For almost 20 years, I have dedicated my time to making our public schools a safe place where all children can learn. Whether it’s standing in the rain volunteering at an education fundraiser or standing at the front of the room speaking to hundreds of teachers and parents, my focus is on the kids.
It was because of my advocacy efforts that Parenting Magazine selected me to represent North Carolina in the Mom Congress. That honor has done so much to lift and encourage me on days when I don’t feel valued. Days like today, when I attended a Wake Education Partnership event and was told there was no room at the table. I was given a seat in the back of the room, against the wall. It didn’t seem to matter that only a few years before I served on the Board of Directors for the group or that in years past, I had volunteered for hours helping with registration and other events. Nor did it matter that I had heard their cries of “the media never covers our events” and volunteered my time on this Thursday morning to cover the event. Despite the underwhelm I felt, I stayed to hear the message.
More than 300 people came to Wake Education Partnership’s annual meeting that featured Tony Wagner, Co-Director of the Change Leadership group as the guest speaker. When the praise for those who had sponsored the event died down, the teachers were thanked, the principals, elected officials, educators, and finally the parents, the proud few who had a place at a table, stood to be recognized. I actually only saw one parent stand…but then again, my view from the back of the room was blocked. Does that mean no one else in the room had children? Or did it mean that their job as a parent was not their #1 focus and that it was more important they were recognized as being part of a company?
In the beginning of Wagner’s presentation, he commented that we are between and rock and hard place in education. He stated that for 25 years, we’ve talked about failing schools and then play the blame game, mostly blaming the parents. He didn’t retract the statement, didn’t say it was a wrong statement, and didn’t clarify the statement, just moved on to the next point in his slideshow. Wagner finally got to the meat of his presentation, possible next steps. All ideas presented are good; none included a way to engage parent leaders.
In Wagner’s books he laments that more and more children are growing up “home alone.” He comments on a report that only about 5 percent teenagers spend time with their parents. He ponders how youth can understand the value of self-discipline and self-control without substantial contact with caring adults. If all that is true, then why wouldn’t he want to engage the parents who are staying home, who show with their time at more than an annual breakfast meeting that they want to be change leaders? Parents who demonstrate that the most important job they have in the world is that as a parent and actually stand up when someone asks for the parents in the room to be acknowledged.
When the time came for the announcement of Wake Education Partnership's Friend in Education award, I misted up a little when Bill McNeal’s face appeared with warm words for Betty Lou Ward, this year’s award recipient. You see Bill got it. He was the 2005 National Superintendent of the year for a reason – he understood the value of parents and that it takes everyone in the village working together to help our children reach their full potential. His book written with Tom OxHolm “A School District’s Journey to Excellence” includes a section titled “Parents Matter.” There is another section on the PTA Council, where he writes “When defining key stakeholders of any school district, one group is especially important to the district’s success and that is the parents’ organization.” He went on to say “When properly cultivated and supported, these parents can be a unique band of foot soldiers of the district.”
Bill and Tom said it best with their closing statement “Be accessible. Be open to two-way communication. Organize and share information. Make the decision. You will do all of these things well if you keep your courage, use your brain, listen to your heart, and create a home for all – students, parents, and staff alike.”
In what ways does your community value the leadership role of parents?
Liza Weidle is the NC Mom Congress delegate and author of "Truth about Parenting: Navigating the Elementary Years."