2) Cross-Boundary Leaders for Education and Equity Symposium: Family Engagement in Education

Now we did have a question about family engagement.
That’s the second pillar in IEL’s work. What’s the public’s role, including the role of families
in public education? My colleague Kwesi Rollins, a member of the leadership team here at the
institute will be moderating that panel. Kwesi, if you and your colleagues, Jitu, Sue and
Yolie come up, we’ll move this along. Thank you.
Good morning. My name is Kwesi Rollins, director of leadership
programs at the Institute for Educational Leadership, and really happy to be leading
a conversation around a critical issue. The opening question for this panel, state district
and school leaders struggle with how to cultivate and sustain positive relationships with families
that can improve outcomes. Are we making progress? Actually, the quick answer is it depends who
you talk to. In some ways we are. Over the years, we’ve gotten much better at this. We’ve
learned a lot. No shortage of strategies. Everything from home visitation to academic
parent teacher teams in terms of intensity. No shortage of frameworks. One of the older
frameworks kind of launched by Joyce Epstein was the six types of involvement, six types
of parent involvement. That’s probably, what, 25, 30 years ago?
We’ve got lots of frameworks, even this spring the US Department of Education released its
framework in dual capacity building framework for family school partnerships, and laid it
out very nicely in that document. Over 50 years of research links the various roles
that families play in a child’s education. As supporters of learning, encouraged use
of grit and determination, as models of lifelong learning and advocates of proper programming
and placements for their child. IEL and among many of our partners our working
definition of family engagement is really one that was kind of launched officially by
the national working group on family, school and community engagement, and that is that
family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies
and organizations are committed to engaging families in meaningful and culturally respective
ways, and families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.
Family engagement should be continuous I do not see a child’s life, spanning from cradle
to career and beyond. Certainly, spanning from early head start programs to college
prep. And family engagement should be carried out everywhere that children learn, at home,
in preK programs, preschool programs and schools and afterschool programs and thinkbased institutions
and other community programs and activities. That definition recognizes that family engagement
needs to focus on activities that are linked to children’s learning at home, at school
and in the community. So as we explore this question, I want to
just kind of briefly introduce our three speakers, then they’re going to take 57 minutes to kind
of lay out their perspective on this issue, then we’ll have a dialogue, a conversation.
Our first speaker is Yolie Flores. She’s got over 25 years of leadership experience in
program policy and advocacy work on behalf of the needs of children and families from
cradle to career and beyond. Yolie has worked in the nonprofit sector, in city government
and philanthropy. She’s a past member of the Board of Education of the Los�Angeles aun
fied school district and currently a Senior Fellow in the Campaign for GradeLevel Reading.
Sue Swenson is Deputy Assistant Secretary US Department of Education’s Office of Special
Education and Rehabilitative Services. She’s active in the Minneapolis schools as well
as in state and federal policy before being named a Joseph P. Kennedy fellow in the US
Senate in 1996. She previously served as CEO of The Arc of the United States, as Executive
Director of the Kennedy Foundation and also as a US commissioner for developmental disabilities
in the Clinton Administration. And lastly, Jitu Brown, from Chicago, former
community schools coordinator, former educational organizer with the Kenwood open community
organization in Chicago, now the National Director of jury for justice, aalliance grassroots
communities youth and parentled organization in 36 cities. Is that the right number?
That’s hopeful. More like 23. 23 cities around the country. I’m thinking
in the city. Yes, sir.
Pushing back and demanding community led organizations. First we will hear from Yolie.
Good morning. Good morning. Before I start I wanted to commend the first
panel. I found it quite refreshing that I would come to a panel in Washington, DC that,
from the getgo, puts race on the table. Unapologetically and very courageously. So it gave me, I think,
a little bit more confidence that I could follow suit, which I would do anyway.
[Laughter] But it’s always helpful to have some company
in the room. So thank you to the panel for that.
And actually, my remarks are really related to that, because when we ask the question
are we making progress, the answer is it depends, and it begs the question for whom.
So I’ll start with giving you sort of the good news. It’s the progress that I think
we are making, and that helps me breathe with a normal heartbeat when I think about this
kind of progress. So I think over the last decade or so we’ve
seen the emergence of some very exciting work across the nation, in cities and states, and
even here in Washington, DC. We’ve seen the emergence of great new curricula and models.
