Early Childhood Education

 1533824_10154785462020277_2301900467372946445_nAmericans have many values that we hold dearly.  As shared in Real Family Values: Child Care and Early Childhood Education, “Americans hold few values dearer than equality, fairness, and opportunity, and high-quality early education is a key tool that helps level the playing field for children from low-income families. Access to high-quality child care and early childhood education has been shown to set children on a path to success, and it is one of the most important tools we have to break the cycle of poverty that exacerbates inequality in the United States. Early learning is also known to prepare children for school, but studies of Head Start participants have also shown that children who receive quality childhood education are healthier, stay in school longer, and earn more in their futures.”

Parent Engagement is also a key element impacting students’ performance.  Statistics also show that the achievement gap actually starts before students enter kindergarten –“48 percent of children from low-income families are not ready for school by age 5, and these low-income children face a 15-month learning gap compared to their more affluent peers.”  Unfortunately, many families have work demands and other challenges that prevent each child from receiving the early support needed.  Schools must recognize the importance of meeting children where they are so early high quality child care must be provided for all children who might not receive it otherwise.

The Child CARE Act, introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards  and the Right Start Child Care and Education Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Albert Ruppersberger (both of Maryland) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA), sought to amend the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit by allowing more families access to it. This would particularly help low-income families cover the cost of child care.  Legislation such as the Strong Start for America’s Children Act requires investments in our future.  The Children’s Defense Fund explains “The Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697/H.R. 3461) invests in and encourages expansions of high quality home visiting programs, Early Head Start, Head Start, child care, pre-kindergarten and quality kindergarten programs to provide high quality early childhood development and learning experiences for low-income and vulnerable children from birth through age 5.”   This act also promotes family support and parent engagement and assess with parents, community members and organizations a coordinated system to facilitate referrals and provision of services related to health, nutrition, mental health, disabilities and family support for children enrolled.  Read a short summary here.  You can also see child care status by state here.

For example, in our state, here is an excerpt of just some of the information provided.  Even though Kentucky has some excellent schools, as you can see where less than 1/5  of 3 year olds and less than 1/2 of 4 year olds are in Head Start; much more than half of our students are not doing math or reading at grade level in 4th and 8th grades.

Child Hunger in Kentucky:  

  • Number of children who receive SNAP (food stamps) 318,000;
  • Percent of eligible persons who receive SNAP (food stamps) 85%
  • Number of children in the School Lunch Program 549,534
  • Number of children in the Summer Food Service Program 33,091
  • Number of women and children receiving WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) 132,698.  

Early Childhood Development in Kentucky:

  • Percent of children under age 6 with all parents in the labor force 64.3%
  • Number of children served by Head Start 20,687
  • Average monthly number of children served by the Child Care Development Fund/CCDBG 30,900
  • Average annual cost of child care for a four-year-old in a center $5,766
  • Percent of 3-year-olds enrolled in state pre-k, Head Start, or special education programs 17.2%
  • Percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-k, Head Start, or special education programs 47.8%.

Education in Kentucky:

  • Annual expenditure per public school pupil $8,957
  • Percent of public school fourth graders: unable to read at grade level 64.5% unable to do math at grade level 61.2%
  • Percent of public school eighth graders: unable to read at grade level 63.7% unable to do math at grade level 69.3%
  • Number (percentage) of 16- to 19-year-olds who are not enrolled in school and have not graduated from high school 10,241 (4.3%).

The trends in our country are clear that lower- income families have less resources and often receive the least amount of support for the challenges they face.  America is among the richest countries, yet students should not have to be financially rich to receive a rich education.   We must invest early in education and high quality child care and reduce the cost we pay in the end due to under-educated students, higher dropouts which lead to costly incarcerations and lost work force.  All opportunities are not fair and equal, but Fair and Equal access to high quality learning opportunities should be everyone’s goal to insure our students are career and college ready and beyond. 

Posted in Achievement Gap, Early Childhood Education, Family Engagement, Parent Engagement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

JROTC, Minorities and the Military

150px-USAJROTC-SSIA recent article highlighted some troubling trends with Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) programs that target minorities for recruitment into the military-directly or indirectly. The Chicago Reporter points out that Chicago Public Schools is home to the largest junior reserve program in the country, with more than 9,000 cadets enrolled in programs at 45 of the district’s 104 high schools.  Ninety-three percent of Chicago junior reserve cadets are African American or Hispanic, according to March figures from the CPS’ Department of JROTC.  More than 70 percent of junior reserve programs are offered in high schools located in majority-black or majority-Latino ZIP codes.


Brenda receiving Award from Sgt. Parker


Superintendent Finch, My mom-Gaynell Drummer, and Asst. Super. (rt)

I participated in Army JROTC at Calumet High School in Chicago all four years and loved it! I was the 2nd highest ranking officer and even was presented an award and medal by our leader, Sgt. Parker and the CPS Superintendents for a city competition I won. Yes, I put this on my college applications! I was also in honors classes and in a Principal Scholar’s program promoting Engineering with extra Math and Science classes that I also loved! Even though we learned history and about some wars as do students taking American and European History, we also learned about discipline, leadership skills, marksmanship, military history, & drill routines.  I was a class leader and enjoyed other facets of JROTC. We received ribbons for being on the honor roll, etc.   There were scholarships available, but if students do ROTC in college all 4 years, they were required to go into the military.

“In a February 2000 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the armed service chiefs of staff testified that 30%–50% of graduating JROTC cadets go on to join the military overall where 50% of those from Air Force JROTC go to the military.”   General Colin Powell said in his 1995 autobiography, My American Journey, that “the armed forces might get a youngster more inclined to enlist as a result of Junior ROTC,” but added that “Inner-city kids, many from broken homes, found stability and role models in Junior ROTC.”  Former United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen referred to JROTC as “one of the best recruitment programs we could have.”

The armed forces was ordered to be integrated by President Truman in 1948.  Out of approximately 1.1m in the army, more than 80 percent of soldiers are male, and 61.4 percent are Anglo; 20 percent are black, with 11.7 percent Hispanic. “There are only 53 minority generals among 391 in the Army, or 14 percent….

