Local School Advocacy and PTA Inequities

Hi Friends!
We’re fully into the holiday season! I hope all of you are able to get some time off to spend with loved ones.
Based on the six survey responses I have received so far, we have several areas to spend our energy advocating for in the coming year. Additionally, it looks like Wednesdays continue to work for the most people, but Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays are also possibilities. I am working to set up a meeting with one of the County Board members (thanks to one of our group members who is facilitating this connection) and I want to make sure as many of our members can attend this meeting as possible.
In case you missed it, the School Board approved the middle school boundary changes last week. There were a few speakers who spoke about the demographic issues, which was heartening, and one of the board members spoke specifically about his intent to create a new proposal and his decision not to move forward with that. It was partially because of a lack of support from his colleagues, and partially because he didn’t want to undermine or circumvent the process of engaging the community about the options before the vote. I found the commentary by the Board members after the community speakers to be quite enlightening.
One of our members worked to create a petition to the school district. I also saw it posted on the local schools FB page where there was some discussion. This is related to a similar discussion at the county-wide PTA about the renewal of the MOU between the school district and the county police department regarding the role of SROs in our schools. The county-wide PTA is recommending that the Virginia state model MOU be followed. The school district is drafting a document to inform students about their rights when interacting with law enforcement on campus.
I saw a story in the Washington Post headlined “Integration in schools boosted by gentrifying.” Thoughts on this? I imagine that if white families continue the trend of displacing families of color that gentrification ceases to be as beneficial to the community. My sense is that gentrification tends to push out lower-income people over time because property values become unaffordable, but I would love to hear from any of you about your thoughts/experiences about how this happens in our community or elsewhere.
As our group and our activism has evolved, I have been focusing more and more on the inequities among the schools within our school district in my own personal efforts. For those of us interested in our educational system (and that seems to be most of you), it makes sense to focus on ways in which we can leverage our voices to make sure that each and every one of our schools has the resources it needs to support its students. Unfortunately, our student population is growing faster than our tax base is growing. It is going to be very important to agitate at the County Board level for improved/increased funding for education as a bigger part of the County budget. Our school district is currently facing a huge deficit in the coming budget.
I wanted to share that I’m officially the working with the county-wide PTA on their grant initiative. If you don’t know, the county-wide PTA meets monthly and represents all of the PTAs in the county. The meetings include reports from a School Board member and the Superintendent. Ideally, each school that is a PTA member sends a representative to these meetings. They have a grant initiative that was started in the last few years to specifically support the goal to provide greater equality and equity in academic experiences and opportunities across schools by enabling those PTAs with sufficient funds to help those schools lacking financial resources. We made six awards this term (applications are reviewed twice a year), which included field trip scholarships so 4th grade students could all go to Jamestown Settlement (something some elementary schools cannot afford to do), and literacy initiatives, including books for classroom libraries and other literacy programming. I plan to get the word out about this initiative more, and feel free to share this with your PTAs. If you have any questions, please let me know.
As I said in my weekly update last week, please let me know anytime if you have relevant events/actions/information to share with the group. This group will be strongest when we share information with each other about our efforts on these issues, allowing collaboration and support.
Happy Holidays!

Privilege and Charitable Giving

Hi Friends!
Hooray Alabama! As one of my friends pointed out, people of color were the heroes in yesterday’s election — they overwhelmingly voted for Jones. Here are more breakdowns if you’re curious. As before, there is so much more work to be done. On we go!
If you can attend the School Board meeting tomorrow, they will be voting on the middle school boundaries. I haven’t seen anything from the school board member posted online, so I have no idea what might happen at the meeting. It may be that there is a push to delay the decision until better options are considered. There is an opportunity to speak at the meeting, so if you can go, please do. And feel free to coordinate on our list to see if you want to try to go together or speak to the same purpose — the more voices we raise about this the better!
I saw an article in Medium by Molly McClure called “Parents, Privilege, & Public Schools.” It’s a really good read. Here’s a sample:
“For privileged parents, it can be especially hard to see the ways that our understanding of and approach to addressing challenges at school is shaped by our experiences of privilege in the world. We can show up to our new school community with race and/or class entitlement that can alienate teachers, other parents, and school staff. We may replicate some of the underlying structural inequities that created the things we find challenging about the school in the first place.”
I came across a publication that sounds really perfect for members of our group — Hold the Line Magazine, “where parenthood and social justice collide” which just published its first issue. The content looks amazing and is available in PDF form.
As you consider your charitable giving before the end of the year (and all year long), please keep in mind POC-led organizations. A powerful part of our anti-racism efforts is in reallocating financial resources to POC (more information can be found around reparations here).
Please keep in mind as certain legislation moves through our government that many of us are in a privileged position to be less affected by the results of these measures than many in our community. Please make space for listening to and supporting our friends and neighbors who have less privilege and less flexibility to absorb these changes if they are enacted. We must show that we are better than this with our actions.