The people that I have the opportunity to work with now in my role at the Campaign for
GradeLevel Reading, where my focus is on the role of parents, has led me to know the parent
leadership training institute out of Connecticut, the work in California with parent institute
for quality education, the work around the country with parent voices and parent ambassadors,
that range from leadership development to organizing of parents to real skill building,
to really understand how to navigate school systems and systems in general for children
and their families. We even are seeing, well, we have seen this
actually, I think we started with some intentionality around parents with Head Start. So we’re building
on that, and I think the momentum is growing. We see school districts today, including my
own in Los�Angeles, that have placed great technology. We have parent portals. We have
texting to give parents information. There’s much more technology in play to try to engage
and inform and keep parents in the know. In some places we’re seeing great efforts
to train teachers and school staff support on how to better work with and involve and
engage parents. And some states we see parent engagement actually become a more systematic
and intentional, and I use intentional actually very softly, engaging parents.
So again, one of my favorite leading states is Connecticut for the work that they’re doing.
The parent trust act, where there’s almost a billion dollars available to bring parents
to the work of community and for them to actually lead.
We see progress in philanthropy. Recently Kellogg and their family engagement parent
leadership and family engagement RFP process drew over 1100 grantees, the largest ever
on any initiative. And at the federal level, Kwesi, you mentioned the new framework, we’ve
seen Secretary Duncan push for doubling the amount of title I dollars for parent engagement.
We’ve seen evidence that the feds meant business when in Race to the Top, the early learning
challenge grant, there was extensive language on family engagement.
So I think there is progress. But I get cranky� [Laughter]
and my heartbeat increases dramatically when I really look at what is actually happening
on the ground. And what is actually happening on the ground, especially for poor parents
and parents of color, is frankly pathetic. We see parents very disconnected from their
school systems. We see that parents actually hear a lot of talk about parent engagement
and parent involvement. But we don’t see a real walking of the talk.
We see very few indications that schools are actually reaching some of the most disconnected
parents. And I’ll tell you a little story in the last minute of my opening, about a
recent set of events in Los�Angeles, to make a point.
We also see that schools are still focusing more on engaging families in school, participating
in school site councils perhaps or encouraging them to be part of PTA, but we don’t see them
really extending themselves to encourage and engage families in the supporting and education
of their children at home, and what that means, and equipping them with the skills and knowledge
and supports that they need. Families and teachers still, by and large,
report each other as the problem. I experience this day in and day out as a school board
member. I’m still recovering, by the way. [Laughter]
And we continue to see a gap between what teachers want children to know when they arrive
at school and what parents think children should know and be able to do. That gap is
still enormous. And at every school site I see way too few
dollars dedicated to parent engagement. Even when you have as the floor 1% of Title I,
hopefully at some point it will be 2%, most school districts, at least in California,
will barely reach that amount. And my other huge concern is that� by the
way, this is not on schools alone. Employers and business, speaking of really crossing
the� cutting across boundaries and helping us be leaders across systems for children
and families, employers are no help, especially for families in lowincome jobs.
I don’t know how many of you read the Starbucks story in “The New York Times.” About a mom,
a single parent and her child, who never knew what time she was going to be called in, what
her schedule would be the next day. How can a parent structure their life with their child,
make sure they’re in school when they need to get to school or early education programs,
when they have no idea, day by day, what their work life or work day will be like?
So it’s on all of us, really, to figure out how to really honor the role of parents in
the education of their children. Am I out of time?
Yes. I will come back and tell you the story, because
it makes the point. No, tell the story.
OK. [Laughter]
So this incident actually this winter, winter 2014, earlier this year, led by united way
wanted to get a sense how much progress was allied yune fied making. I had ushered a resolution
while a school board member called parents as equal partners in the education of their
children. It was groundbreaking. It was going to change the culture and behavior and the
commitment of our school district for how it really engaged and shared power with parents.
So it was a lofty idea. On the board, commitment by superintendent. So fast forward four years.
It’s been four years since I left the board. It was the last thing I ushered through. It
was the first and last. My colleagues at United Way led an efforts to have parents go and
visit schools, and they were going to visit schools and asked to see the school report
card, which has been in place almost six years in Los�Angeles. They were to ask for a tour
of the school. They were to ask for information about the school’s curriculum. And ask if
they could come back and bring their spouse or family member to also visit the school.
68 schools were visited throughout the district. And here was the result: When I talk about
lowincome families, I’m really talking about black and brown families in LA. Parents from
lowincome families were less likely to get a copy of the school report card. At their
school, staff actually had no idea what that was. Some parents had to point out, Oh, it’s
that document there on your counter. Yet, our families in our more affluent areas
were immediately given a copy of the scorecard and shared what the results were, what other
information the parent needed. Parents that visited in lowincome communities
of LA unified were more likely to be asked to provide ID, and adequate verification before
any questions could be answered. Across the district, actually this is across
all families that participated, school staff were not able to answer the question about
their school curriculum, but all of them asked, Could I follow up? There isn’t anyone now
to answer my question. Only in higher income communities were parents
followed up with. Not one parent from any of the lowincome schools had anyone follow
up with them. Then when they asked for the school tours,
majority of black and Latino families were told that tours were not available, and if
they did want a tour they needed to come back with their ID. Now we have the best technology,
I love the parent portal, it is in almost every elementary school, we have a parent
leadership program for Latino immigrant parents. It is making progress.