The Army’s Cadet Command, which oversees junior and senior ROTC programs in 1,731 high schools and 1,000 colleges, has taken steps to diversify the force.”  However, high schools are focusing on educating students to be College and Career Ready. I suppose this option would include those who might want to pursue military careers. I do think this article raises a good concern to make sure we do not have a conflict of interest where we lag in investment and effort to better educate our students so that the military can be better filled while possibly targeting minorities to do so. With that said, we shouldn’t overlook the benefits of exposing our students to multiple subject areas and interests that might make school itself more bearable for some. Click here to see other benefits of JROTC.

Related Articles:

In Chicago schools’ Junior ROTC programs, some see a troubling trend

ROTC at NMSU Targets Latinos

Army-looking-to-recruit-more-minorities-to-become Officers

Posted in Diversity, Military Families, ROTC | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Veterans of “armed forces” for Equality


Black Panther 40th Reunion in Oakland, Ca.

While we remember our veterans for whom we are deeply grateful, let us also take time to appreciate those “veterans of the city wars” fought for peace and freedom.  In addition to those fighting in the U. S. Armed Forces, there are many who went up against “armed forces” while fighting in the streets for the civil rights promised to African-Americans and all Americans. Many of our rights were written “on paper“, however, many of the leaders fighting for our rights were portrayed “in papers” as villains, imprisoned, beat or assassinated.


Many Black groups speaking against poverty, unemployment, unequal rights,  war, etc. were targeted by our government. The Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover issued directives governing COINTELPRO, ordering FBI agents to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” the activities of these movements and their leaders.  This operation was started shortly after the Black Panther Party was formed.  Eighty-Five percent of its resources were used against Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality, other civil rights organizations; black nationalist groups; and the American Indian Movement.  The other 15% was used on white hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan even though the Klan had lynched/killed thousands of blacks, bombed many of their families, churches and homes.

Fred Hampton

Chicago’s Black Panther leader, was brutally murdered by the police in a raid soon to be forty-four years ago on the Chicago’s West side.  Months later, a

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton

federal investigation showed that only one shot was fired by the Panthers, although that number remained in dispute. Police fired 82 to 99 shots. Many saw this raid as a pretext to kill Fred Hampton, 21 years old. As he stated, “You have to understand that people have to pay the price for peace. You dare to Struggle, you dare to win.”  Mr. Hampton also said, ” You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.”

Geronimo Pratt

Geronimo studied political science at UCLA using a GI Bill from his service in the army.  As a Black Panther leader, he was wrongfully imprisoned for a 1972 kidnapping and murder for 27 years, while 8 of those years were in solitary confinement.  Johnny Cochran was on his legal defense team, who was known for “defending the underdog”.  While in prison, Pratt studied law, built a defense, and together got his conviction vacated.  He was freed in 1997,

Geronimo Pratt

Geronimo Pratt

eventually receiving $4.5 million as civil suit settlement for false imprisonment, with $2.75m being paid by L. A. and $1.75m by U. S. Dept. of Justice.  He was working as a human rights activist up until the time of his death. He helped others believed to be wrongly imprisoned such as journalist and fellow Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal.  He was removed from death row in 2012, after Pratt’s death in 2011 in his adopted land of Tanzania of East Africa.  He was also the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

Dr. Huey Newton

Seale and Newton, heavily inspired by Malcolm X, a civil rights leader assassinated in 1965, and his teachings, joined together in October 1966 to create the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and adopt the slain activist’s slogan “Freedom by any means necessary” as their own.  Seale became the chairman of the Black Panther Party and underwent FBI surveillance as part of its COINTELPRO program.  Newton earned a Ph.D. in Social

Huey Newton

Huey Newton

Science.  Huey spent time in prison for manslaughter and later was fatally shot three times in the head in 1989 after leaving a crack house by a member of the Black Guerilla Family. Unfortunately, even some veterans “in the US Armed Forces” became hooked on drugs as well.  In 2011, it was estimated that 35% of soldiers were addicted to prescription drugs – illegal drug addictions are also quite concerning.  Spike Lee made a movie, The Huey P. Newton Story in 2001.  The movie was initially created, written and performed, as a solo performance, by Roger Guenveur Smith.

Bobby Hutton

Bobby was recruited by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.   He and Bobby were also some of the Panthers who rallied at their capital against the Mulford Act, a bill that would prohibit carrying loaded firearms in public and was arrested for carrying a gun.  Bobby Hutton was killed at age 17 at an ambush against police a week after Dr. King’s assassination.

Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seale and other BPP at Capital protesting Mulford Act.

Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seale and other Black Panthers at Capital protesting Mulford Act.

Eldridge Cleaver said, “police shot Bobby more than a dozen times after he had surrendered and had stripped down to his underwear to prove that he was unarmed.” Being the first Black Panther killed, he became a martyr for the cause.    Thousands attended Lil Bobby’s funeral, including actor Marlon Brando and author James Baldwin.  As of 1998, Lil’ Bobby Day is celebrated April 11th in California. His grave just received a headstone one decade ago.

Irene Morgan

Irene Morgan

Irene Morgan

In 1944, a bus driver tried to make a black lady, Irene Morgan, give up her seat to whites.  Ms. Morgan refused, spoke up and was represented by the NAACP in the Supreme Court which struck down laws for segregated seating on interstate travel.  This sparked the Freedom Riders led by James Farmer.  In 1944, Rosa Parks was helping the NAACP investigate the gang rape of Recy Taylor in Alabama which was around a decade before Rosa refused to give up her seat which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

James L. Farmer

Farmer is also known as one of the “big four” civil rights leaders.  When he was 21, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited him to the White House for a conversation with the president.  In  the following year, 1942, Farmer co-founded what later became the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) which was integrated by gender and race.

James Farmer

James Farmer

Despite the victory of Irene Morgan vs. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960) to integrate interstate travel, southern states didn’t abide by it. Farmer is known for helping pioneer the dangerous “Freedom Rides”

Freedom Riders Burning Bus

Freedom Riders Burning Bus, 1961

to integrate buses. Some of their routes had been ambushed by the KKK and the bus was firebombed while the doors were held closed near Anniston, Al.  An explosion actually caused the hatemongers to release the doors allowing the freedom riders to escape.  They were still beaten. Most were refused care at the hospital and those who did get admitted, were tossed out due to angry mobs outside. Attorney General Kennedy sent a helper but at another stop, KKK beat the riders with bats and iron pipes.  The Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary was celebrated in 2011.