Vision for a Coalition

Hi Friends!
Happy December! Before I get into updates for the week, I’d like to share my thinking about the goals and purpose of our group with all of you as they have evolved a bit since our first meeting in August. We have also gained quite a few members, so I’d like to be clear about our group’s purpose and goals for everyone’s benefit as we head into the new year.
I gathered the group originally to encourage others in my community to engage with their privilege and to examine their own role in perpetuating systemic racism. I have been committed to struggling with these things within myself and I hoped that others were doing the same and that we could support each other through that process and encourage others to join us. I am happily convinced now that many, many people in our community are doing this and are already engaged in activism and work that addresses racial and economic inequalities in our community.
Therefore, our group will still serve its original goal and I would like to broaden its scope. I would like our group to become a strong community/coalition of dedicated individuals working to resolve racial and economic injustices in our communities in many different ways. This means finding areas in which we can each leverage our privilege to promote change. This means communicating with each other through the group about events, activities, petitions, meetings, etc. so we can support each others’ efforts. Through all of this, our focus will be to listen, to amplify, and to follow members of our community who are most affected by inequities and injustice. Through our actions, we must prove that their voices, their experiences, and their lives matter.
For example, if we hear from our members/community that police discrimination is a problem for POC communities in our county, then we can address that issue by communicating with the County, communicating with our schools regarding SROs, communicating with POC communities about alternatives to calling the police, etc. Wherever you have privilege/leverage, you could use it to address this issue however it overlaps with your expertise/connections/abilities. All of these issues are interconnected, and our goal is to create a coalition within our community to address them from as many angles as possible. Do not underestimate the fact that if you are white, you have a louder voice than POC saying the same words — that is a function of your privilege and that is where you have leverage to amplify their voices.
With that in mind, I have created a survey to gather information from our group about interest and availability for the coming year. The more information you can provide, the better I’ll be able to put together content that will be relevant for as many of our group members as possible. In terms of future events, I’m already working to schedule some speakers for the group as well as more small group discussion meetings. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for speakers or discussion topics.
Thanks to those who were able to come to our small discussion group last week. We had a productive conversation about local school districts and some of the similar challenges in both areas. We also talked about the middle school boundaries, enough that I was able to attend the School Board meeting and speak about the fact that the proposed middle school boundaries as they stand make the demographic balance in the county worse.
A slightly revised version of the middle school boundary map was presented at that meeting. One of the board members also stated at the meeting that he would be working on an alternative version of the boundary changes over the weekend, but I haven’t seen anything about that yet. I’m hoping more information will be available soon. The Board votes at the next meeting, which may be a very sedate meeting or might be quite raucous depending on what happens between now and then. It was clear to me at the meeting that the Board listens to community members, so please email or otherwise contact the Board through their website. Despite the fact that the Superintendent has made his recommendation, everything is still potentially on the table. This is not over!
One of our members let me know that the County Civic Federation’s Legislative Committee has written a resolution on Criminal Justice Reform. Please contact your neighborhood’s civic association representative to support this resolution.
EmbraceRace hosted a community conversation called “Can We Really Raise Inclusive Kids in Segregated Neighborhoods?” I think you’ll be able to access the recording of this session here.
A community member recently started a new nonprofit dedicated to putting books in the hands of young children, 1 in 5 of whom in our community do not own any books. The organization is called Read Early and Daily (R.E.A.D.) and you can learn more here.
Thank you for reading and for being a part of this movement!