What I see� when I see what is actually happening every day in the relational aspect
of what it means to engage parents, it’s authentic partners in the education of their children.
We have a long way to go in Los�Angeles. We have a long way to go across the nation.
Thanks, Yolie. Sue? Good morning, everybody.
Good morning. When I was in Minneapolis, I have three sons,
two of whom were always being recruited to the gifted programs, one of whom, in the middle,
never walked the talk. My advocacy was about special education, which I learned was an
equal opportunity minority. So the special education advisory councils include people
who were wealthy, people in poverty, from all backgrounds. It was pointless to try to
recruit as many of these people as possible. I just want you to know that the people at
my son’s school called me the nice lady from hell.
[Laughter] Because I was always� is this on? I’m sorry.
I’m getting a signal it’s not. It’s a little hard to hear. So speak closer.
I will. I’m a little tall for the mic. Because the nice lady from hell, because I was never
mean, I never sued them, I told them at the beginning of every meeting I will never sue
you under this law, which was seen as a giving over of power. But I also never went away,
and I never stopped asking for what I thought my son and other children both with and without
disabilities needed in school. What I learned very early was that my rights
to an IEP and my rights to write an individualized plan for my son were not guaranteed. If I
wanted inclusive experiences for him, which is what best practice shows is the only thing
that works, I needed to make sure that the school was inclusive of the needs of all of
the children in the school. And that meant a very different kind of work than what IDEA
puts out in front of us. So here I am now, in the federal agency that
oversees IDEA. I worked at the Senate on reauthorization. I sometimes worry that the law is letting
us think in compliance. I want to really underline that I think it’s progress for us to learn
this. In 1975, when the law was written, we thought if you give parents individual rights
and due process rights, and they have to sign a contract before their child can come to
school, it will be better for them. What I’ve learned is your child with a disability
is the only child who requires a contract to attend the school. And not only is it an
individualized education program for your child, but there’s a placement committee.
There are no other programs in education where a team of teachers decides whether the child
shall be allowed that the school or not. In Minneapolis what I learned is my AfricanAmerican
and Native American friends didn’t want their children to be assessed for special education,
because the risk of segregation came with it. This is a serious problem, and we are
only now getting to the point where the civil rights data collection to be able to overlap
and look at these data and understand what happens to children of color who are in special
education and how is that different from majority children or wealthy children.
It’s a really serious problem. So a couple of things. Alexis Tutochville said that the
future of democracy depends on the education of mothers, because it’s mothers who will
educate children and tell them to question authority. Going back to Jerry Weast’s point
about you have to encourage people giving them enough information to kick butt.
This is something that is in compliance system terribly undervalued and underrated. It’s
very difficult to come up against a school district that spends more money on lawyers
than it does on special education. And there are some.
Most lawyers are there to keep you out. So we need to go in in a different way and have
different kind of partnership with the schools. I tried to do that. I tried to do it based
on my knowledge that trust� anybody know who Vince Covello is? Anybody know who Oprah
Winfrey is? [Laughter]
Vince was a journalist that Columbia University trained Oprah Winfrey in how to speak about
issues, how to talk to people about issues. He has a simple calculus, which is trust equals
caring plus credibility. I tried to always go into everything I did,
because I learned that when I worked in the field, I tried to go in and really figure
out what does the teacher need? What caring can I provide? Or what information can I provide?
Or which one is missing here that would allow her or him to make a decision to really get
involved in educating my child, beyond the level of compliance that’s offered by the
law? So if you go out for lunch today, you go into
a lovely restaurant and you order your lunch, and the waiter comes to your table. He says
what would you like for lunch? We have wonderful specials today. You say, I don’t care what
you bring me, it just better not have any bugs in it.
[Laughter] That’s compliance level advocacy. I cannot
tell you how many times I have trained parents to say, No. Don’t go in and demand compliance
with IDEA. Your goal is to go in and demand what is the teacher going to do beyond compliance?
I noticed with my children, when they were talking about Will or Eric, the school said,
Oh, you’re going to be so� you’re going to love what we’re doing. We have this language
program or that or this. It’s really interesting. We have lots of AP courses.
With Charlie, they never said it, but the underlying message was what is the least we
can do without being sued? This is a profound problem when trying to
engage parents in the trusting and caring in an incredible way in your schools.
