I recently returned from the exciting and dynamic discourse with NBC’s Education Nation as their panelist on “Stepping Up: The Power of a Parent Advocate”. Click here to hear the discussion. Now I’m considering to go to a Senate Hearing and meeting with the U. S. Department of Education (DOE) in our nation’s capital? In New York, I was “waiting to exhale” now, I’m “waiting to inhale”. Okay, let me breathe…. So now I’m back in Washington with these prolific women from Parenting Magazine’s (PM) Mom Congress. Some of us had already met with some of the DOE staff including Civil Rights Assistant Secretary, Russlyn Ali, when a few of us were selected as White House Champions of Change, such as Myrdin Thompson(KY), Felisa Hilbert(OK) and PM’s Editor, Cathy McManus. However, this session was more intimate, providing more time to dialog about the future and concerns we have for the prosperity for our children within that future.
We met with the Outreach staff, Carrie Jasper and Massie Ritsch. After Windy Tuck(SC), Melissa Bilash(PA) and Rachel Laiserin(NY) articulated their heartfelt concerns, I took liberty to voice my continuous concerns over a number of issues including:
- Accountability of staff and teachers. I serve on our state’s Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee with Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). Multiple measures will be used to help determine effectiveness and is an important consideration as many teachers don’t want to be judged on test scores alone. Also, I emphasized that such evaluations will be used (in our state) as a tool to identify needed resources and opportunities that could cause teachers and staff to improve.
- Increased support for gifted and special education should be given states so they can more adequately trickle funds down to the districts.
- Teachers, superintendents and staff must be more diverse and more training and time are needed for teachers to adapt to students’ diverse learning styles.
- I believe foreign language classes should be offered throughout elementary school instead of waiting until high school. This would better prepare our children to graduate as bilinguals.
- I also expressed concern over Title I funding for high schools and recognized that it should be more commensurate with elementary schools.
- My concern over the achievement gap was not concealed as I shared my experience as a panelist on our Kentucky NAACP Convention and the observation that the gap can be detected before children even enter school and thus, Early Learning should be mandatory!
- Funding, partnerships and after school opportunities are also required to offer more Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) are also needed as well as the Arts! I was honored to mention an offering of organizations I was leading, UCAN’s and NEKAGE’s – a STEM Summer Camp. The camp stemmed from an After-School Club I had created with the great support and resources of the Russell Area Technology Center after I completed Commonwealth Institute of Parent Leadership’s (CIPL) Training.
- I concluded as President John Kennedy suggested and asked, “What do you need from us?” How can we help the DOE to accomplish these goals?
- In addition to sharing issues impacting some of the more rural segments for the Alabama Delegate, Jerri Reason, she also recorded the meeting for us all. We welcomed Volunteerspot’s representative there as well.
The next day, we attended the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee’s Hearing on the Reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which sought to refurbish No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its accountability system. The meeting and hearing were wonderful experiences and it was worth making the drive to Washington, D. C. from Northeast Kentucky.
In the hearing, chaired by Sen. Harkin (IA) pictured below, we heard testimonies from superintendents, teachers, organizational leaders, etc from across the country including D. C., Tennessee, New York, Texas,
Maryland and Idaho. From Kentucky, there were Pam Geisselhardt, Gifted & Talented Coordinator and Elmer Thomas, a high school Principal. Our senator of Kentucky, Rand Paul, serves on the HELP committee as well. Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference spoke very passionately about concerns of equal access for quality education for all.
While I was impressed by the testimonies and issues discussed, there was still one disturbing point that overshadowed this enlightening experience for me. There were no specific witnesses as Parents/Parent Advocates! Many of us submitted our background information and expressed our willingness and desire to testify at this hearing.
After this hearing, I attended a meeting with senior staff members of Sen. Paul’s office. I was encouraged by the time taken to hear my concerns and some ideas. He stated that groups like Parent Teacher Association (PTA), parents and others are welcome to share concerns and suggestions for regarding ESEA or other issues.
As though this jaunt was not enough, after driving back to Kentucky, I scooped up my daughter and drove to Cincinnati, Oh where I was invited to serve as parent consultant for Sec. Arne Duncan’s Town Hall there. He was joined by local advocate, 2010 Mom Congress Ohio delegate Emily Rempe for an open question and answer period from 6-7pm, co-hosted by Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress. Sec. Duncan wanted to explain how the proposed tax cuts and tax credits would allow companies to hire more thus putting more money in the hands of working Americans.
- Ohio would receive $985 million and Kentucky $390 million for modernization efforts to rebuild crumbling buildings and classes.
- The funding would support 12,800 jobs in Ohio and 5,100 in Kentucky.
- Ohio would also receive $1 billion — enough to prevent an estimated 14,200 teacher layoffs for one school year. Kentucky would get $406 million — enough to prevent an estimated 6,100 teacher layoffs for one school year.”
I remember the many questions some of the parents had at our round table following the town hall, concerning their desire to be more engaged in their children’s education. It was “interesting” pulling my dusty Spanish out of the closet and enjoyable communicating with diverse parents. “Si, mas los libros son muy importante! Necisitamos tener muchas mas, Si” See, I was keeping it simple. In English, it’s “Yes, more books are very important. We need to have many more, yes?” They kindly responded to my efforts, but fortunately, a translator was present. Topics included local education reform issues as well as national concerns including college readiness and financial support.