Friends of Dexter Community Schools: How a Facebook group helped galvanize public education supporters in Dexter

Jennifer Kangas is like many parents who care about their children when it comes to education. But she cares so much not only about her own kids but those in the community that she started the Friends of the Dexter Community Schools about three years ago to help make Dexter residents aware of educational issues and the effect they could have on the local schools.

“At the time there were quite a few legislative proposals within the state of Michigan that would have and have since affected public schools,” said Kangas, who currently has three children in Dexter Community schools. “The Dexter superintendent at the time sent out an email to parents in the district informing us of the pending changes and that if we wanted to we should contact our local representatives. It didn’t say if the changes were good or bad.”

Kangas made a phone call, not to her representatives but to her superintendent, saying she was against the legislation and inquiring whether there was a local group she could contact or a petition she could sign to voice her concern with the changes.

“She told me there was not a group in the district that was focused on legislative actions,” Kangas said. “So I decided to start one.” Kangas went to the Dexter School Board informing them of her desire to form this group and even invited members to participate. She also invited anyone from the community interested in Dexter schools to get involved.

She also reached out to another group who she believes needs a louder voice in all of this discussion centering around education.

“There hasn’t been an effective platform for teachers to voice their opinions,” she said. “The state legislature has taken quite an active role in trying to guide instruction and in my opinion teachers would be better at making educational decisions than legislators, especially when it comes to instruction.”

The group’s purpose, according to Kangas, is to inform parents on what’s happening at both the state and federal level when it comes to education especially in legislative action that can affect the local schools here in Dexter. Another purpose is to help parents better understand the funding issues facing Dexter schools and to provide a place for teachers and educators to interact with parents and give their opinions on different issues.

“We want teachers and educators to tell parents what tools they could use to help better educate our children,” Kangas said.

Giving teachers a chance to weigh in on issues is an important part of the group, Kangas says, and allows parents an opportunity to hear from those inside the classroom. Teachers are sometimes reluctant to provide feedback or give opinions because they afraid to be labeled “complainers” or being viewed as blaming others for problems in the schools.

“I think slowly we are starting to see more teachers standing up and being heard; not just here in Dexter but throughout the state,” Kangas said. “Having teachers find their voice is only going to result in better public education.”

Dexter Education Association president Joe Romeo has been active in trying to get teachers and other school officials to attend the Friends of the Dexter Community Schools meetings.

“It’s become a real community group,” Kangas said. “And it’s not just one segment of the community. I think we all – parents, teachers, board members, administrators – need to work together in order to provide the best possible education for our children.”

The FDCS also is an affiliate of Parent’s Across America, a non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that connects parents from all backgrounds across the US to share ideas and work together to strengthen and support our nation’s public schools.

Kangas, whose father was a teacher for 40 years and whose husband is a teacher, says there hasn’t been one hot-button topic that keeps coming up at all the meetings.

“It seems everyone has a different topic that they want to talk about,” she said. “It’s very interesting. For example, I’m opposed to how high-stakes standardized testing is used. Other people don’t share my concerns but some people do. It just depends.

“Some people are more concerned with funding; some are concerned with school lunches; or care about student-teacher ratios. Everyone seems to have a different thing they are focused on at the moment.”

One thing many in the community agree on is the importance of Friends of the Dexter Community Schools. The group’s Facebook page recently exceeded 1,000 members and there also is a large e-mail mailing list. Kangas and Laura Jones co-moderate the Facebook group.

“It’s really catching on and I don’t know why we have had so many people joining except for the fact that people in Dexter care about education,” said Kangas, who went to Northville High School and Iowa State University. “I really care about public education and I think it’s the best thing for our state. We need to maintain strong public education — our state will be better off for it.”

The next meeting date has not been set but more than likely will fall in the second week of September.

For more information on the group and to check on meeting dates and topics, click on the following link here.

This story is part of a two-part series that will conclude with the publish of a second story later in the week.

If you have news that you would like us to cover, send an email to Content and Community Manager Sean Dalton at seandalton@welovedexter.com.

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