If they see that on the face of person, it doesn’t matter what their race is, it doesn’t
matter what their economic background is, they can all see that on the face of the IEP
team. OK. How can I teach your kid as little as
possible? This is one of the reasons we have many school districts in the United States
where 15% of the students with IEPs are able to read at a fourth grade level. 15% of the
students with IEPs. And 12% of the students in school have IEPs. We’re talking about a
lot of kids with very, very poor outcomes. Why are we talking about this when I’m supposed
to be talking about progress? Because we know it now. We didn’t used to know it, and that’s
progress. Getting to the point where we have report
cards and we have answers and we can begin to say, Here’s what’s wrong with the way we’ve
been doing things, and here are some of the things we need to do differently.
I’m really glad Yolie mentioned our framework. I will not go into it. I encourage you to
look it up online. It’s brilliant and profound. Under IDEA we fund a new project called swift
schools, which I think it’s swift it schools.org. It is designed to encourage schools to build
trusting relationships with parents around issues of special education and English as
a second language and Title I, and really bring those together.
We have parents in schools who are� you can’t sign away your IEP rights, because those
are constitutional rights, but you can give up the IEP process. We have parents in swift
schools that are stepping back and saying, You know what? I’m getting so much information,
and I have so much trust, that I feel free to set down some of this legal, the big sword
that I go in with, which is what I used to do when I went in all the time. Just say,
Let them sue you under this law. I also want to point to you, because is IEL,
you’ve got to know the IEL guidelines, the transition guidelines. You’ve got to look
at their work on families and engagement and how do we make sure that families have the
support that they need. I want to tell you a story. It’s really important.
Thomas Jefferson had a sister who was two years younger than he was. Her name was Elizabeth.
He was very close to her. He was very close to her the whole time she grew up. When their
mother died, he became responsible for caring for her at monticello. Therefore, refused
to be engaged in political activity for many years while he was caring for her. Refused
to run for office before the nation was a nation, refused to get involved and wrote
in his diary “I can’t. I’m responsible for Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth today would probably be called severely autistic. Then she was called embicile. She
spoke a few words, took a few steps, but wasn’t responsible to care for herself. This is Thomas
Jefferson. She died in 1774. There was an earthquake at Monticello followed by a hurricane.
She ran out into the storm and drowned in a local street. He, at that time, was able
to step up and be engaged in public life. I’m telling you this story because a lot of
parents and children with disabilities, engagement is something they can’t do unless you will
support them to care for their children, to bring their children to the meeting, to have
childcare at the meeting, to serve supper at the meeting. Five minutes of extra time
to think about stuff just isn’t on their schedule. We owe these words “I believe” to a woman
with disabilities. We hold these truths to be selfevident that all men are created equal.
That sentiment was not written in some kind of puffy idealistic way. It was written by
a man who understood that people come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
I think we’re still in American schools not in a place with students with disabilities
where we realize that. We think their rights to be educated can be circumscribed by this
little law we call IDEA. We don’t understand that the real right to be educated comes from
the heart and soul of the teacher and the leader who is willing to work beyond compliance.
If you’re not working beyond compliance, you’re just a manager.
You have to reach out beyond and say, What is it we can do for these students with disabilities,
so they can grow up, be employed, for their parents to understand that.
Thank you. [Applause] Jitu, take us home.
Good morning, everyone. Good morning.
I’m grappling with the question, it’s almost negative, but I think it’s important. Maybe
the best way I can share this is like this, when I was a little boy, I was a rabid Bears
fan. Me and my father would watch Walter Payton. I just fell in love with football. I knew
that I would play for the Bears one day. [Laughter]
I played football in high school, college. I was pretty good. It felt like I was going
to play in the NFL. Then went to an NFL camp, realized that that dream was going to die
in camp. [Laughter]
Which it did. But what came from that was I was in the music industry for a while, and
moderately successful, and the record label had me go to a school in Chicago called Shakespeare,
in 1991. I go to school in Shakespeare, this school
is on south side of Chicago. I’m in a room full of young guys. They’re laying back like
“Who is this guy?” We talked about the music industry, had a wonderful session. One of
them looked at me said, You’re not coming back tomorrow. It hit me, this is what I’m
supposed to do. I wanted to become a radio DJ, but realized working with young people
is what I was supposed to do. It was weird, I dropped everything and started volunteering
at a local community organization and learned how to do� learned from a very skilled man
how to work with schools in the community and how to do leadership development programs
with young people. Because there was a need for our young people to be inspired.
I lived in a neighborhood where we didn’t own anything in it. You go to the corner store,
it is owned by somebody else. You go to the gas station, it’s owned by somebody else.
The community is bronzeville, which is where Dr.�Daniel Williams, the first man to perform
successful surgery on a human heart, set up his hospital. It’s where Dr.�Martha burrows
started the museum of black history. It’s also where Sam cook and mini ripton, civil
rights leaders were. Where reverend Jesse Jackson set up rainbow push. It’s where the
oldest AfricanAmerican led grassroots organization in the city is at. Where the first mayor of
Chicago, Dr.�Harold Washington, went to high school. Where Eddie Harris and Nat king
Cole and Dinah Washington went to high school. It’s a historic community, if you get my point.
