Our mission is to engage, educate, and activate public school parents to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their schools, in their communities, with elected representatives, and at the ballot box.
Public education is full of buzzwords, used individually or strung together into slogans. Nowhere is this public-relations practice more evident than in the Los Angeles Unified School District. You’re always hearing and seeing them: Student Achievement, School Safety, Transparency, Accountability, I Love LAUSD and, most recently, Kids First.
Another popular slogan often tossed around is Parent Engagement. This sounds wonderfully warm and fuzzy when it’s mentioned at Back to School Night, in a PTA meeting or at an orientation session for school volunteers. The term conjures up visions of bake sales, field-trip chaperoning, helping teachers in classrooms, working with the principal to hammer out next year’s budget, and all the things we usually associate with being an involved parent at our child’s school.
While some school principals understand the tremendous value of proactively engaging their students’ parents on campus, many don’t. Whether it’s due to inexperience as a school leader or a wrongheaded philosophy that parents are a potential problem to be controlled, the belief among some administrators that they don’t need or want to parents to fully participate in the education of their children is unfortunately pervasive throughout LAUSD.
So it’s no surprise that as administrators rise through the District ranks to positions of increasing authority, their mixed feelings about parent engagement continue to influence their actions and decisions. This same uncertainty affects the trio of District-level parent committees: the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), the District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).
Members of these committees are recruited from schools all over LAUSD, and while they come with the best of intentions to volunteer their time in the hope of helping the District improve their own kids’ education and the education of all students, often they find that their contributions are not valued and appreciated in the way they expected.
Speak UP joined Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) and student leaders at Palisades High Wednesday at a drive to register and pre-register nearly 200 students on campus to vote in less than an hour.
Melvoin told the students he would like to see the voting age lowered to 16 or 17 and the voting process made easier for everyone. “We should have early voting. We should have online voting,” Melvoin said. “Voting should be a national holiday. We should have to opt out of voting.”
He also explained the importance of voting in local elections, such as school Board races, not just in high-profile national elections. “I’m proud to say I have never missed an election in my life. It is our civic duty,” Melvoin said. “The most radical thing you can do is not walk out of class or dye your hair or protest. The most radical thing you can do it vote.”
Student leaders Amir Ebtehadj, Eli Safaie-Kia and Deven Radfar organized dozens of students to help register their classmates.
“What we have to remember is that 16-, 17-, 18- year olds, we can make a difference,” Ebtehadj told the crowd of students. “We have the ability to make change.”
Speak UP hopes to conduct more voter registration drives at other Los Angeles high schools in coming weeks.
Speak UP has launched a Spanish language website and Facebook page dedicated to serving Spanish-speaking parents in Los Angeles and California. All of Speak UP’s content, including Board Watch, will be delivered in Spanish, and the voices and issues of Spanish-speaking parents will be highlighted in blogs and videos.
“We are excited to expand our outreach to parents whose primary language is Spanish. In a school district and state that is home to so many Spanish-speaking families, it has always been our goal to provide Spanish-language content that will help them stay informed of issues critical to achieving an excellent, equitable public education,” said Speak UP Executive Director Katie Braude.
The Spanish website and Facebook launch follows the expansion of Speak UP’s parent engagement team across all LAUSD Board Districts, including the recent hiring of three parent engagement coordinators who are fluent in Spanish.
A system-wide model of Collaboration has the potential to be a win-win for the district and teachers. Teachers get freedom, and the district gets results that stem from the peer accountability this model creates. And as for parents -- who are forced to navigate this fractious war over how to improve public education – they get a détente so we can all focus on the kids.
When schools officially adopt a PLC culture, accountability infuses every aspect of the school, from contracts to schedules. Teachers have the clearly defined responsibility of documenting how well students are progressing with the curriculum and sharing their findings every week or two. If a teacher shows up to meetings empty handed, everyone notices, helps and/or pushes back. So while districts, unions and reformers work through the difficult process of creating a holistic teacher evaluation system, this model can create a quiet peer accountability that is both effective and uncontroversial.
With declining enrollment, a looming fiscal crisis, and a persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement gap, LAUSD is at a critical juncture as it searches for a new superintendent to lead through turbulent times.
Many of us have witnessed decades of “reforms” that have had no significant impact on closing the achievement gap or addressing the systemic flaws at its root. The school board has the opportunity now to dramatically shift course and select a new leader with a bold vision to radically redesign the district and make the kinds of sweeping changes that insiders have so far resisted. And that leader must treat parents as full partners in shaping the policies that directly affect our kids.
The last time the board chose a superintendent, members emphasized consensus and insisted upon a unanimous choice. The new board that was elected last year, however, came in with a clear mandate for change. “Disruption” is the word of the moment, and we believe it’s apt. We need a change agent, and unanimity should not be the board’s primary concern.
Now is the time to seriously downsize and decentralize the district, bringing more local autonomy, equity, and accountability to all district schools. It’s time to expand and replicate schools that are working well for all kids — regardless of model — and make the hard choices to rework, consolidate or close schools that have been persistently failing for many years, despite additional resources provided.
Such changes must be made in a thoughtful way that won’t increase burdens on our city’s most impoverished families. But parents see the clear urgency, and they are not going to stick around to wait for change. We want a new leader with a strong strategic plan and a willingness to take risks to help all kids, turn around underperforming schools, and save LAUSD from insolvency.
The mission of Speak UP is to engage, educate and activate parents and community members to advocate for excellent, equitable public education at their children’s schools, in their communities, with elected representatives and at the ballot box.
La misión de Speak UP es involucrar, educar y activar a los padres y miembros de la comunidad para abogar en las escuelas de sus hijos, en sus comunidades, con representantes electos y en las urnas por una educación pública excelente y equitativa.