Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Families Must Connect & Organize - Linked In Responses

I've been posting announcements from my blog for Linked In Groups. Members from the Hispanic Research Inc. have responded.

The hook from the blog: ….Thats it: no charisma, no lengthy training, no book-learning: passion & compassion and the trustworthiness that causes others to take collective action. Families must connect and organize around their vision and dream for our schools. It's also at the core of the definition of a leader in our IDRA Family Leadership in Education model. The locus of this action is so far away from the bake sale, the parent convention and convention exhibitors you can't even see the marquee. Any questions?http://parentleadershipined.blogspot.com/2009/03/citizens-must-organize-and-make-leaders.html

Researchers: How do you connect the dots: parent leadership in education = children's academic success?

Two Responses: Ricardo Lopez President at Hispanic Research Inc.

I am extremely passionate about this subject. I am a huge believer in parent leadership when it comes to education and know very well that there is a direct correlation between parent involvement and student success- but then again, I am a big fan of the National PTA and know its roots and its mission. I was president of a NJ elementary school PTA unit for almost six years and have been an active participant at the town's board of education meetings. I have also attended several NJPTA conventions and have been a PTA member for over 25 years. And what does that all mean? It means that I am very odd! Seriously, it is odd enough to find men that are active in parent leadership roles; but to find a Latino father that involved? Extremely rare! And here lies the root of the problem.

Connecting the dots, as you say, is very difficult because most Latinos are completely unaware of the fact that parental involvement is directly related to student success. If Latino parents understood the reality of this simple correlation you would see an immediate boost in the number of Hispanic leaders in education. I am convinced because I have spoken to thousands of Latinos across the country and know that our people always place the children as the top priority; in fact, in a recent study I asked Latina mothers across the country what their own *personal* goal was in life and the almost unanimous answer was “for my children to succeed.” Now, I also know that telling Latino parents about the importance of parental involvement is not enough. They need to understand that parents can actually be a catalyst for change and that their involvement is welcomed. This is a very tough sale!

Why is it difficult for U.S. Latino parents to believe in parental involvement? Because many of the “uninvolved” Latinos are new immigrants that do not understand how the American public school system works. In talking to parents I've learned that Hispanics often see the schools as institutions that are to be trusted with the education of the children- never to be questioned. That attitude is even more profound among Latino parents with low levels of education because they do not feel confident enough to participate in the academic process. In addition, many Hispanics who grew up in Latin America do not trust advocacy because in the experience from their country of origin, advocacy efforts are often thwarted by inefficacy, bureaucracy, and corruption. They are also unaware that in this country the public actually controls the public schools through the electoral process and everyone has the right to address the public school leadership. The whole system is extremely foreign to new immigrants who are busy enough trying to make ends meet and adapt to their new American life. Besides, many Latinos are very happy with the schools because they see them as ten times better than what was available to them in their home country... “why get involved when the schools are good already?”

There is no doubt that parents will follow the actions of others; and I do believe that one leader can create a wide ripple effect. I experienced this first hand with my PTA involvement. I was not the first father who was president of this particular PTA unit. I got interested because I saw other fathers involved. Don't get me wrong, the mothers were still the majority (and probably better PTA leaders); but everyone appreciated the male involvement and it changed the way our PTA was viewed by the Board of Education. We were not seen as a fundraising unit for the school; we were a true (and very effective) advocacy group.

How can research help? I think information is key. We need to better understand why Latinos are not more involved. We need to learn how to drive the message of the importance of parental involvement in the success of our children. After all, most Latino mothers see the success of their children as their own goal in life.

Second Response: Rose Marie Garcia Fontana Sole proprietor of Garcia Fontana Research

Aurelio and Ricardo, I couldn't agree more with you. As an educator for over 20 years, I worked closely with parents, especially Latino parents. For four of those years I helped the California Migrant Education division with parent empowerment efforts. Many Migrant Education programs have strong models of developing parent leadership in very real, meaningful ways- not "window dressing".
The key problem is exactly what Ricardo says: Latinos do not understand the American public education system. They don't realize how fractured and complex education policy and practices are. For example, in California alone there are approximately 1000 school districts, each one doing it's own thing, supposedly guided by the Education Code, but in reality, each district is its own universe. Teachers' unions, school board politics, harsh economic realities, lobbyists in Washington, state politics, all impact what happens in schools, and most parents are clueless.