Now in 1991, we didn’t own anything in it, and I felt the schools was a way to begin
to engage young people, to teach them they can be masters of their own community, not
just customers. Because our schools were in pretty bad shape, I was with� there was
a group of us. They loved to see young AfricanAmerican men that were positive that would come into
the schools. The school opened its doors. We did incredible work. We took young people
to the Native American reservation in Maine. We took them to the United Nations to talk
about some of the real issues impacting young people. They weren’t just going to be on the
bus, they were active participants. Then things began to change.
Paul Vallas became CEO of Chicago public schools, and they ushered in school probation. You
started seeing the schools a lot less willing to have people in the community at the school,
from 9:00 to 11: 30 was reading block, then the curriculum was now, so the teachers didn’t
have the space to really teach. A lot of teachers have to use direct instruction. They weren’t
able to really utilize the art in which they were trained.
So then you began to hear about schools getting ready to close. And the district was even
less willing to have community people in the school.
Now, the school that I sat on the local school council since 2003, because we opposed the
closing of that school, if I go to the school Chicago public schools safety and security
surrounds me. And this is the same school where I got a grant for $75,000 to improve
the library. We mentored students. I can go on.
I think that we’ve actually regressed in regards to districts engaging young people and systems
engaging people in the community and parents and being open to community wisdom. Because
what I learned was that it’s community wisdom and academic expertise that go together to
help make school improvements. There are people in our community that have
relationships with our students, that our teachers would never have. They have credibility
with our students, but our teachers will never have.
I have just seen a lot over the past 10 to 15 years that has taught me we have a long
way to go, because there’s a perception of people in our communities, whether you’re
in Detroit or in Baltimore, whether you’re in Los�Angeles. Yolie was talking about
Los�Angeles. One of the most brilliant men I ever met was Alberto Guttano from the community
coalition in Los�Angeles, or inner city struggle, or Chicago local square neighborhood
association. They created neighborhood schools. These Latino women on the north side of Chicago.
New�York started the student success program in Brooklyn. A studentled program, which increased
the graduation rate by 67%. Three straight years at this school. District funded.
We have moved forward in regards to our capacity and our communities, to not just be mentors,
to actually bring a level of expertise into our schools, to help inspire them. But I think
that the districts, because in many urban districts, even rural ones too, you look in
Mississippi, you look at EUpora, Mississippi, they’re closing entire AfricanAmerican school
districts. They’re shutting down school districts and moving young people past the white district
right next to them, to the adjacent AfricanAmerican school district 25 miles away from their homes.
That’s not progress to me. It’s not progress when folks in New�Orleans, during one of
the worst natural disasters in our history, their voices aren’t listened to, basically
their city is used ar a gold rush for privatization. That shouldn’t be OK withes any of us. That’s
not an anticharter school statement. The charter school, under the original intent, are needed.
There’s a charter school operated in Chicago, Urban Prep, urban prep does wonderful things
in preparing, making sure young people get to college. They have other issues, like only
41% of their freshmen graduate. That’s a problem. What happens is many people view educational
profit develop really creative systems for selecting our young people, then kicking our
young people out, and presenting it as progress. Well, folks in our community are a little
sharp. I think in Chicago you close 50 schools, then you see violence explode. Nobody has
put 2 and 2 together to say if Johnny is 16 years old, he’s sitting on the bus stop in
the community that’s not his, his life is in danger.
These are not small things. These are not like just anecdotes. These are realities in
Los�Angeles, in Oakland, in Detroit, in New�Orleans, in Philadelphia, in Camden,
New�Jersey. I think what’s problematic with that is that when you don’t engage the people
directly impacted, which you basically have are invader institutions in your community.
When schools are supposed to be community institutions, they’re supposed to be institutions
that help stabilize neighborhoods. So in the AfricanAmerican community historically everybody
knew it’s always been the church. Well, it’s not the church anymore. If you go drive down
a block, down a fourblock radius in any black community in the United States, you’re liable
to see 15, 16 churches. The role of the churches is no longer sacred. That’s telling you that
from the ground. But schools are. So I think that there are a lot of folks who
are very lettered and director of talent for this and director of talent for that, but
they’re missing key elements of real leadership. One thing I learned in the community, I am
with the Journey for Justice Alliance, but I’m with a grassroots organization that has
always been about community organizing. We got about 800 members. A lot of our members
are generational. They were not� they came at 4, they’re 26 years old, they have two
children. Their children are now in day care. Our relationship is not based on the relationship,
but based on love. We fought the privatization of schools in our community with a level of
fury that’s been important, it’s been critical. There are some things that I think are missing
in the corporate education agenda or in the way that districts are moving. I want to mention
them very quickly. Four key components of leadership that I was taught is, one, the
ability to listen. That means not just endure, like folks may have to endure some school
boards sometimes, but really to listen. To respect the voice and the wisdom of the people
that you’re dealing with. Some of the wisest people I met, one of the strongest women I
work with Linda Brown, she died in 2006, Linda was parent coordinata in the elementary school.
