Tara Brown: No RSVP needed to the table, parents! We’re the VIPs

December 14, 2021

As parents, we are responsible for raising the next generation of citizens. 

To do this, we take on the role as caregivers. We provide our children with a safe environment. We make sure they are nourished and healthy. And we do not hesitate to protect our children from harm. 

Through all this provision, we are very aware of our roles as caregivers, but we can often get caught up in these responsibilities and forget about another powerful role we take on: education advocates.

As a mother and a PAVE parent leader, I’ve had my fair share of experiences balancing the roles of caregiver and education advocate. So, I present to you the guide that I’ve created and used to approach problems I’ve recognized in my children’s education. I hope it will support you as you advocate for your own. 

Tip #1: Get involved as much as you can

As a working, single mother, I understand the time constraints placed on parents. Between homework help, prepping meals, and (attempting) to have personal down time, adding another to-do on your list seems close to impossible. 

However, it’s best to try and do as much as you can to get involved and connect with the people responsible for educating your children. Connecting with these sources will help you recognize an issue before it arises. 

Here are some ways you can get involved:  

  • Attend school events such as PTO meetings, Back-to-School nights, and Parent-Teacher conferences.
  • Sign up to receive email updates.
  • Attend community events such as DC Council meetings or DC State Board of Education meetings.
  • Join community-based education specific organizations, like PAVE.
  • Email your child’s teachers and principal.

Tip #2: Utilize the chain of command

If there is an issue with your child’s school, work where the problem originated before bringing it to another person/group. If your issue is with the teacher, that should be the first person you contact. If they don’t listen AND act on what you discussed, time to move on to the principal. From there, continue working through the chain – raising your voice to make sure you are heard. 

As a former DCPS parent, my chain of command looked like this – and may look similar for you:

  • Teacher
  • Principal
  • Superintendent
  • DCPS Chancellor’s Office
  • Ombudsman’s Office
  • DC Council
  • Deputy Mayor of Education
  • Mayor Bowser 

Before you move to the next level in the chain, document the attempts you made with the previous person in the chain. Not only will this exercise save you time, but you have proof that will keep others in the chain from questioning the moves you have already made. Remember: your goal is to resolve the issue on behalf of your child as quickly, and as tactfully as possible.

Tip #3: Recognize resolution vs. revenge

While you may be mad as hell, revenge should not be the fuel that sustains your advocacy. Instead, use your anger to keep your eyes on the prize. Anger clouds judgment. It pulls you into the weeds of your feelings and away from your primary focus. What you are doing is important, and when you make your case for change, you want the change makers to be focused on the message and not the messenger.

However, this is not to suggest that there should be no accountability. In your efforts to highlight a problem, identify the source and map out a solution, accountability will come naturally. As you move up the chain of command, the next link will be looking back to the previous one for answers. 

>> There’s an A.P.P for that! << 

NEVER forget that there are more of us than there are of them. We are our children’s first line of defense. Here’s an example of APPLIED PARENT POWER (A.P.P). This letter was written by a group of parents that I was a part of after we recognized an issue within our DCPS school. DCPS took our concern seriously, and by using this guide through our process, we ultimately saw substantive change that positively affected our children.

In the same way that this guide encourages you to engage with your school leadership, you should not be afraid to engage with higher level leadership, as well. Beyond your child’s school are the stakeholders (i.e. ANC Commissioners, DCSBOE Representatives, DC Councilmembers) that shape the policies that directly affect your children.  

In fact, you will have an opportunity next January to wield your own parent power by participating in PAVE’s DC Parent Voice and Choice Week. Your connection to these leaders will further insinuate yourself into the conversations that affect all of our children. 

There is no “perfect way” to use this guide. Whether you utilize all of the tips, or alter some to best fit your needs  – just know that you are doing one thing perfectly: being the best caregiver AND education advocate you can be for your child.

By Tara Brown, Citywide PLE Board and Ward 8 PLE Board member