Deana Bearden, a former teacher, is one of 36 parents selected from all over Georgia to serve on the council that will meet three times a year with Barge to discuss education issues in Georgia. All three of her children attend Canton Elementary — Adam, a fifth-grade student, Ansley, a third-grade student and 5-year-old Ava, who is in the pre-kindergarten program.
According to a release from the Georgia Department of Education, the committee’s primary focus will be increasing parent and family engagement to ensure student success.
Parent committee members will have the opportunity to provide feedback on new policies and projects that influence Georgia students and families.
As ambassadors to their schools and communities, the parents will return to share the information to advise all
“I am looking forward to getting to know a new group of parent advisors and discuss how our policies affect their children on a daily basis,” Barge said in the release. “Having parent involvement is critical to making education work for all Georgia students. Hearing directly from them is the best way to ensure their children get what they need to be successful after high school.”
At the beginning of each school year, parents are nominated to serve on the advisory committee by their local school district and are chosen by GaDOE representatives based on their responses to questions.
Bearden is one of five of the parents on the council who is a leader in the Georgia PTA and has served as co-president for two years. Her husband Jason, CEO of Highland Rivers Health, also serves on the Student Council at the school.
The former third-grade teacher’s involvement increased after attending a family engagement conference held by GaDOE and Georgia PTA as a parent volunteer last February, she said.
“Since then, I’ve been really passionate and working very hard to increase parent engagement and involvement at Canton Elementary,” Bearden said. “The speakers gave us so many practical, real-life ideas to encourage involvement.
She also said the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell inspired her to be more involved because the book claims the best predictor of a child’s success is how involved the child’s parents are in his or her education.
“That told me, I have a say and I can do something to ensure their success,” Bearden said. “What I’m learning through this process and through serving this role that that (idea) may not be everybody’s background, but for the children’s sake, we need to make this a positive place.”
With the highest percentage of students participating in the free and reduced price lunch program of any school in the Cherokee County School District at 86 percent, Bearden said getting parents involved at the school presents an obstacle with many students living with families of a different language and cultural background.
She said she knew most parents have the desire to help their school but did not know how they could help. Bearden said the school’s full-time parent facilitator has helped break down the language barrier and get more parents involved.
“A lot of them are working all the time,” Bearden said. “I wanted them to know that just coming in and making copies or sending in items can help our teachers and give great value to our school. Now, they are coming more frequently—you should see the joy and reward they feel for being able to contribute.”
Bearden said engagement also dropped last year when many parents who were previously active in the school moved their students to Cherokee Charter Academy, which opened last year.
“It was kind of a vacuum,” she said of the many families leaving Canton Elementary. “I didn’t see myself as a PTA president yet since I still had a little one, but there was a need so I stepped up.”
However, with Canton Elementary’s designation as a Cherokee STEM Academy this year, Bearden said more opportunities with community partnerships with groups like the Canton Rotary Club have gotten parents more excited about getting involved.
Bearden said her main goal in serving on the committee is to be a voice for Canton Elementary and to let Barge know what the needs are at the local level.
“Also I hope to be like a sponge and really soak up all the great and innovative things all the other schools are doing to engage parents,” Bearden said. “Why reinvent the wheel when it’s just a matter of sharing and collaborating?”
Principal Gwen Lince said Bearden has worked tirelessly within the school community to be very inclusive of all of the families at Canton Elementary.
“We have a very diverse population and she has worked very, very hard to make everyone fell included and she is a major asset,” Lince said. “She’s always positive, always upbeat and she’s just been a total asset to us. We are thrilled she’s going to be able to take our message not just from here at Canton but throughout Cherokee to the state level.”