I once conducted a parent seminar for a group of Migrant Education parents, and I drew a "mind map" of all of the entities that impact children in schools. When I finished the drawing, after eliciting comments from the parents, one mother commented, "Señora Fontana, parece una telaraña". That's a pefect metaphor- the U.S. public education system IS a tangled web and parents and children, especially immigrants, do not understand its complexity nor that they have rights.

All too often, schools are not education agencies, they are employment agencies- kids don't come first, jobs do.
There are wonderful schools and educators out there, but parental involvement is rarely a priority.

I personally prefer the term "parental empowerment"- "involvement" is too vague a term. Driving home the message of how important it is for both parents to be actively connected to their child's school is a challenge. Currently I am not in Education, as I am a freelance qualitative researcher, but I have very vivid memories of my work in the trenches.

Arriba y adelante....

My initial response: Research in Parent Leadership and it's impact on school improvement and student achievement still needs a very targeted research focus. We already have a substantial amount of research on the impact of 'parent as first teacher' interventions although there needs to be more that comes from the 'valuing', 'asset mapping' and 'funds of knowledge' perspective. I'm looking for the studies that document particular parent leadership development approaches and connect-the-dots to show institutional impact and student achievement outcomes. Translating for, explaining to and connecting parents with the school system is a necessary step, but we need the data that shows how and when parent leadership and collective family action leads to transformation of our schools, especially those in poor neighborhoods. A few more blogs coming up on this one, for sure.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time Banks, PTA, Family Leadership & Me. Part 2

Previous Post I mentioned two possible partnerships for IDRA: Time Banks and PTA. My connection with Time Banks came from mutual interest and a short period of collaboration. The PTA connection came about through a very different route.

PTA I was named to the national PTA board as a member-at-large in 2006 and two years later elected by the general body at the national convention. My initial appointment resulted from my leadership in parent engagement through the Texas IDRA Parent Information Resource Center. I accepted because this was an opportunity to bring the issues and concerns in our public education advocacy to a important, respected and influential educational forum.

I was initially a cautious PTA board member. I had not experienced any local or state PTA that showed interest in our brand of parent leadership in education, especially with the families my organization is most interested in supporting. IDRA is very concerned about all public schools, but very strategically those that serve children who are poor, minority or speak a language other than English. My experience of PTA leadership, even with those who came from the poor and of-color community, had been of dedicated members with a drive to speak for the merits and history of PTA, stress the importance of joining PTA, and a mission to recruit parents to volunteer as school helpers. Even those not stressing fund-raising, which is being de-emphasized at least in regional, state and national venues, are still selling PTA: a wonderful, rich-in-history and school-friendly, volunteering opportunity. Promulgating PTA is a good thing in itself, but it is not my organization's agenda. Again, as with Time Bank, the leadership and membership approached me to 1) Convince me about the benefits and merits of PTA membership 2) Recruit me to sing the praises of PTA, help recruit new members and start-up new units.

My involvement with PTA is driven by mutual goals and the possibility of a partnership that furthers our goals, where they overlap. With PTA, I do see some light on the horizon because on-the-ground projects are showing possibilities :

I’ve put the new fatherhood push M.O.R.E. in contact with Jerry Tello and Los Compadres and other Latino fatherhood leadership efforts so that there can be a strong Latino presence in that movement.

A new Community PTA might be started by ARISE, an independent community organization in South Texas, conducting its business in Spanish, located in a poor unincorporated community (Colonia) and very importantly, using ARISE’s principles and processes to organize and carry out this ‘new kind of PTA’. We’re setting up a process for documenting this effort as a means to inform the larger organization about a viable alternative way to organize new PTAs.

Possibilities Through Partnership An IDRA dynamite partnership would bring together two different but laudable movements : Time Bank and PTA could join us in a powerful institutional base for parent leadership in education. This is tantalizing for several critical reasons: IDRA Parent leadership for education, when persistent and nurtured, can accelerate the transformation of our schools. Time Banks, a system of reciprocal local exchange of assets and resources can build an internal base of economic and social support from within the neighborhoods that are labeled as ‘the neediest’. PTA brings an established on-campus presence, and would benefit greatly at a time it is attempting to gain new membership and is not a strong presence in the 'poor' Title 1 schools. PTA is combatting myths and stereotypic ideas of being a cheap labor pool for the local schools and renewing its local, state and national presence as a pro-active and premier voice for the families whose children attend public schools. Time Bank is exploding as a global presence and contineus to exist in many USA communities and would benefit from a strong PTA partnership. Time Banks in turn can give the local PTA, especially in urban and poverty neighborhoods, a means of identifying, documenting and managing the exchange of services centered at school and benefiting school and families. The only money needed by these new PTA/Time Banks projects would be the annual dues: the rest would be Time Bank exchanges. The IDRA Parent Leadership in Education process would be the engine to support emerging parent/family leadership, keep a focus on the neighborhood public schools and catalyze taking action in support of the academic success of the children.