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael was a freedom train rider who also Stokely_Carmichael_1967was a leader of SNCC and the Black Panther Party. He was one of the riders sent to Parchman prison for more than a month and a half. “A call went out across the country to keep the Freedom Rides going and ‘fill the jails‘ of Mississippi” with freedom riders. While being hurt one time in jail as a rider, Carmichael began singing to the guards, “I’m gonna tell God how you treat me,” and the prisoners joined in.  The governor was said to instruct guards to “break their spirit, not their bones. Stokely kept spirits up of the prisoners in jail by telling jokes. Many sang freedom songs which they felt fortified their unity, purpose and spirits.  He later changed his name to Kwame Ture after rejecting the Black Panthers as not being separatists as he served political leaders in Ghana. The anniversary of his death of 15 years is this month.  

Many other great civil rights leaders were assassinated while fighting for country’s freedoms including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers,  President John F. Kennedy, U. S. Senator Robert Kennedy and many more.  Today’s freedoms have become more tangible because of the vision and sacrifice of these leaders.  Below, are  leaders who are some of the survivors of those movements and are still “keeping the good fight”! This brief list does not touch our iceberg of leaders such as Gen. Colin Powell, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Congressman John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman – but these are some that are not mentioned as often.

Rep. Bobby Rush

A Black Panther later becoming a U. S. Representative of Illinois for the

Rep. Bobby Rush (IL)

Rep. Bobby Rush (IL)

Chicago area since 1993. Rep. Bobby Rush, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, recently organized a

Rep. Jackson(Tx), Bren Martin, Rep. Bobby Rush(Il)

Rep. Jackson(Tx), Bren, Rep. Bobby Rush

National Emergency Violence Summit in Chicago this summer. I was proud to attend this summit in my hometown.  Rep. Rush also recently led a tour with U. S. Illinois Senator Kirk through Englewood, one of the hot spots of violence in Chicago.  He wanted to show the link between violence and the real issues of creating jobs and providing affordable housing. Follow @RepBobbyRush.

Bobby Seale

Bobby Seale

Bobby Seale

Co-founder of the Black Panther Party also targeted by CoIntelPro.  Bobby Seale was with Lil Bobby Hutton when the protested in Sacramento against the Mulford Act, which would thwart their legal right to patrol the police with guns as they felt it necessary to defend themselves against police brutality.  He was added to a charged group making it the “Chicago Eight” defendants for  conspiracy and inciting to riot, in the wake of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago.  The trial of the Chicago Eight was depicted in the 1987 HBO television movie Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, whose script relied heavily upon transcripts from the court proceedings.  The Black Panther Party celebrated its 47th anniversary last month where Bobby Seale was on the agenda and 40 year anniversary in 2006 in California. Bobby cooks now and has a book, Barbeque’ N with Bobby. Follow @BobbySealeCom.

Dr. Angela Davis

Angela_davis_at_esuDo you believe stories that Angela Davis was a criminal or a Black Panther?  Well, she was neither!  This revolutionary was wrongfully accused of murder and found innocent.  Dr. Davis studied French in Paris, earned her doctorate in Germany and was teaching at UCLA.  Recently a documentary, Free Angela, by Shola Lynch was released about her struggle to clear her name. Leaders like her are still relevant to today’s challenges and progress. Prisoner rights have been among her continuing interests; she is the founder of Critical Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is the former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Her work and our struggle continues.  As she stated, “I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as an individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.”  Follow @FreeAngelaFilm.

Mumia Abu-Jamal- Controversy

Journalist Abu-Jamal had been a target of CoIntelPro. In 1980, at the age of 26, Mumia was elected president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The following year, he was named one of the city’s “People to Watch” by Philadelphia Magazine. The article spoke of his “eloquent, often passionate and always insightful interviews.”  He had recently lost his radio journalist job with National Public Radio before he was accused of killing a Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner in 1981, who had served in the U. S. Army.  A debate continues, “Has Abu-Jamal been imprisoned justly or unjustly?”   He was sentenced to death but received a new capital sentencing hearing.  His  lawyer said that the results constituted “extraordinarily important new evidence that establishes clearly that the prosecutor and the Philadelphia

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Police Department were engaged in presenting knowingly false testimony“.  In this transcript, there is a comment by a witness that the police made her falsely testify against Mumia.  He was removed from death row in 2012, but was not granted a retrial.  Some critics wonder why his younger brother, William Cook, did not testify on Jamal’s (born Wesley Cook) behalf at the 1982 trial.  He could not be found but witnessed the crime as he was driving the Volkswagen when Officer Faulkner pulled him over.  Abu-Jamal had been associated with and had given voice to the MOVE group to which the Philadelphia Police Department was antagonistic.  In 1978, over 600 police raided MOVE’s home with guns and arrested Move-9.  All were sentenced to over 30 years in prison. Interestingly, Abu-Jamal was one of the reporters who covered this story. Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke out from the crowd of journalists, sharply raising questions about the way police had destroyed evidence after the raid. Through a call on the radio, Mumia aka “William Wellington Cole” got Judge Mahmed of the case to admit he had “no idea” who the murderer was, which highlighted the miscarriage of justice of the imprisonment of the MOVE-9.  Such acts earned him his grassroots moniker,The Voice of the Voiceless.

Reportedly, “A police report later that night shows that Civil Affairs inspector Fencl was quickly called into this investigation. Fencl was the same police official who gave the order to strip Black Panthers in the street in 1970 (and photographed for the papers to humiliate them before their convention), who planned the raid on MOVE’s Powelton home and who headed the political police unit that had spied on Mumia since he was 15…. In 1974 two pregnant women from MOVE were man-handled by cops until they miscarried. MOVE’s demonstrations intensified. The police responded with a campaign of “arrest on sight.” Between 1974 and 1976, there were 400 arrests of MOVE members, resulting in bail and fines of more than half a million dollars. Life Africa, a three-week-old baby, was killed during one violent police attack.”  Later in 1985, MOVE’s house was attacked and bombed by police, killing children, MOVE founderJohn Africa, and others while destroying over 50 homes.

