Community Conversations

I've been fortunate this past week to participate in some incredible conversations. Whether as an active participant (a partner in the dialogue) or as an active listener (a conference call or a webinar). While I won't write every word here, these were the bits that I connected with the most:

Thanks to Parenting Magazine Mom Congress I was able to listen in on a conversation with Lily Eskelsen, VP of the NEA, about their Priority Schools campaign. According to the NEA website, "Through our Priority Schools Campaign, we’re promoting increased professionalism and systemic education reform in some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools; what we call priority schools. Partnerships between schools, school districts and educators are a largely untold story, especially to many people exposed to a steady diet of attacks on unions. But across the country, in community after community, collective bargaining and other forms of consensus and collaboration are transforming public education."  website Now while the NEA is focusing on specific schools for this campaign, I'd like to say that I consider all our public schools a priority. That while my children's school (and district) isn't specifically a part of this initiative, I can follow these steps:

  • Make the Priority Schools Campaign a priority for your civic, faith, and social organizations. This means facilitating the commitment of local organizations to work collaboratively with students, parents, teachers, and schools. (Note: in Louisville we have this type of commitment started with what is known as the 55K Degrees Initiative).
  • Create Partnerships. Identify like minded individuals and groups in your community.
  • Work with local coalitions.
  • Adopt a school. And truthfully this is something we have all already done if we are a room parent, a PTA/PTO member, a field trip chaperone's...we are already engaged with our child's school in some way, even if we just send in box tops every week. 
  • Tutor and mentor a struggling student. Again, in Louisville we have a great program called Every1Reads. But for your school you may need to create an Every1Adds for a math tutoring programs, or Every1Gravititates for a science program. Or there could be something in existence that just needs your participation. Contact your school superintendent and find out. 
  • Volunteer in a priority school. Well, since we've already established that every school is a priority and that you are already a volunteer, it may be that you speak about your positive experiences to recruit other volunteers. 
  • Influence policy. (You KNOW this is my favorite!) Become involved in the work of your local legislative bodies to influence school board policies that DIRECTLY impact and affect high needs schools. 
  • Apply for a grant. You don't have to do this alone. Connect with your school's PTA/PTO or other parent group as well as school administration. Grants can be complicated, but many times a local library may offer a workshop about grant writing which can help. 
As the biggest part of this conversation, the emphasis was placed on PARTNERSHIPS. That while teachers may be the "at school" experts, PARENTS are the "at home" experts. So if we create a continuing conversation with one another, where we work together to create shared goals, then we can turnaround a struggling school. Turnaround is a community effort and a collaborative process. 

So later that day I was able to participate in an Ed Week webinar "Powerful Partnerships: Creating Community Coalitions for District Reform." Are you sensing a theme for the day? The focus of this webinar was the work that Say Yes to Education has been doing (particularly in Syracuse, NY). They believe that the entire community (there's that word again) has to be involved, and that reform is not just one aspect but a cohesive effort in three areas: academic, social/emotional, and health. Really, it's a whole child approach (which if you are interested the ASCD, a membership organization connected to learning/teaching and has a great webinar planned, The Common Core of a Whole Child Approach, about common core and education).
As Say Yes discussed, education should be about a common agenda and shared measurement, using continuous communication and mutually reinforcing activities. That you need dedicated leaders who continually facilitate and drive the process and that truthfully it becomes a community transformation, not just an individual student or school. 

One day, two different conversations, same focus: COMMUNITY. I am honored to be a part of the Mom Congress community of dedicated parents who, although we have different concerns in our States and cities about education, we really are committed to the same goals: that every child deserves the very best opportunities that we as a community can provide. That we need to support early childhood education initiatives, healthy school breakfasts/lunches, create and support volunteer/mentoring/parent engagement programs, and to ask leadership to make children a priority.

Community: A group of people living together in one place, esp. one practicing common ownership. 

In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it - Marianne Williamson

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