She was so dedicated she had a heart attack right there on the first floor of the school.
Three days later she was back at school. I’m not making this up. Her response, whenever
I call her, say, Miss Brown, we got this meeting, is you know how that goes. It was anything
for the kids. She lived it. So her courage and her consistency and her sense of really
being honest about her love for children inspired me. It made me a better organizer. It made
me more accountable. The ability to listen is missing in what we see through what’s happening
in the urban school districts today. Also the ability to believe. I’ve worked with
children in some of the poorest communities in the United States, and you look at a child
with a uniform shirt that’s dirty, they look you in your eye, you have to see beyond that.
You have to be� I remember a young lady Chaniqua Moore, fourth grade, I gave her a
challenge to learn maya Angelo’s phenomenal woman. I didn’t think she’d do it.
I went to see her the following Wednesday, I’m leaving, somebody is tugging on my pants
leg. It’s Chaniqua. I turned, she’s about 28 now. Tells you how old I am. She turns
me around, she goes into it. Not only does she do it, she does it with passion, with
voice elevation. She’s rocking this thing! And she became a poet. She became a poet.
She wrote a book of poetry when she was in college.
To see our young people and see beyond the conditions that they’re in. The conditions
are not their fault. Our children inherit conditions, they don’t create them. So I think
to be able to really believe in the people in our communities is another thing.
Then to collaborate. Often, we talk about parent engagement, we’re talking about parent
buyin. We’re not talking about really engaging people in the dream, but buy in to my dream.
People in our communities know that. They know. That’s why you don’t have sustained
engagement. I want to mention again, I’m very proud to come from an organization where we
have sustained involvement from our members. We do that, because we generally respects
each other. One thing my mother taught me a long time ago, she said never get a big
head. You’re one check away. That was an old school lesson that I internalized, that whatever
my title is, it means nothing. What really means something is am I sincere. Am I sincere?
Can people trust me? Will I be strong in the face of changing circumstances? I think that
those are important qualities. The last one is act. The Journey for Justice
Alliance, we have pressured the US Department of Education around coming up with another
option for struggling schools besides closing them, charter expansion, turnaround and charter
restarts. People thoughts we were crazy, no way you can impact that policy. My thing is
this, our only limitations are the ones we accept. If we want to make change, people
that make change are a little crazy. [Laughter]
You have to be crazy to believe you can do it.
I sit before you all today it as a regular guy, but I am a community organizer. And part
of being a community organizer, just like being a teacher, you have to be able to look
into the eyes of your students and dream, inspire them to dream.
I think there’s capacity on the ground that can really help the process of engaging parents
and bringing more expertise to the table. But I think we’re moving backwards in regards
to policy. I’m asking folks if you can look a the a report we did called death by a thousand
cuts on our website www.j4j alliance.com. Free download, so you can never say I didn’t
give you anything. [Laughter]
Read that report. We get a few people from as far as Puerto Rico to Boston, Massachusetts,
talking about what has been the impact of the policies that swept through your communities.
Unanimously, people said they didn’t listen to me. They told me what was best for my child,
instead of asking what was best for my child. I think that we can do a lot better. We can
do a lot better. That’s it. [Applause] I’m sure there are lots of questions, comments.
Try to keep them brief. We don’t have a lot of time left.
Be gentle. Because the Bears got blown out this weekend. I’m still mourning.
Questions? Jitu, what are the dynamics that are allowing
Mississippi to do what you were describing in terms of black districts being consolidated
rather than black and white? I haven’t heard about it on the news. I haven’t read about
it. Is this a big secret? I don’t know that it’s a secret. I will just
say that you have a school board that is not really listening to the voices of the people
directly impacted. You have a state legislature pushing the expansion of charters. Being I
think that to do that, they want to clear up space, so they closed this entire school
district and moved young people to an adjacent district. It’s really no different than Chicago,
the mechanism in Chicago is an appointed school board made up of� not made up of� none
of the people on the school board have to live with the policies they set. We have to
clean up that mess in our neighborhoods. It’s all connected to an agenda that devalues
the voice of working in low income families, in most cases families of communities of color.