Although the IDRA circle is my central & fundamental arena, I also share in the PTA & Time Banks circles.

>I direct a nationally recognized Parent Information Resource Center that provides services across the state of Texas and is centered on the dissemination of IDRA’s Family Leadership in Education model.

>I’m an elected member of the board of directors of National PTA.

>I’ve earned some chits and still have some connections with Time Bank.

The three circles overlap. A partnership of equals is possible. So, the next steps are… A catalyst could be… The strategic time and place to form a partnership are…

This is the second of a two-part post. I would hope to someday write a part III reporting on the impact of the successful partnership.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Time Bank, PTA, Family Leadership & Me. Part 1

The hook: Journalist Juan Pablo Tapia's twitter post: Time Bank in Chile begins:

“When we received the letter with the sample copy of the textbook Society for Fifth Grade from Santillana and we saw that in our hands was the proof that the Time Bank project for Chile had a future which we couldn't yet measure, we were truly moved as a team." (my translation)

This wonderful announcement reminded me of some experiences and connections that relate to my education advocacy and the dilemmas I face in building partnerships to further the action.

Keeping the faith & the focus I've been an activist in education for over 40 years. I didn’t start out as that: I was a naïve, peppy high school English teacher who was amazed at the acceptance and wonderful connections I was making with students and families. Isolated and socially disconnected in college and previously even more alone in high school, I was basking in the Del Rio, Texas San Felipe community. Over my first four years as a public school teacher & faithful evening Catholic Church bible teacher I began to experience the inequities of schools for poor children and the intransigence of the church in addressing social needs. I acted on my righteous indignation but I was mostly angry at how blind and naive I had been.

Along the education activist way, I’ve met and connected with many social events and projects that merit support and whose fundamental principles I value. I’ve had to learn, the hard way, that keeping a clear direction and focus is very important: many a good group/organization has lost its way through dispersal (being all things to all people). In my 33+ years with IDRA I’ve learned tough lessons about advocacy & staying on track. Our founder, Dr. Jose Cardenas, regularly guided us with some pithy lessons i.e., Never Promote a Promoter. Part of our history has been as much the fending off projects that would distract us from the public school advocacy at our core as reaching out and collaborating with efforts which have something in common. I'm regularly reminded by my boss, IDRA President & CEO Dr. Maria Robledo Montecel, about straying from our path to other clearly virtuous but different directions. Our yellow brick road goes directly to the excellent neighborhood public schools that work for all children.

Possible Partners
I’m going to highlight (in two posts) two examples of worthy movements that might eventually be a partnership for the specific goals of IDRA: Time Bank and PTA.

Time Bank In the spirit of learning about & giving assistance to a possible partner I connected with Edgar Cahn and a movement then titled Time Dollar Time Bank . Edgar is a brilliant man with a marvelous, intelligent and courageous history in social justice efforts, from founding such programs as federally funded Legal Aid, to helping students in Washington D.C. become legal advocates and mediators. I met him several years ago through a mutual friend who was helping Time Dollar firm up a national training program, now wisely renamed Time Bank. I offered my pro-bono services with the reciprocity expectation to apply the concept to parent leadership in education. I invited them to come to Texas and facilitated some planning and also invited selected key Time Bank trainers to participate in the WOW Workshop on Workshops bilingual training of trainers that I developed and provide to emerging parent leaders and school family liaisons. Eventually Edgar invited me to the annual Time Bank conference in Canada. I really appreciate the gift and the honor from a sister non-profit group with budget challenges, but was not able to move any single local project in the direction of directly championing and nurturing parent leadership in education: two good ideas whose real partnership time has not yet come.
As befits any valuable effort, Time Bank proponents spent most of their communication time with me attempting to
1) Convince me in the power & efficacy of their project (unnecessary because I quickly saw the depth & breadth of a movement that validated the rich resources present within the most economically disadvantaged of communities and also set up a practical means of organizing, documenting and managing the reciprocity of services).

