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Live From Summit 2017: Parent Power: Building Movements to Win

We knew we wanted parent voices represented at this year’s Summit, so we spent the past eight months engaging parents and when we planned the agenda, we put their stories center stage in our Lunch Plenary, and they stole the show.

The session started with a video about Shaylean Hester, a mother who is deeply passionate about her fifth-grade son, Ke’Anthony, and making sure he receives the best education possible. Ke’Anthony recently transferred to Valor Collegiate Academies, outside of Nashville, and their focus on social-emotional learning has helped Ke’Anthony grow into a more engaged, passionate scholar. “Ke’Anthony loves it, every day he comes home and is so excited by what he’s learning,” Shaylean tells us about his switch to Valor.

Following the video, the program transitioned to a spotlight of parent stories on stage. First we heard from Sipinga Fifita-Nau from RISE Colorado, who attended a presentation at her child’s school and heard about the 30 million word gap, the current graduation rates, and the lack of quality education in her community. “This led me to take action on education in my community,” Sipinga told us. She organized a coalition with other parents to have a healthy conversation with the school board to improve academic achievement. This started other organizing campaigns, including a resolution passed just last night to to keep schools safe and inclusive regardless of immigration status.

Next on the stage was Chapelle White from ACE of Nevada, whose daughter was yelled at for asking questions at school. Chapelle found out about Education Savings Accounts, which gave children a right to other options in school. Her daughter was so passionate about attending a new school that she wrote a letter to policy makers in Nevada, but the resolution didn’t pass and instead sent children back to the same schools that didn’t meet their needs. As a result, Chapelle made the difficult choice to send only one child to public school. She explained, “Today children and parents are waiting for the ducation savings account to be funded in our state, and we will continue to organize until great schools for our children are made possible.”

The third story spotlight came from Enrique Esparza from Innovate Public Schools, whose daughter had recently started kindergarten but saw that the school had low expectations for her and he became worried about her future. “I didn’t want her to end up working a minimum wage job,” Enrique said. “I asked friends and relatives for advice but no one had the answer.” He then heard about a high-performing school nearby and wanted to bring it to their community. To do this, he needed community support, so he started knocking on doors. “Without the help of Innovate Public Schools, we would not have had the same results. Together we can make great change but we have to be together.”

Matt Hammer, founder and CEO of Innovate Public Schools, then joined Sipinga, Chapelle and Enrique on stage with three more inspiring parents for a thought-provoking discussion on how getting involved in their communities’ education has changed their lives, and their advice to all of us in the audience to continue parent engagement.

Next we heard from Tiecha Ashcroft, also with ACE of Nevada. Tiecha’s eldest daughter was in kindergarten, struggling and coming home with incomplete homework, and by the second semester was close to being held back. Tiecha got a tutor who followed her daughter through 1st grade, then asked for her to be tested for an IEP. She learned that her daughter would do best in a small group setting, but the school wasn’t able to provide the small-group support her daughter needed, so Tiecha moved her into home school. “I found that Nevada lacked education choice so I decided to do something about it. I got together with a few other parents to create ACE of Nevada, and now we’ve grown to nearly 700 members.” She now organizes this passionate group of fellow parents to speak at community events in support of Education Savings Accounts to bring more choices for students like her daughter. “It just takes a few parents to stand up and say this isn’t working for us, and there are 700 other parents out there who are in the same boat. So the power of the people is tremendous if we exercise it.”

Diana Castro, also with RISE Colorado, came to the United States from Mexico when she was 15. She told us, “I never thought that the US had educational inequity.” She wasn’t getting enough resources to help her child learn at home and after speaking to the teachers and getting pushback, “I didn’t stop.” Diana persisted until she got a summer homework calendar, and then a year-round calendar, and now it’s a policy in the parent handbook. “That was our first win and that’s when I realized that we had power,” she said. “I never imagined I would be doing this type of work.”

Geraldine Anderson, also from Innovate Public Schools has three sons and has worked with the San Francisco Superior Court for the last 28 years. “It was alarming to find out about the achievement gap with Latino and black students in San Francisco.” She told us about her work with the court, seeing the same faces that schools are failing being failed by the courts as well. “I was told that my son is meeting what he needs to meet according to his school’s standards, but that may not be good enough to make it to the college level. “So I chose to be involved to create parent power and get other parents on board to hopefully go to the legislature very soon.” “I want to take this experience back to my community, and I hope next year they’ll be sitting here where I’m sitting. We can make a movement happen with parent power.”

In response to Matt’s prompt that these stories show how parents need to be working together to put pressure on the system, Sipitinga and Enrique shared how they have become so connected to their community organizations. “RISE sat me down and got to know my story; they asked what motivated us and what needs we were facing. When you talk to parents one on one, you can focus on what they need,” Sipitinga said. When Enrique was trying to get his community involved, his strategy is to “knock doors, listen, and always carry a data report and let them know I’m the same parent as him. We have a family.”

Matt jumped in to elaborate on the data report Enrique always carries . “We put out a report on the best and worst schools for low income kids and the superintendents were angry and saying we were fear mongering, so Enrique steps forward with the report and says this was my child’s school and I thought she was in a great school, and it wasn’t until I saw this report that I realized my daughter was in jeopardy.” Enrique and his wife cried after the saw the report, but they needed to know the bad news to get involved and make something happen. “Data is so critical to wake people up to the reality of what is going on. Parents sometimes blame themselves for what is really a systemic problem so data is critical to show they’re not alone.”

The parents then gave their advice directly to the audience:

  • “Keep us in mind when you start to design this great school – parents want to be involved”
  • “There has to be a relationship between teachers and parents. We are willing to help and we can make big changes”
  • “It’s important to truly understand the value of parents – every parent has something to offer. They know their children best and if you push parents away, you don’t get to know the kids.”

Matt closed out the session with the powerful message that parent organizing isn’t just about elevating parent voices, but about creating lasting, impactful parent power. He challenged us to think about what each of us in the audience can do over the next year to engage parents in our roles, regardless of whether we’re a funder, entrepreneur or educator. At the next Summit, we can’t wait to hear how you’ve encorparated these parents’ powerful messages into your work.

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