Last thing I will say, in Chicago there was a school called Lincoln. Made up of very progressive
parents on the north side of Chicago, mainly a white school. The district tried to give
them $20 million. The parent said we don’t want it. Give it to a south side school. They
forced those parents to take the $20 million investment. So I think another issue we have
is our views on race affect many of the institutions that are supposedly delivering services to
our communities. So there’s a devaluing of children from particular communities. So that’s
why you do these things. If they don’t work, that’s OK. We’re going to continue to experiment.
Question in the back? Edmund horsily, NEA priority schools. Miss
Flores, one of our members is a man name Jose Laura. He works in the LA school district.
He’s part of a group trying to get the school district to expand ethnic studies. My question
is how does that in your mind connect to� why is that so important in connecting that
to the community, to the family engagement issue?
Well, it’s both an issue about family engagement, but also an issue of honoring and respecting
your students for who they are, where they come from, the language they speak, the conditions.
We forget that education is not just about the three Rs. Education is about who you become,
and who you become has to be grounded in your own history.
I think when we cut that off and we see that in Arizona in particular, you’re really making
the statement about the society that you want the society that you don’t want.
Another question? Anne? Anne Henderson, annanberg institute for school
reform. Of course, everything you guys said was music to my ears. And in the previous
panel and this one, I’m hearing a couple of themes. One of which is the huge importance
of developing leadership. Not just school leaders. We can’t just think if we have good
school leaders, good superintendents and good school board members that’s going to take
care of it. We have to invest in parent and community leadership, we have to give all
the people in our community that feeling, as you were saying, Jitu, about ownership
of their schools. And ownership of what happens to their children, whatever their vulnerabilities
are and whatever their backgrounds are. I think that we are kind of coming to a moment
where we could come together and agree on what some policies and investments must be
to have that happen. I’d love to hear from all of you on the panel about what you think
the most important investments in parent and community leadership need to be. Because right
now, as Jerry Weast was saying in another context, we’re doing a lot of random acts,
and it’s not coming together. In the disabilities world there’s a program
called partners in policy making that you might want to look at. It’s been in place
for 20 years plus. It’s out of the Minnesota governor’s developmental disabilities council.
Every state has one of those councils, and every Department of Education is supposed
to be sitting on those councils. Partners is a ninemonth, very intensive program
to teach parents of children with developmental disabilities and young people with developmental
disabilities together in leadership curriculum that teaches them, A., what is really best
practice, which so often we’re not told the truth about; B., how do I do the individual
advocacy that I need to be able to do to get best practice for myself or my child; and
C., how do I do systems advocacy to really move the needle for everyone?
It’s an interesting model. It’s a heavy investment. But I do think it’s worth looking at.
Is it widely participated in? Usually a state will have 30 trainees each
year. One key reason to train parents together with young people is to help parents understand
that the real goal is to get their child to the point where they stand on their own two
feet. And that’s a really important message, I think, in many parent leadership programs,
but particularly disabilities, where parents tend to think sometimes that their duty is
to find a therapeutic program that will make the disability go away, rather than finding
a way to facilitate the function of the child. I think that it’s very hard to develop genuine
parent and community leadership in the environment that benefits if parents are not engaged.
So corporate education movement lists as one of its prerequisite appointed school boards.
When you look at the schools that replace public schools, they don’t have active parent
boards, they have governing boards with people on it but a couple parents.
I think that, one, educators should be the leaders of an education system, not business
people. I think that’s critical. I think there’s a role for business, but it is not set in
policy. I’ve met with people, I’ve been on panels
with people that were directors of schools that called themselves education entrepreneurs.
I want to stand on this, because you can’t talk about parent leadership in the urban
environment unless you deal with this issue, right? I think that really we develop a proposal
along with annanberg and the National Education Association and the American federation of
teachers called sustainable community schools, that save money, one, we don’t believe that
ESEA should be competitive, there shouldn’t be winners and losers. I think the reauthorization
of ESEA is important. But also that those resources need to go towards stabilizing communities.
So we want sustainable community schools that focus on a strong focus on school culture,
curriculum and staffing, a studentcentered culture, that provide wraparound supports
for every child. I just put my son in a school on the north
side of Chicago, that’s a long story, but I put him in this school because the school
in my neighborhood is absolutely destabilized. When I went to the school, it had 500 students,
it had more paraprofessionals than teachers. At the neighborhood school, with the same
amount of students in my neighborhood, only four teacher aides in the building.
Equity is an issue we’re not dealing with. We need wraparound supports to help remove
those obstacles from our young people. That’s why community schools are so important. I
was the resource coordinator at South Shore high school. We pulled the entire community
polled the entire community, what do you want to see? One young man wanted a recording studio.