Abu-Jamal wrote books, notably 1995’s Live from Death Row, which deals with prison, social and political issues.  There is a petition seeking his release. He is the subject of the song,Voice Of The Voiceless” by Rage Against the Machine.  A controversial film was made in 2010 by Tigre Hill.  Stephen Vittoria made a film about him, Long Distance Revolutionary.  You can follow @MumiaAbuJamal and @LDRMovie. Presidents Jacques Chirac of France and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Foreign Ministers Kinkel of Germany and Derijcke of Belgium, and members of the Japanese Diet have urged the U.S. to grant Jamal a new trial.  Officer Daniel Faulkner’s wife, Maureen, still contends that the rightfully convicted murderer of her husband is in jail.
I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement. Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/angeladavi368084.html#lH2155h1Yhciv1Xb.99
I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement. Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/angeladavi368084.html#lH2155h1Yhciv1Xb.99
I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement. Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/angeladavi368084.html#lH2155h1Yhciv1Xb.99

Also read DebateandSwitch’s:

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Increasing Graduation Rates


Jocelyn Martin, Alma Powell, Brenda and Caleb Martin

The average national graduation rate has risen to 80% from 78%, which was the highest it had been since 1974!  However, the goal of this president is to have that increased to 90% by 2020.  This is a distinct challenge since, every 26 seconds, a high school student drops out! For minorities, the drop out rates are even more startling! While an average of 85% of Whites are graduating annually, only 67% of African-Americans are graduating in the same four year period.  According to the Schott Report, nationally, nearly half of all African-American males are not graduating in the scheduled four year span! I recently presented some of this alarming information at the National PTA Emerging Minority Leadership Conference in Washington DC where our keynote speaker was none other than, Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise Alliance who hosts the annual Grad Nation Summit, which I was honored to be sponsored to attend before. Graduation and dropout rates are not the inverse of each other and are hard to compare as definitions vary. For example, some states or districts might count 9th-12 graders where some only count 10th-12th graders. This would automatically be skewed since many dropout in the ninth grade, and some even sooner.

There are several important indicators that suggest a higher likelihood that a student might drop out of school. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, who will host its national conference in Atlanta in NovemberNational Family Literacy Month. Those indicators include:
* Poor attendance
* Low grade point average
* Low standardized test composite scores
* Number of grade retentions
* Number of discipline referrals
* Educational level of parent
* Special program placement
* Free/reduced lunch program
* Number of school moves (transfers)
* Low reading and math scores
* Ethnic/gender distinctions
* Language spoken in the home
* Number of suspensions
* Interest in school
* Participation in extracurricular activities
* Pregnancy/teen parent
* Number of counseling referrals
* Family status (single parent family, family size)

Some studies also suggest that environment and school size can contribute to the drop out rates. Some factors cannot be immediately changed such as family status, educational level of parent, ethnic/gender trends. However, we can have impact in a number of areas. We will just look a few in this article.


Attendance has become such an area of concern that September has been designated as National Attendance Awareness Month. Chronic absenteeism can be defined as missing 20 days or being absent ten percent or more of school days. By schools analyzing their attendance patterns more intently, some have been able to adopt strategies that identify areas for change and have improved their records. Some schools personalized interventions by helping to establish and build relationships with staff and students that increased expectations and support systems. Others allowed parents to respond to attendance, behavior or curriculum issues on-line to reduce the need for them to have to take off work to come up to the school. This alternative has shown to increase parent involvement and engagement.

    Low Reading Scores

Statistics show that students who are not reading at grade level by the end of the third grade are more likely to drop out later. According to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 Nation’s Report Card, there was a 25 point gap in White-Black average reading scores for 4th and 8th graders.  When students are not prepared to continue with the higher-level challenges, they slowly lose interest in school and develop self-esteem issues that impact their belief that they can do it. They often become embarrassed by not knowing the answers and afraid of their peers ridiculing them. Sometimes, students are continually passed on despite the fact that they are not prepared for the next level which can slow them down even more. Ninth grade has become the most crucial grade where many students drop out! However, the ground work for that act is likely set long before then.

Early Literacy

The Achievement Gaps have been shown to appear prior to children even starting school. This shows how important early literacy and family engagement is for lifelong learning. This summer, Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law that lowers the compulsory school age for students in Illinois in order to ensure all children have the opportunity to build a solid foundation for academic achievement. Governor Quinn believes the law, which goes into effect July 1, 2014, “will also help to combat truancy. Research shows that children who start school at an earlier age are less likely to drop out of school, be placed in special education or commit crimes, and more likely to attend college.”

1. Parents are the first educators and help to stimulate communication and important brain development which occurs early. 2. Early quality education is even more important for parents working multiple job and perhaps are not able to provide some of the at-home training that boosts skills and interests in learning. Low-income students tend to show the lowest proficiency in reading which can lead to a life-long prediction of problems vs. a life-long learning experience. 3. Investing in our students early is worth promoting more positive outcomes instead of paying for prisons, drug rehabs, health care, Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Programs (SNAP) that are increased for students who drop out. 4. Our productivity loss as a country also increases when each child loses out on realizing his/her potential!


Center for Public Education points out that it takes more than just knowing indicators that suggest higher probability for students to drop out because those indicators do not identify which ones will or will not. “Cohorts” provides more detailing information by tracking students “grade to grade as members of a “cohort”—a group of students who start out in the same grade at the same time.”

    Civic Marshall Plan

America’s Promise Alliance outlines the Civic Marshall Plan to increase graduation rates which includes 5 key evidence-based components each at the elementary/middle and high school levels”.

I. Elementary/Middle School Goals: Increase on-grade level reading by 4th grade; Reduce chronic absenteeism; Monitor early warning indicators; Better design middle school to promote engagement and rigor preparation; Adult/Peer Support with wrap-around services as needed.

II. High School Goals: Transition Support especially for 8-10 graders from schools with graduation rates under 75%; Transform Dropout factories; Raise Compulsory School Age to 18 everywhere. (Our state of Kentucky recently passed Senate Bill 97 to raise our dropout age to 18.); Provide every child access to Career and College Ready paths-even dropouts; Dropout Recovery support.