Time Banks Weave Community One Hour at a Time -- For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to pend on having someone do something for you. It's that simple. Yet it also has profound effects. Time Banks change neighborhoods and whole communities. Time Banking is a social change movement in 22 countries and six continents

2) Recruit me to their effort. That would happen just after Edgar Cahn was convinced to move to San Antonio, join IDRA’s education advocacy effort, and lead our effort to create a public will to support equitable, excellent and fully funded public education. :)~ I’m focused on, committed to and live for creating schools that work for all children. My and my organization’s coattails are no longer than those of any other effort with focus, integrity and elegance of action. Many, many important, necessary and laudable efforts exist to meet the many critical social needs of our society. Effective movements make choices: we make transparent, tactical and strategic connections, but only where the VENN diagrams of our goals, objectives and activities overlap. None of us have survived and had critical impact by taking on other’s broader or distant goals.

My hope/expectation was to pilot a Time Bank project within an existing community organization with Parent Leadership in Education as it’s strongest if not singular direction. My dream has yet to materialize. Sad fact: I would be hard pressed to find in any TB literature specific mention of, or support for IDRA and our work: why would they even think of giving reciprocal ink -- even for this free plug in my blog!

I will persist in support of parent leadership in education because they are the inherently prime defenders of their children’s education --directly supporting excellent neighborhood public schools. I will support the organizations and the tools that will promote & maintain Parent Leadership in Education.

Bottom line for Time Bank and IDRA: We are neither mutually overdrawn nor bankrupt but friends with balanced accounts, investing -- at a distance.

Next Blog: PTA & Time Bank connection for Parent Leadership? Maybe

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Response to "community... arms around its schools"

Several readers responded to the blog post "A Community That Wraps its Arms Around its Schools" as it seemed to strike a common chord. I'm publishing two today.

Cathy Puett Miller, President of TLA, Inc., an independent literacy consulting firm cathypmiller@comcast.net sent this note:

Aurelio, As usual I agree with you totally. Have you see the details in Joyce Epstein's research about parent leadership? She's right on target too. On a personal note, I learned early on to be an advocate because my gifted child was so "outside the box". It was a rough road and I did not always find that the schools were open to my "leadership". I found an outlet in volunteering for leadership in PTA but, instead of just doing bake sales, I saw a real need, developed a model volunteer based tutoring program for at risk readers and made a difference, not only in my own child's life, but hundreds (and now thousands of others with my consulting firm created as an extension of that experiment.
Did I have special training? No. Did I have a mentor? No. I just saw a need and stepped in to solve it. I was fortunate enough to have a principal who listened to my ideas and say "go for it!"

Daniel Bassill President at Tutor/Mentor Connection

Several years ago I heard the chairman of the Motorola Corporation talk to a group of educators. He said "If you just treated your students and parents as customers, you'd be much more successful." One teacher timidly raised her hand and said, "But we're not taught to do that in education school." I lead the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which connects leaders and volunteers and youth who participate in volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs with each other, and with on-line communities of information and people, such as this one. In many ways, this is the "village". It just needs to be expanded and strengthened. If enough people are working to help kids learn and grow up to be self-sufficient, and contributing adults, we'll change the way we define what we mean by "educators".

Daniel’s blog at http://www.linkedin.com/redirect?url=http%3A%2F%2Ftutormentor%2Eblogspot%2Ecom&urlhash=um8q&_t=mbox_grop expands upon these ideas and works to make them a reality in Chicago. If people in other cities take on a similar role, they can have similar impact. If we connect strategically, we each have greater impact.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Citizens Must Organize and Make Leaders Lead

I just returned from a National PTA board meeting and Public Policy Week in Washington, D.C. One of our keynote speakers was Marian Wright Edelman, of Children's Defense Fund fame. She was electrifying, as usual. The essence of her presentation is contained in "The Sea is so Wide and my Boat is so Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation" The book is a series of letters, and I'll quote from "A Letter to Citizens":
Third: Understand that citizens must organize and make leaders lead. A lot of people are waiting for Dr. King to return or for a hew charismatic leader to emerge and save us. But he's not coming back and no single leader can save us. We're it. A statement attributed to Gandhi says: "There go my people; I must run to catch up with them for I am their leader," makes the point. In David Garrow's book, Bearing the Cross, Ella Baker, a crucial role model for me and hundreds of young people in the sit-in movement -- who helped form SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in Raleigh, North Carolina, at her alma mater Shaw University in April 1960 -- said, "The central fact of Martin Luther King's life which he realized from December 5 in Montgomery until April 4 in Memphis was that: 'The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement.'" Diane Nash, the Nashville, Tennessee, student sit-in leader, told Garrow: "If people think it was Martin Luther King's movement, then today they -- young people -- are more likely to say, 'gosh, I wish we had a Martin Luther King here today to lead us.'...If people knew how the movement started, then the question they would ask themselves is, 'what can I do?'"
Thats the question every woman, man, and child in America mus ask ourselves today. Movements make leaders; leaders don't make movements. The people of Montgomery, Alabama, had been seething for years about their unjust treatment on the city's public buses. Mrs. Rosa Parks was the eventual trigger for a community-wide response, which propelled Dr. King, a reluctant prophet, into leadership. But many Montgomery citizens, including Jo Anne Robinson of the Women's Political Caucus and E. B. Nixon, head of the NAACP, were creating the community infrastructure and awaiting the right spark to create a great conflagration. When it came, it ignited the movement, which changed not only Montgomery but all of America.