We built one. Every child that walked in, I give them a newspaper article, you’re going
to write your rap about this, sing about gentrification, you’re going to do a song about the economic
crisis. Because they were in the recording studio, can you imagine a 19yearold that dropped
out of school, sitting there learning about similes, hyperboles and metaphors? It was
responsive to the needs and desires of people in the community.
Finally, the schools have to be community institutions. If we’re engaged in the school,
if our input is respected, we will own the school success and own its struggles. If not,
then again, you have alien institutions in your neighborhood.
Let me also take a shot at your question. I think that when you think about investment
in parent leadership, for me it feels like you have to invest on two tracks here. Oftentimes
we think of leadership development for parents, because we need to teach them how to do something.
And sure, we all benefit from learning and equipping ourselves with these skills. And
there is a huge need for that investment. Parents all the time, especially when they’re
appointed to school site councils say to me, ca I don’t know what my job is. No one is
training me. I don’t know how to read this budget. I want to make a contribution. I know
I have something to say, but we weren’t investing in building their capacity to be amazing knock
it out of the ballpark school site members, and that’s what they wanted to be.
So there is a deep need for that investment across all levels of leadership. But I also
think we need an investment of those whose attitudes we need to change about parents.
And there is a lot of attitude changing that we need to make. Because school systems and
people that work inside of them, unfortunately, do not want to share power, and they especially
do not want to share power with poor people and black people and brown people. And that’s
just the truth. And until we invest in the kind of attitude change, I don’t know how
else to say it, enlightenment, skill building, empathy, just, yes, we need to do the disrupting,
then I think we’re not going to get� we’re not going to yield what we need to yield in
our schools. It will continue to become a voice for some, and not a voice for all.
What we know is that when parents do not have a voice, when we do not really honor who they
are as they are the customer, we are there to serve them, then we will continue to have
a system that works for those parents, that is equipped, that has confidence, that has
a sense of entitlement, and we honor that. We honor that at school systems. When we see
parents, I remember maybe this is why I have carried this for 25, 30 years in my career,
when I was a third grade student my mother, who did not speak English, who didn’t dress
very well because she didn’t have money, who did not have the confidence to ask questions,
I remember the day she came into the office, I think I might have gotten in trouble for
something, because I don’t know why else she would have come, I remember the people behind
the counter laughing at her. And ridiculing who she was, because of how she looked, because
she didn’t speak their language. I would love to say that I wish those days
were gone. But I saw that over and over again when I was a school board member. If we don’t
change those attitudes, I don’t think we will see the kind of family and parent engagement
that we know is crucial for our kids to succeed. Time for one last question. And we have a
lovely winner. My name is Zabrina Epps, Prince George’s County
Public Schools board member. I also bring greetings from higher education, which is
why I ran for Prince George’s County Public Schools. Paragraph so lot’s happened, and
we have a lot of people on the board now, some are elected, some appointed. The reason
I engage with parents every day, they email me to tell me what the system is not doing
for them. There’s always a line that says something
to the effect of, you know, I can’t believe this is what you want for my child. So I know
my heart, and I know that that is absolutely not what I want for their children. I want
their children to have equity and academic excellence.
I’m dying to have a conversation about that in the year and a half that I’ve been serving.
It’s not happening. So I have decided that now that the oversight, the check and balance
between governance and the CEO’s desire to run the system how he seats fit, and close
schools without consulting parents and put schools in schools without consulting parents,
and that I would try to advocate for parents with their children, but I don’t know how.
So I’m taking the step out on a limb and being courageous and asking for help. Teach me how
to do that, because that’s not in my training. And teach me how to make it better for the
130 or so children in Prince George’s County. [Applause] Let’s connect with us after this panel and
here at IEL, we happen to be in Washington, DC, we are happy to help with that. There
are other experts in the room like Anne Henderson, Vito and great many folks who have experience
on the ground. I think actually that statement is a natural way to close out. We started
with a leadership panel and we have somebody actually in governance and leadership who
said “I need help.” The truth is that that’s the case all around the country. A lot of
folks find themselves in positions of leadership and it really is almost accidental, unless
they have a personal interest in this issue of engaging families and doing it well. You
can study up to the PhD level, the EdD level and never take a course on family engagement,
parent involvement, unless that’s an interest of yours. Yet, you can’t wait for preservice
to get its act together. We don’t have the luxury of doing that. We’ve got to have this
examination of caring folks in positions of influence that push the envelope of parent
leaders and advocates and community organizers that force us to do a better job, and we’ve
got to collaborate. I think Jitu, I can’t remember all your four
things, but they certainly are germane in terms of what we all need. Certainly all need
to believe, we certainly all need to collaborate. We certainly all need to work more closely
together on this critical issue. So I want to give one last round of applause to our
panel. [Applause]
I believe we’re going to take a fiveminute break.

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