We must collaborate with schools, families and communities to help to reduce this national epidemic! “No Child Left Behind”, is not just a reform needing “reauthorization”, but it is a real goal of which we should never lose sight.

Related articles/links:

Posted in Achievement Gap, Diversity, Emerging Minority Leadership, Grad Nation Summit, Graduation Rates, Legislative Hearings, National Family Literacy Month, PTA, School to Prison Pipeline | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Feeding the Hungry… In a SNAP

Every five years, the Farm Bill has to be reauthorized.  Due this year, Representatives passed the bill to cut nearly $4o billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.  Even though the majority of the House is Republicans, I was proud to see that not all of them voted for this proposed cut to SNAP which would impact millions of Americans, including the elderly, disabled and 22 million children.  Fifteen House Republicans voted NAY, including legislators Capito (WV2nd), Meehan (PA7th), Smith (NJ4th), Jones (NC3rd) and Gibson (NY19th). You can see how each Representative voted here.  The heart-wrenching twist about this vote is that it came two days after the Census Bureau reported that 15 percent of Americans, or 46.5 million people, live in poverty!

I appreciate the points made in West Virginia Gazette’s editorial about the correlation with poverty and hunger to a student’s education achievement. “Children who do not get enough food make smaller gains in math and reading achievement between kindergarten and third grade and are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school.”  Absenteeism is also affected which has a major impact on student success and the dropout rate.  Many at-risk students also need strengthened relationships to help their resiliency in these matter to better cope and do well in school.  This is especially true of homeless children and children with an imbalanced load of risk factors.

Some critics of SNAP seem to portray the impoverished on food stamps as those who “won’t” work.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so.  Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP.  The rates are even higher for families with children — more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year. “

One reassuring point is that this bill, Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013 (HR 3102) has been sent to the Senate. It is in committee, which I believe is the Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry Committee.  chaired by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Please contact your Senators and ask them to vote NAY on this bill especially those on the Agriculture CommitteeFind your U. S. legislator here.

In America, we enthusiastically celebrate Hunger Action Month in September and “World Food Day” on October 16th. We generously give away turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We humbly serve the hungry at community kitchens and provide non-perishable food through food banks throughout the year. However, in our state, “We’re very concerned with any cuts to the SNAP program at a time when one in six Kentuckians don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We’re barely keeping up with the pace of the demand,” said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

Find your nearest food bank here.  Many are indeed grateful for that help.  But, while the poor is having billions of dollars of food taken out of his mouth, millions sit by criticizing those left hungry, instead of criticizing and stopping those getting rich from it.

Rep. George Miller denounced this vote saying: “To add insult to injury, 14 members of Congress have gone so far as to vote to enrich themselves and wealthy special interests with farm subsidies, while voting against benefits to millions of the neediest and most vulnerable Americans. I issued a report earlier this year that detailed these 14 members of Congress who are collectively worth up to $124 million and received at least $7.2 million in farm subsidies but voted to cut nutrition aid for 47 million Americans without batting an eye.”  Let’s call for an investigation of this matter!!

What do you think happens, when many needed jobs are unavailable and people are without food?  Who pays for the increased crime wave and police support?  Who pays for additional medical costs from lack of nutrition?  Who pays for the lack of student achievement likely to increase?  Who pays for the increased incarceration rates that follow low student achievement?  Is this how we Save money?

Our country is built upon benevolence and a foundation of community.  This is why in the United States, I am proud of the largest and oldest volunteer child advocacy organization, PTA, that helped to fight for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act a few years ago and started the free lunch program in schools decades ago. “The bill increases access to vital anti-hunger measures, improves the nutrition quality of all foods served in schools throughout the school day, and provides a wide variety of supports.”  We are doing our share.  Many non-profit organizations- using direct methods or social media – are raising millions to feed the hungry of many ages and races.  But let’s not take away their dignity and a consistent means for survival while they work toward a stable income that does not leave them in poverty.  SNAP benefits are not dominated by minorities as some seem to think, but over 70% of recipients are of the majoritan culture.

USDA explains how SNAP works: The amount of benefits the household gets is called an allotment. The net monthly income of the household is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment for the household size to find the household’s allotment. This is because SNAP households are expected to spend about 30 percent of their income on food.

(October 2012 through September 2013)
People in Household Maximum Monthly Allotment
1 $    200
2 $    367
3 $    526
4 $    668
5 $    793
6 $    952
7 $ 1,052
8 $ 1,202
Each additional person $    150

Senate Majority Leader, Rep. Harry Reid, did not suppress how distressed he was over the vote.  “House Republicans’ vote to deny nutrition assistance to hungry, low-income Americans is shameful. The Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation.”

Related articles
Related links
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Family Engagement in Education Act

Take ActionFamily Engagement in children’s education has been proven to be not only beneficial for the schools but also for increasing effectiveness and success of children’s education!  In fact, studies show that engaging families is also cost effective; schools would have to spend more than $1,000 dollars per pupil to get the same value-added results. Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) provides research on which policy makers and education advocates can base policies that promote family engagement as an effective strategy to achieve student success.

The FEE Act of 2013 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY); in the Senate by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

Our Voices, Our Actions

As echoed at our National PTA Convention this year, our voices are needed to help to get legislators to pass this important Family Engagement in Education (FEE) Act of 2013!  The FEE Act of 2013 puts forth a framework for systemic, integrated, and sustainable family engagement at all levels, while allowing flexibility and resources for local innovation and strategic partnership.  (See further details below on local and state centers.)  This is without authorizing any new spending!

Seeking Support: Action I –  Legislators should support students and families by cosponsoring the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013. To cosponsor in the Senate, contact Moira Lenehan-Razzuri in Senator Reed’s office at 202-224-4642/ Moira_Lenehan@reed.senate.gov.  Please click here to take action now* with a prepared letter that you can edit/send asking them to support the bill or to cosponsor it. 

Our Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded last month to my letters that the FEE of 2013 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) for review and defers policymakers to the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for guidance.  Our other Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is on that committee and I attended a Senate HELP hearing  on the reauthorization of ESEA. Afterwards, I met with his staff in Washington, albeit he hasn’t been in the times I was there and hasn’t responded yet to this specific letter.  Nonetheless, let’s see how we can use this update.  The Senate HELP Committee is chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Ia).  Note, he is an Ex-Officio on the Children and Families committee, chaired by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) with centrist members such as Mark Kirk (R-IL).


