Leigh Sims: Headed down a path that makes sense

February 22, 2022

From a Public School Teacher to a Budding Policy Buff and the Road that’s Paved with PAVE.  

The classroom is where my heart is but my adventure cup was bottomlessly empty so I moved from America to the Middle East. After about a year, I landed myself right back in America but I still had an itch for some kind of change. 

One day, I was scrolling through some research on how to become more deeply involved with my community, with education being top priority. As I scanned numerous organization websites I stumbled upon a picture of a colleague and reached out to them to learn more about this purple t-shirt she was wearing that clearly symbolized her commitment to PAVE, parents, and education and DC. I was virtually hit with the famous #PurpleWave!

After a quick chat with her, completing an application, and interviewing with parent leaders and PAVE Staff, I was accepted to a PAVE Parent Leaders in Education (PLE) Board and haven’t looked back. It took me nine years to break out of my teaching shell to get to the point of finding and joining PAVE in the summer of 2020, and I am so joyous about it.  

My inaugural year has allowed me to take part in two DC Parent Voice and Choice Week (DCPVCW) cycles. The first DCPVCW I attended (in 2021), I was in awe. I was trying to understand the systems at play, the policy cycle. I was also trying to understand the personalities, roles, priorities  and responsibilities of each policymaker. It was a lot to take in at once but it was really exciting and really interesting. 

DCPVCW 2022 seemed to show up with a bang and it was a totally different experience. This year, a lot of my understanding of DCPVCW came from the creation of our top 2021-2022 #ParentPriorities (School-Based Mental Health supports and Out-of-School Time programs) and, wow, is that a robust process. I also had a baseline this year so I was able to compare the reactions of all the policymakers to PAVE as an organization and the parent priorities, which were different from last year’s priorities

During DCPVCW, I really wanted to see familiarity and a deeper commitment from the DC Councilmembers and Deputy Mayor for Education; I was hopeful they would engage more authentically and hear parent voices more deeply. I don’t know if I was able to just capture more of what was taking place this year, but throughout most of the meetings I attended, I felt like we were well received as parents, families, and a trusted set of minds advocating for change. 

PAVE Never Fails to bring Parents into the Fold 

One of the many things that PAVE has been fantastic about is providing opportunities for parents to level up.  

For instance, as I’m learning about who the “policy players” are and, where the power is, I’m also learning about myself! PAVE is my accountability partner, my knowledge, and well, my cheerleader, really. Since joining PAVE I’ve been more accountable to myself I’ve become a better, stronger person and a better advocate.  

For this year’s DCPVCW, I was asked to chair a meeting and my first reaction (which I said to myself, maybe out loud) was “absolutely not!” But then I realized that the world wouldn’t end if I did it – it would feel uncomfortable and new, but it would also be a great time and opportunity to grow. And I clearly couldn’t back out once I found out the meeting I would chair would involve At-Large Councilmember Henderson

Another opportunity that pushed my leadership and advocacy was taking over I also had the parent-run @dcpavevoices Instagram account during the DCPVCW meeting with Ward 6 Councilmember Allen. During the takeover I was tasked with sharing my own thoughts, feelings, and takeaways during the meeting to include those following along with the meeting online. I had done a @dcpavevoices Twitter takeover last year for another DCPVCW meeting, but taking over Instagram felt very different. Instagram felt more creative-it was more about capturing the visual moments that had the essence of our parent priorities and asks. 

Don’t get me wrong; using Twitter last year was a lot of fun and felt really powerful because it packed that extra punch, and gave the sense that the needle was being moved forward in real time. There’s nothing like seeing the collective voice of advocates sharing similar needs and priorities on one platform.  There’s a powerful moment in tagging the right people in your post to make sure your words are heard throughout the large world of the “Twitterverse.” At the end of the day no matter the medium, parents need to be at the table in these decisions because we are also stakeholders in the education system.  

As we move past DCPVCW and move into the upcoming budget cycle, my hope is that a new and fresh learning opportunity or point presents itself for everyone involved. For myself, I am fortunate to have PAVE as an aspect of my life. I am learning about  how everything works together. As a mother and a former teacher, this process shouldn’t be so mysterious, it shouldn’t take years of gaining information to understand how things get done.

I hope this process becomes demystified for everyone involved at the table. And the people that are in need of most change are positively and greatly impacted at the end of the day.

By Leigh Sims, Citywide PLE Board and Ward 6 PLE Board member