'The Job Is Not a Simple One'
Parents for Public Schools is about getting organized. Everyone in the community shares the responsibility for making public schools effective--whether we have children in them or not.
We sometimes kid ourselves into thinking the quality of the schools doesn't affect each of us directly. Yet, the plight of the impoverished and unempowered for whom public schools are the only option is inextricably tied to all of us within the community. Get out of your comfort zone and get to work.
Parents who are organized--as with a Parents for Public Schools chapter--pinch-hit for each other. They share the work and the successes. They provide objective counsel to each other and powerful, cohesive teams to take on problems of the system. By sharing the load, they leverage their time.
That's the goal of organizations like ours: working together to find common ground. It isn't always easy. You know the stereotypes: Bureaucrats are protecting the status quo, administrators are too busy fighting the unions. Teachers are the experts. Corporate executives just use their checkbooks. Parents with economic clout opt out of the system altogether, and those who remain just want what's best for their kids.
Believing that we don't need each other to do the job or that the job belongs to someone else is folly. Build a bridge instead.
A good way to start is to seek common-ground issues. Identifying and working toward these can create instant and broad-based ownership. Perhaps number one on the list is safety. If schools aren't safe, then communities aren't safe. It shouldn't take a crisis like guns in school to make us work together, but such a crisis may help demonstrate how it's possible to find the common ground that will unite us--for the sake of community.
No one has enough time, most of all parents. They're often either struggling to make ends meet or trying to be in several places at once. But if we're organized and work together, several things happen. Most of all, we begin to be recognized for the legitimate role that parents must play in their children's education and in the improvement of schools. This means the time that we can put in is more effective.
Organization leads to strength in numbers, which can in turn place at our disposal corporate resources, volunteer hands, organizational skills, drivers, bakers, and fund-raisers.
Parents offer all of these gifts, as well as a bridge to the wider community--religious organizations, the business sector, the media. A very legitimate role for parents is to tap these community resources on behalf of the public schools.
The job is not a simple one. It requires patience, persistence, teamwork, and imagination. Bailing out--whether physically or psychologically--adds to the problem. One way to avoid this is through teamwork. Working with school reform over the long haul is like sticking to an exercise program--it's easier if you do it with a friend.
We call it mutual support, and it's the single most critical element to sustaining parent involvement. Working shoulder to shoulder with other parents, friends, and soon-to-be friends creates a synergy that is unstoppable. Learn from, lean on, and lead each other. Parent involvement will no longer elude us. Nor will our sense of community.