The Beginner Advocate can Stop Here!  However, if you want to hone your action, we can make use of knowing where the bill is!  Also, if we did not know, we could track this bill here.

Honing Support: Action II – Now, you can aim your efforts and time on the current Decision Makers!  1.  Check the Senate HELP committee list.  If your Senator’s name is there, Click on it to get contact data to send notes, tweets, etc.  2.  If you see a senator of a state where you have friends, then send this to them, asking them to target that senator! As a constituent, they can also send emails and/or do Support Action I above!

The Bill’s Findings By Congress

1. Family engagement in a child’s education raises student achievement, improves behavior and attendance, decreases drop-out rates, and improves the emotional and physical well-being of children. Families are critical determinants of children’s school readiness as well as of students’ decision to pursue higher education. Effective family engagement is a great equalizer for students, contributing to their increased academic achievement, regardless of parents’ education level, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

2.   Research on school improvement has identified meaningful partnerships with families and communities as 1 of 5 critical ingredients necessary to turnaround chronically low-performing schools.

3. Positive benefits for children, youth, families and schools are maximized through effective family engagement that–

  • Is a shared responsibility in which schools, other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development;
  • Is continuous across a child’s life from birth to young adulthood; and
  • Reinforces learning that takes place in all settings.

Statewide and Local Family Engagement Centers

In addition, each State shall award a grant or contract to a statewide nonprofit organization to establish a Statewide Family Engagement Center to provide comprehensive training, technical assistance, and capacity-building to local educational agencies, organizations that support family-school partnerships, and other organizations that carry out what National Family Engagement Alliance (NFEA) deems critical: parent education and family engagement in education programs.

A Local Family Engagement Center will also be established to evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of innovative approaches demonstrated by these centers in engaging families in their children’s education by providing training, services, supports, and opportunities that meet families’ needs and remove barriers to their engagement in their children’s education to improve student achievement.  A myriad of organizations in our area such as Northeast KY PTA4H Clubs, Pathways, United Communities to Advance our Neighborhoods, Inc. (UCAN) might be interested in providing such support.

Thank you for taking time to Act and Explore a little deeper into making CHANGE!  *National PTA offers its leaders and members many resources for providing effective advocacy. You can read more advocacy posts on this blog or visit NPTA’s website to find information on PTA’s federal public policy agenda. The advocacy website also has links for an advocacy toolkit to help members and state leaders maximize their local grassroots organizing efforts. Read PTA’s blog every Thursday to get PTA Government Affairs updates and great ideas for advocacy and grassroots efforts.

Posted in Advocacy, Convention, Family Engagement, Parent Engagement, PTA, Take Action | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How Are You? Are You Sure?

Image“How are you?”  “I’m falling apart! might be our inner cry, but we often say “Fine,” without a hitch.  How often do we think of what that question sounds like to someone who is not fine – to someone who is not “mentally” well?  Do they always realize that they are not well? And if so, are they comfortable telling others or even getting help?


Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III of TUCC

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III of Trinity Unity Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago recently shared “Losing Daphne” with Ebony Magazine – a painful and true heart-drenching saga of his sister’s tumultuous struggle with her mental health.  Her battle was with paranoid schizophrenia with delusions and hearing things that weren’t real.  Pastor Moss recounts, “I heard her talking to herself. Whispers through the walls, the sounds of sadness, anger and pain leaked into my bedroom. She fought at night with invisible demons and tricksters. One night, laughter; the next, cries of desperation.” His sister, Daphne, committed suicide when she was thirty-three years old.

I was also surprised by the Mayo Clinic staff who categorized paranoid schizophrenia as one of the forms that leaves patients with more daily functionality with less problems with memory, concentration or dulled emotions. Medication can treat 80% of schizophrenia case’s acute symptoms but only half of these patients seek help. “Still, paranoid schizophrenia is a serious, lifelong condition that can lead to many complications, including suicidal behavior” they explain.   Generally, over one million people take their own lives annually worldwide and at least 20 million attempt it at least once.

Illnesses vary.  Anxiety as well as panic, are normal emotions.  But when they escalate into “attacks”, they can become anxiety or panic disorders.  Depression is common but can become a serious mental illness that many overlook as “normal”.   Additionally, an accompanied drug addiction can make any of these disorders more difficult to treat but some treatment is available for “dual diagnosis”.  Many students, including elementary and high school students don’t know where to go for help for mental problems.  Click here for an information sheet.

At the college level, many don’t use the help provided!  Of the students surveyed by the National Union of Students (NUS), “one in five say they experienced mental health problems while at the university….More than a quarter (26%) of students who say they experience mental health problems do not get treatment and only one in 10 use counseling services provided by their university.”  Purdue University and many others have resources for suicide prevention (SP). University of Louisville provides SP training. At Yale University, a Back to Campus toolkit is available that includes fact sheets for students and information for colleges and universities about what types of services should be accessible.

Some under-graduate and graduate students at private universities participated in a study and were examined for mental disorders, their thoughts of suicide,  injuring themselves and thoughts of injuring others. “The participants took part in interviews and completed two tests to assess their depression and anxiety levels.  Between 1998 and 2009, the number of students coming into counseling who were diagnosed with at least one mental disorder increased 3 percent, from 93 percent to 96 percent.  The percentage diagnosed with moderate to severe depression increased from 34 percent to 41 percent,” said John Guthman, Director of Student Counseling Services at Hofstra University in New York.

Training is imperative. President Obama’s budget is encouraging as it proposed $235 million to fund mental health initiatives. Of the funds, $130 million will be used to train teachers and others to identify signs of mental illness in students and provide them with access to treatment.  Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius stated that $205 million would help identify mental health problems, improve access to mental health services and support safer school environments. The plan would affect at least 8,000 schools. Another $50 million would train 5,000 people to become mental health experts at the master’s level to help alleviate the shortage that will likely be magnified with the Affordable Care Act.  Sixty percent of people with mental health conditions go untreated.

