A Delaware education nonprofit that wants to foster radical change in state schools by activating the involvement of Delawareans is forming Parent Power, a group of mom, dads and grandparents who want to be involved in the system.
Step one, said Sharon Sade’ Truiett, director of advocacy for First State Educate, is for parents to begin attending their local school board meetings, whether that’s in-person or virtually, to educate themselves about what’s going on.
Parent Power held an organizing meeting in January, attended by the president of the Virginia Parent Teacher Association president. It will meet again Feb. 28.
First State Educate Executive Director Laurisa Schutt said she formed the group after working for Teach for America and realizing how many students were not thriving.
In addition to the problems imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Schutt said school systems don’t have control of how their monies are spent and that means they have no flexibility to put money where it is needed or to solve a local problem.
Among the issues she sees are too many children in classes, particularly elementary classes. That makes it hard for teachers to give children the individual attention they need.
“Nobody has been set up for success,” she said. “Students are not reaching their potential.”
Schutt said she’s interested in parent power because she’s seen it work.
One teacher she supervised was stunned to find that most of her fifth grade students could not read at the grade level. So the teacher began calling parents and asking to meet with them. Few realized their children were not reading at the grade level.
When the teacher and parents starting working together, reading comprehension and interest soared, Schutt said.
The money pouring into schools hrough the American Rescue Plan Act caught Schutt’s attention.
“It’s time for cures, not band-aids,” her website says. “It’s time to be bold with our school leaders and ask the hard questions.”
The organization wants parents and the system to shun the status quo, admit it’s time to do thing differently and stop making small tweaks to a system that doesn’t work, according to the website.
Truiett also is a former teacher who felt burned out and left the classroom to go into public relations. When she met Schutt, she realized their interests aligned and joined First State Educate.
“We are unapologetic and partner with people demanding excellence and transparency,” Truiett said. “When we were planning for this year, we said that the parent voice is missing. We want to empower our parents to show up, to speak up, to act together.”
First State Educate had some focus groups in October and met on Zoom with other parents, national parent organizations and others. In the meantime, Schutt had become acquainted with Olga Sterling-Rossiter.
Parents have a right to be involved with what is and what isn’t happening with their children, Sterling-Rossiter said.
“I was already fired up as a parent because I believe that the only way to make things happen is to open your mouth,” said Sterling-Rossiter. “You have to be able to communicate, you have to say what’s wrong and you have to be willing to work towards a solution.”
She has recently founded a nonprofit called A Necessary Noise to help teach parents how to advocate for their children.
“We hear so often that our children are our future,” Sterling-Rossiter said. “If we’re not aligning the principles and the foundation and reaching our hands across the aisle and using our voices to really get into what that future looks like for them, there won’t be one. And as we’re looking right now, it’s slim to none.”
She hopes to help parents bond in their concern over schools, but also as a group. One of the things she’s like to foster are having the Parent Power members volunteer together at various nonprofits.
Sterling-Rossiter said parents have to feel comfortable in their abilities to address the system and facilitate the change they want.
“Our voices are our tools and we’re going to use them,” she said. “This is boots on the ground. It’s work. It’s diving in with consistency. It’s commitment. And it’s love and it’s faith based for me as well.”
Pamela B. Croom, president of the Virginia PTA, said she saw the Parent Power flyer and decided to tune in partly because the states are neighbors.
“Part of our role is parent engagement and involvement, but what is happening in our communities today is scaring a lot of parents away form having a voice,” she said.
Croom said she hoped to pick up some ideas and possibly partner with Parent Power.
“When other people are telling our parents they have a voice, sometimes that works a lot better than coming from us,” she said.
To help parents become more comfortable with addressing and questioning school boards, First State Educate offers a list of six questions to ask about how the district plans to spend American Rescue Plan Act money. Find it here.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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