and comprehensive feedback.
Specific areas of focus related to the pandemic include, but are not limited to:
Children and youth mental health was a concern and an advocacy priority before the pandemic, but this year the needs have grown tremendously. Children are coming to school with varying degrees of trauma, which in many cases has grown in light of COVID. The pandemic has also caused new anxiety in many ways, including:
- Concern about their health and the health of family members
- Shifts in the social environment causing students to lose touch with some friends, pause the development of new friendships, and in some cases communicate in ways that are uncomfortable (i.e. digital vs. face to face)
- Loss of activities they were looking forward to, such as field trips, family vacations and other large events
- For in-person learners, anxiety about how their learning will be impacted due to quarantines, teacher absences, lack of small group work and other ways academics are impacted by safety procedures
- For digital leaners, anxiety about how the remote learning environment will impact their learning, concern for the safety of their classmates in school, and technology-related frustration
- For all learners, anxiety about the use of high stakes standardized tests during a time when academics have been significantly disrupted
The situation is heightened by the fact that our schools do not have enough counselors to meet the mental health needs of our children, which is growing each year.
We are also concerned about the mental health of our teachers and school staff. Prior to this year, there was a growing statewide teacher shortage which has been made worse by the pandemic. Teachers are feeling anxiety for many of the same reasons as children, including a constantly changing class roster and learning environment, learning new technology, adjusting to school safety requirements and concern for safety while at school. The social/emotional needs of our teachers and school staff must be made a priority, along with the needs of our children.
High Stakes Testing
At the state level, a number of high stakes decisions are made based on student scores on standardized tests, including school grades, teacher evaluations/school assignments and in some cases student class or grade progression. At the district level, high stakes decisions include magnet program enrollment and class placement in middle and high school. These tests not only lead to a loss of instructional time, but they also contribute to a test-based learning environment for children. Testing is also taking its toll on educators, and is one of the primary reasons for the statewide teacher shortage.
This year more than ever, the high stakes should be removed from standardized tests for the following reasons:
- The delivery of education is constantly changing, with students moving back and forth through different learning environments, continuous quarantines for students and teachers, concerns with consistency for digital learners and other adjustments to the academic environment. This has led to an uneven playing field, and it doesn’t make sense to compare students with one another for high stakes decisions.
- The social and emotional needs of our school community are just as important as academic progress. Test-based anxiety is a major concern for students and teachers every year, but is even more concerning this year.
Florida PTA and ACCPTA are advocating at the state level that all high stakes be removed from the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). ACCPTA is also advocating at the district level that middle and high schools not use the FSA or the AIMS (the district-created standardized test) for high stakes decisions.
ACCPTA is continuously advocating for a safe and positive learning environment for all students.
For in-person learners, this includes advocating for safety precautions to be implemented and enforced as recommended by the CDC and other medical authorities. We are also advocating for maximum transparency in COVID-related tracking and protocols.
For digital learners, this includes advocating for adequate teacher training, high quality instruction, and the implementation of digital learning best practices to maximize student success.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
An overall priority for ACCPTA this year is DEI. Through the creation of a DEI Committee, we are exploring ways our PTAs can think about this at the local level and ensure all decisions are made with an equity lens. This also impacts our advocacy efforts as it is woven through every initiative.
Comprehensive School Rezoning
The Alachua County School Board is planning a district-wide, comprehensive (including elementary, middle and high schools) rezoning for all school levels. This means that many families in Alachua County will be zoned for a school that is different from the school your child is currently attending. The goal is to have new school boundaries in place beginning with the 2022/2023 school year.
PTA feels strongly about the value of family engagement within our schools. A strong family to school connection has a positive impact on school culture, administrator and teacher effectiveness, and ultimately student achievement. We also recognize the value that diversity brings to the school community. Every child benefits from participating in a learning environment that includes diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
PTA also places high value on family involvement in decisions such as this. Our advocacy efforts including encouraging all families to attend School Board and other community meetings to learn more about the process and provide input about what’s important to you.