“Research shows that youth with untreated mental disorders are more likely to have difficulty in school, including discipline problems and failing grades, and to get into trouble with the law,” mental health advocates said.  National PTA supports the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013 introduced in February by U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN).  National PTA believes that all children and youth have the right to mental health support services.  The Mental Health in Schools Act would establish a grant program to help school districts form innovative community partnerships and train school staff, volunteers, families, and other members of the community to recognize the signs of child and adolescent behavioral health problems and refer them for appropriate services. Other cosponsors of the bill included Senators Durbin (IL), Blumenthal (CT), Stabenow (MI), Brown (OH), Schumer (NY), etc.  Click here to track this bill.  Click here to contact your legislators.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).” 

Posted in College Students, drug addiction, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shooting Down Violence


Congressional Black Caucus at Anti-Violence Summit in Chicago 2013 with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.-podium & Il Reps. Robin Kelly, Maxine Waters (DC), Danny Davis, Bobby Rush, et. al. Photo by Brenda Martin

Violence in Chicago has drawn national attention as many express concern over the grave gun violence, generally, and the mounting gun violence that has taken the lives of youth, specifically.  To address this growing concern, the national Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) with such leaders as Rep. Bobby Rush-former Black Panther, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.-Founder of Rainbow Push Coalition, Reps. Robin Kelly and Danny Davis-both IL and others organized a National Emergency Anti-Violence Summit recently held at Chicago State University.


CBC’s Anti-Violence Summit with Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of slain teen, Hadiya Pendleton, in Chicago

It humbled me to meet Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of the slain teen, Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago within weeks after performing with the King College Prep High School Band at President Obama’s inauguration in the nation’s capital. As CBS Chicago surmised, ” Police believe Pendleton was the unintended target of a shooter who fired into a crowd, believing he was shooting at rival gang members at Harsh Park on the South Side. Pendleton was with her volleyball team at the time of the shooting, authorities said.”

In chatting with Ms. Cowley-Pendleton, I became increasingly aware of  the ignitive inner strength of some mothers despite the depth of pain.  I was disappointed to find that not all of her interactions with the public over the death of her daughter, were positive ones.  In my hurt for her pain and mothers like her, before even asking permission, I instinctively just kissed her on the cheek and hugged her again.  While the pain of her daughter’s death still lingers, Cowley-Pendleton told MSNBC at the Summit, she is faced with yet another challenge: raising an 11-year-old black boy in America.  “There is a concern there,” she said, of her own son, Nathaniel, facing down stereotypes and prejudices so many African-American men and boys face, sometimes with deadly consequences.  “It is my responsibility to do what I can to lessen that confusion by the time he becomes of age,” Cowley-Pendleton said. “That gives me what, five good years, maybe four, to try to make a change. I’m doing what I can and mourning at the same time.”  Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said in a statement. “Everyday our officers are on the street going after gangs, guns and drugs, and we will continue to do so to make this a safer city.”

 Loading Up Education & Economics


Rep. Sheila Jackson-Tx, Bren Martin, Rep. Bobby Rush-Il


CBC Rep. Danny Davis-Il


Rev. Jesse Jackson at Press Interview Photo by Brenda Martin

It blessed me and other leaders to participate in the conversation regarding school safety and anti-bullying strategies.  We had opportunities to present our concerns and solutions. One of my suggestions – which became part of the final initiatives to be recommended to congress and acted upon by the leaders – involved increasing support for Parent/Family Engagement in Education.  This would involve training parents/families to  better envision how they can be more engaged while better understanding more of the issues confronting their students, administrators and schools. I also strongly recommended more parents/families, including dads/uncles, and community supporters to become a part of their schools Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or request one if there isn’t one there. Experts also offered outreach to increase skills in managing emotional needs and challenges of students.  Other initiatives involved increasing economic growth in urban areas especially where violence is more pervasive. Rev. Jesse Jackson poignantly responded one-on-one to my question to him about needed intervention,  “We need Jobs, jobs, jobs!”  According to Austin Talks, “The lack of gainful employment, basic social services, mental health facilities and other supports are directly related to poverty, which is a precursor to inner-city violence. Ending the cycle of poverty is the only chance of saving our students and their community.”

The involvement by the youth at this summit and the school/community leaders who brought them impressed me very much!   Some high schoolers helped to lead the discussion in our break-out session.  Other elementary/middle schoolers conducted interviews and made their voices heard and their presence felt.


Michael Skolnik moderates the Summit’s Town Hall

Michael Skolnik, Political Director for Russell Simmons, moderated the Summit’s Town Hall.  He selected my question, along with some others to share with the panel, which was my concern over “immediate intervention” to help protect the lives of our children and residents while we implement the more long term solutions of economic empowerment and education engagement.  I wondered if the panel or audience thought military intervention might be needed to aid the police departments. There were crowed murmurs of no, so no formal discussion erupted.

Driving Home the Point

I drove from Kentucky to attend this summit in my hometown because like many, I am grief stricken by the devastating loss of life.  The concern over the loss of lives in this country is not a misplaced emotion.  However, some contend that when you look at the number of murders in Chicago relative to its large size, Chicago falls short of actually being the murder capital that it is informally touted to being.  One reporter believes, “The key is to take the number of murders, multiply by 100,000 and then divide by the population. That gives you the standard expression of the homicide rate: murders per 100,000.”  According to Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star, “Turns out it’s a dangerous place, but not even in the top 20 most deadly cities. Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn crunched preliminary FBI data on homicides, noting Chicago was safer than, among others places, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Kansas City, Montgomery, Memphis and Richmond.”  That said, whether your city is perceived to be the most dangerous – as in Chicago, or one of the safest – as in Sandy Hook, whether a child is killed on the streets or in a classroom, America aches. We all deserve to be safe and to feel safe in this great land of ours, because after all, “There is no place like home.”

Posted in Anti-Violence Summit, Black Leaders, Bullying, Chicago Violence, drug addiction, Gun Violence, Parent Engagement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Changing the Gavel at Kentucky PTA

999716_10201431097129182_1138748542_nThe changing of the gavel between presidents can often evoke ambivalent feelings.  Saying goodbye to President Teri Gale in this role and appreciating her accomplishments while graciously greeting the new leadership of President-Elect Eddie Squires, represents that ambivalence.   This final transition occurred at the state’s leadership convention in Louisville.


