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Exciting Changes in Tennessee: A Call to Advocacy

Amanda Hill

What does it look like if we are all to be advocates for the children in our region?  Are we to be sure homework is complete and bellies are full? Are we to partner with our child’s teacher?  Join the PTA?  Be involved in school-wide decisions?  Speak up at school board meetings?  Ask our legislators to vote on behalf of children?  For each of us that answer is different depending on our stage of life, our strengths, and our passions.  Sometimes, the most we can do is be sure that our children are at school.  For others, we have opportunities to influence policy-makers.  But overall, I truly believe that all parents want what is best for their children.

Memphis, Tennessee has a unique opportunity in the next year.  In a history-making vote last year, the city voters decided to surrender the charter of the city school district, allowing the county school district to take over.  Setting aside all of the politics, the educational advocates in our region have an opportunity to influence the appointed 21 member Transition Planning Commission who, over a two-year period, will be creating a new “world-class school district.”  To say the least, our advocacy muscles are getting a workout!

What would you do if you had this opportunity?  Decisions being made now will affect generations of people in our region.  They will impact what businesses come to our city and our property values, which will affect everyone’s bottom line.  And for me, a parent of a six-year-old and three-year-old, the decisions will affect the education of my most precious gifts.

Through Mom Congress, I’ve had the opportunity for amazing advocacy training that has shaped my view of parental engagement.  The training on how to communicate to policy-makers was most helpful considering the issues my region is facing.  During this year, our PTA has organized an Advocacy Team that is facing this opportunity head on.  In the past month, this team of parents and teachers has organized a Platform Statement that they presented to policy-makers and other politicians during a series of “listening tours” around the region.  This Statement advocates for the programs we believe should be continued, but also includes models and best practices we see nationally that should be implemented.  We have invited local policy-makers to school events—not for photo ops, but for advocating.  And as we advocate, we remind ourselves that we are not simply speaking on behalf of our own children, but for all children in this region.

One PTA colleague said it best, “We can speak up proactively now, or reactively later.  It’s our choice.”  We do not know what the future holds for education in this region, but our hope is that our active and loud voices will be heard and the opinions of parents are considered and the best interest of the children are fought for as a new school district is created.

Mandy Grisham is Tennessee’s 2011 Mom Congress Delegate.  She’s from Memphis, TN and has been an urban music educator for ten years.  She is currently engaging in education through serving as PTA Co-President of her son’s school.   She was recently recognized locally as a Memphis Education Champion and consults schools on parent and community engagement strategies.

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