When I refer to Parent Leadership in Education, I'm not looking for one or a few charismatic, vocal individuals. Those sought are the families that are connected within a neighborhood, across neighborhoods and cities, all seeking the best possible neighborhood public schools for all children. Marian Wright Edelman is electrifying: her voice and her stance is a laser beam that cuts through to your heart. I'm nevertheless not looking for a duplicate: the search is for the many, many families that care deeply for the education of their children and want to bring other families to the cause, to the meeting that informs, compels and speeds up the movement toward excellent and equitable schools for all children.

Practitioners of the Saul Alinsky/Ernie Cortez model of leadership tell us a leader is one who can bring two or more people to an event. I recall that over 40 years ago the most effective organizers in south Texas were those who brought along others to a meeting, a march and even a celebration. I want to connect, selectively and strategically, with those parents who can bring two or more other families to the meeting. I furthermore would like for them to invite others who will also bring two or more to the cause.

Thats it: no charisma, no lengthy training, no book-learning: passion & compassion and the trustworthiness that causes others to take collective action. Families must connect and organize around their vision and dream for our schools. It's also at the core of the definition of a leader in our IDRA Family Leadership in Education model. The locus of this action is so far away from the bake sale, the parent convention and convention exhibitors you can't even see the marquee. Any questions?

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

"a community that wraps its arms around its schools..."

My colleague, Laurie Posner, has been diligently collecting, condensing & punching up educational information for IDRA's Graduation for All e-letter. One highlight in the most recent issue is Parents for Public Schools.

“Show me a successful school district, and I'll show you a community that wraps its arms around its schools, partnering with them for the success of all students.” - Anne Foster, national Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, February 9, 2009.

Mississippi Model. Parents for Public Schools (PPS), which recently selected Anne W. Foster as its new Executive Director, is developing a statewide network in Mississippi that it hopes can become a model for parent engagement in other states. According to the Southern Education Foundation, per-pupil spending in Mississippi, as in other southern states, lags behind national averages, and it remains the only Southern state without state-supported pre-kindergarten. Research compiled by Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy in partnership with IDRA shows that in Mississippi just one in two African American and Latino students graduate on time with a diploma. Through the Schoolhouse to Statehouse initiative, PPS provides training and tools to help parents become more powerful advocates for their children. Its aim is to “mobilize parents and their supporters to work to achieve equitable distribution of resources to support public education and access to opportunities for all students.” To learn more about PPS’ emerging model, visit “We’re Everywhere” or visit Parent Press. Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., director of the IDRA Texas PIRC (Parent Information and Resource Center), serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools--visit "Toolbox" (below) for a link to a podcast conversation with him on “The Power of Parent Leadership.” Looking to learn more about community organizing to improve public education in Mississippi? Visit Southern Echo, a leadership development, education and training organization, strengthening grassroots leadership in the African-American community in rural Mississippi and the region.

Learn more about the Power of Parent Leadership. Almost everyone agrees that parent involvement in schools is key. But what does "involvement" mean? Isn't it time to go beyond the idea of mere involvement to a model of parent and family leadership? To learn more, listen in to The Power of IDRA’s Parent Leadership Model, a Classnotes conversation with Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed...

Now me, not Laurie, speaking: It might be self-serving in my blog to quote someone mentioning me, but I really do want to invite my readers to listen to the podcast on the kind of parent engagement that most interests me. I have little interest in improving parenting skills...there are quite a few offerings online and in print to help parents be better parents. Parent leadership in public education is much less promulgated, researched and supported. Even the well-researched, well-written & currently popular "Beyond the Bake Sale" gives limited focus to this issue, gives a tiny reference to IDRA & totally omits my name, so, then, ergo, this blog & related items. After over 30 years of teaching, training, supporting and writing about this issue, it might ultimately get some legs, some traction and families, with or without good parenting skills, will get the public schools their children need and merit.