Dawn LeMaster, Derrick Byrd, Heather Pack &Teri Gale at Award Ceremony

Leadership to Membership

One of our speakers included National PTA’s board member, Derrick Byrd, who conducted a workshop on Membership.  I attended this informative994537_558406384222893_217683212_n workshop and was glad to refer others to the PTA Great Idea Bank for more ideas as well.  I was especially honored that a PTA unit in our 26th District, Russell Primary School won awards for its growth in membership.  President Heather Pack and Vice-Pres. Dawn LeMaster received those proudly!  Growing PTA units is a priority on President Squires agenda as well as all PTAs!  We need members to help us to remain the premier advocacy group that PTA has become – believing “everychild.onevoice“!


Pres. Ed Squires, Board members-District 26 Pres. Bren Martin & Coach Mo

“Mo’ Better” News

Also attending was Mozziz “Coach Mo” Dewalt, television personality with NBC’s “Biggest Loser” and a former professional athlete who has joined the Kentucky Board of Directors!  Coach Mo is founder of “The Village of Louisville” where he serves as an ambassador for physical fitness, nutrition and mentoring youth.

Another hot topic on the program included the Redbook, the Accounting Principles for School Activity Funds required by the Kentucky Board of Education.  There are changes affecting many PTA units and booster clubs.  Such changes include: requirement for insurance, no school employees serving as club treasurer, no school employee collecting monies sent to school to buy items sold by them or to join the groups, etc.


Coach Mo advises Caleb Martin, rising senior on Russell High School’s basketball team.

A closing discussion at the convention related to Bullying and School Safety.  The presenter was delayed, but an attendee who was a Director of Safety for schools filled in quite well! Later, I also had chance to share some insights from the Town Hall on Bullying held at the National PTA Convention and Youth Summit with Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and others.

Outreach in the Bluegrass State and Beyond

Kentucky PTA has received national prestige for its work with Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS).  Much of this wonderful work in our state was started by the 15th District!  Many PTA units including our District 26 PTA of Northeast Kentucky received a grant from our state to provide training in our Russell and Ashland areas on Testing and the Common Core for parents, teachers and the community.  Kentucky PTA has also worked with other education partners on the Commissioner’s Parent Advisory Council and developed The Missing Piece of the Proficiency Puzzle.  This document can assist every school in Kentucky in becoming family friendly through relationship building, effective communications, decision making, advocacy, learning opportunities and community partnerships.  A rubric is available to establish and gauge success of family and community involvement in all education processes.  “It stresses the importance of parents becoming involved in children’s education and supports the value of learning in both home and school.”


Ed with Cherie Dimar, a PTA KCAS Training Leader

PTA also stresses the important of building relationships with other groups and organizations that support education and children-in local communities, the state and the nation.

National PTA has developed and published a book on “Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide to Parent and Family Involvement Programs.Kentucky PTA is a leader in providing workshops and training on “Building Successful Partnerships.” PTA is the largest volunteer organization serving children, youth and public schools.

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Otha Thornton, Newly Installed President of National PTA

Otha Thornton, the newly installed president of National PTA (NPTA) – the oldest child advocacy group in our country – is a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics in Fort Stewart, Georgia. He is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel and his last two assignments were with the White House Communications Agency and United States Forces-Iraq in Baghdad. Thornton earned the Bronze Star Medal for exceptional performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2009-2010.

Previously, Thornton served on National PTA’s Board of Directors, Legislative Committee, Membership Committee, and Executive Search Committee. During his time with Georgia PTA, Otha served on the Board of Directors as legislative chair and as an Advisory Group member for Georgia’s Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Otha and wife, Caryn Thornton


Otha’s mother, Estelle, (Right) with dear friend

Thornton is making history as this historical advocacy group’s first African-American male president! He started his inaugural address at the 2013 National PTA Convention in Cincinnati by thanking God and his family-including his wife, Caryn, and his mother. He then quoted the great Dr. Benjamin E. Mays – a former president of Morehouse College (Otha’s alma mater) and a spiritual mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – who believed that the purpose of education included building character and serving mankind.  Otha also gave homage to his predecessor, Betsy Landers and to the National PTA founders whose organizations merged in 1970 between the National Congress of Parents and Teachers and the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, forming today’s National PTA.

“This is an exciting opportunity, and I am proud to have been elected to lead the charge for parents and teachers across the nation, and to ensure that our children have the tools and support they need to succeed,” Thornton said. “As president, I am committed to expanding PTA’s membership, leadership development and advocacy efforts to strengthen the association and fully empower families, teachers and communities to advocate for all children.”


Otha delivering Inaugural Address

Otha Thornton describes himself as a servant leader who values listening, collaborating, diversity and inclusion at all levels.  He recalled a comment that one of his superiors used in the military, which was to “Make sure your video matches your audio.”  He affirmed to PTA that our hard currency is our voting and our voice!  “If I were you,” he stated, “I would not sit on the sidelines and complain!  Get in the game!”  He also suggested that we become more like players of “chess” instead of “checkers”, being committed to the long haul and not just show up at school when there is trouble.  Volunteering in the schools help our children and our schools.  “Accountability starts at home, but not all have that.” So PTA serves as their advocate as well, he elaborated. “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.”

The PTA is critical in bringing the voices of parents to the forefront on issues, working together to strengthen school safety, provide kids with healthy, nutritious lunches and implement consistent learning goals across the country,” Thornton said. “Parents are an essential voice in the education reform debate, and we need to be much more than an audience.  We need to be partners in the education of our children, and I am looking forward to engaging with diverse communities across the country to ensure that all parents have a voice in their children’s education.”

This speech followed his reception held the prior evening at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center.   Harriet Tubman led slaves through this network of safe houses – the Underground Railroad – to freedom.   I believe PTA helps to lead all children and parents to acquiring a better education – which is the highway, railway and runway to freedom.  We are looking forward to continuing this journey with Otha as its conductor!


Tje Austin

The NPTA Convention closed with scintillating music by Tje Austin (pronounced tI) who appeared on The Voice and is from Texas-the site of the 2014 NPTA Convention! He did a fabulous remake of What’s Love Got To Do With It originally by Tina Turner.   He has a unique style reminiscent of John Legend with a hint of Eric Benet for good measure.  Now Mr. Thornton, I believe Tje has matched the audio with the video.

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