• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • November – December 2013 •
The increasing diversity of our school population magnifies a key challenge in school governance: how to best engage and represent the interest of school districts’ students, parents, families and community. School boards are elected by school district constituencies to ensure that decisions about schools reflect access to quality curriculum, equity and excellence applied consistently within a contextual reality of diversity.
Equity and excellence in education for all are cornerstones of national significance for effective governance in today’s society. This article delineates a set of two community advocacy goals that we encourage school boards to pursue in an effort to change patterns of neglect toward minority students to one of inclusivity and high expectations for all students. These goals embody a commitment to educating each student regardless of income, race, ethnicity, gender or orientation. They include new approaches to create changes needed in policy and practice to ensure an equitable and excellent education for all our children.
A Vision of Inclusivity and High Expectations – An Act of Restoring Hope and Collective Action
If we choose to be meaningfully engaged in working together, we can restore hope for a quality education that prepares all children for graduation, college readiness and a future filled with promise. In our Fulfilling the Promise Mendez-Brown Initiative, IDRA designed a series of cross-race, cross-sector community-school dialogues that gathered African American and Latino community, business and education leaders in cities throughout the South to address key education issues in each respective community. Student voice was at the heart of the process in these local forums that were successful in providing space to set aside differences and create a common vision, engaging education stakeholders in action planning around key issues. IDRA provided information and a process to seed new coalitions among groups that seldom come together to plan collective action in education. A resource kit was developed to support schools and communities in this process: Creating Your Education Blueprint for Action: Mendez and Brown Community Dialogues – A Launch Kit (Rodríguez, et al., 2010).
Leadership for Student Advocacy –Acts of Courage and Humility
Dialogue and joint action planning takes great courage and humility; both are central to good governance. Dialogue comes from an openness of the heart to hear another person’s point of view, to set aside your own agenda temporarily and offer human warmth so that together we can co-create something better than before or greater than one can do working alone. This takes tremendous trust and courage because it is necessary to learn how to lower one’s defenses and really see or hear another’s point of view. It also takes humility to consider we might not have all the answers ourselves, we need the diversity of sectors and voices working together to solve complex educational challenges. In Spanish, the word gentileza (gentility) means to be open to another viewpoint, to soften the heart and open the mind. Joint action planning takes courage and gentileza to forgive the past and move forward together in building a better future.
If we are serious about promoting graduation and college readiness and really committed to creating successful academic pathways for all children, then we must find the courage to enter into dialogue and catalyze joint action with a broader view of who must be included at the planning and governance table in achieving this together. The following principles for community-school-parent advocacy in action emerged from the Mendez-Brown initiative.
- Coalition building must be inclusive, reflecting the diversity of race, ethnicity in each school community, spanning sectors and disciplines and breaking down traditional barriers and silos to collaborate in action planning.
- Each community context is unique, and specific action must be responsive to the local needs, strengths and solutions emerging from dialogue.
- An education system within a viable democracy must ensure fair and equitable funding for every public school.
- Schools must develop greater holding power to support and prepare all students pre-K through college.
- Educators must be better prepared to teach a diverse student body and partner effectively with students’ families.
- Schools must value and meaningfully engage parents and communities in decision-making and action.
- Student voice must be an intrinsic part of any planning and decision-making process in education.
Growing recognition of the importance of family and community engagement as a strategy for school success prompted the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to recently convene thought leaders and project directors from across the nation for site visits and dialogue to explore how to build family engagement within the context and lens of educational equity.
PTA Comunitario parent leaders offered poignant testimony of work being done in the Rio Grande Valley led by community working with schools to create change. Commitment to a collective vision emerging from families in each barrio, supported by neighborhood community-based organizations is the driving force that holds promise for one of the greatest turnarounds in education in the nation.
San Antonio’s Mayor Castro has set a target goal of 85 percent graduation rate by 2020. The backbone of this effort consists of parent voices, parent-led discussions and joint leadership in action, collaborating with neighborhood community-based organizations and schools.
Addressing the educational disparities faced by our communities, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics held a national summit of Hispanic early learning in September, where Undersecretary Martha Kanter; initiative Executive Director Alejandra Ceja; President’s Advisory Commission Chair, Dr. Eduardo Padron; and Roberto Rodríguez, Special Assistant to the President for Education, The White House Domestic Policy Council, joined distinguished panelists, researchers and experts. They all reinforced the fact that the future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of the Hispanic community, pledging their strong support to advance a strategic policy and outreach agenda to work with diverse stakeholders to tackle critical education challenges facing our nation. The urgency of this call to work together across groups, sector and race could not be stronger nor the stakes higher. Only together can we weave a web of support for all our children that is strong, sustainable and vital to our future and our world.
Montemayor, A.M. “Stop the Merry-go-Round, Children Might Fall Off! – Parents as Stewards of Governance for School Reform that Supports Educational Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2007).
Rodríguez, R.G., & A. Villarreal, J.D. Cortez, B. Scott. Creating Your Education Blueprint for Action – Mendez and Brown Community Dialogues – A Launch Kit (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
Villarreal, A., & R.G. Rodríguez. “A Guide for School Board Members to Assess District Effectiveness,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July, 2010).
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “A Shared Responsibility Among Families, Schools and Communities: WKKF’s Family Engagement Convening,” (May 23, 2013).
Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is director of development. Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is chief of operations. Comments and questions may be directed to them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]