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Anne O’Brien is Deputy Director for Learning First Alliance. She previously worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana, where she managed first school-based mentoring and then...
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Educating, Engaging and Mobilizing Parents: A Conversation with Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster

Earlier this month, we at the Learning First Alliance were pleased to welcome our newest member, Parents for Public Schools (PPS). As we work to advance public education nationwide, we recognize the important voice that this organization and those it represents brings to the school improvement conversation.

PPS has local chapters throughout the country that work to elevate the role of parents in public schools from passive consumers to active participants. The organization helps accomplish its mission through strategies and programs that educate, engage and mobilize parents. Through its ongoing work, PPS parents help raise standards, solve problems and advocate for their community.

Parents for Public Schools Executive Director Anne Foster recently took the time to tell us more about the organization.

Public School Insights (PSI): What is Parents for Public Schools?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools (PPS) is a national organization of community-based chapters working to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents.

PSI: Why was the organization formed?

Foster: Parents for Public Schools was started in 1989 in Jackson, Mississippi, by a group of parents. They were committed to supporting public schools and challenging the entire community to do so as well. They were convinced that parents could positively impact public schools, and one of their first acts was to help pass the first bond election in many years, enabling the improvement of the school district facilities. This fledgling movement gained momentum and attention, and PPS became a national organization in 1991.

PSI: How does it work to accomplish its mission?

Foster: PPS works to accomplish its mission in several ways. Primarily, PPS is a chapter-based organization. PPS chapters are located across the country in urban, suburban and rural areas. Each chapter is governed by a local board and is supported by the national staff of PPS. Chapters work within PPS principles but are encouraged to adapt those principles to local needs in their school districts and communities. In addition, PPS has for several years had a statewide program in Mississippi, Schoolhouse to Statehouse. The program employs several parent coaches who work with local parents to build advocacy and leadership skills. Out of this working laboratory, PPS developed its own parent engagement program, PPS PEP, which is now available nationally. PPS staff also works with school boards on community and parent engagement.

PSI: Tell me about your parent leadership programs. What do they consist of? What have the outcomes been?

Foster: PPS PEP, PPSs parent leadership program, brings together about 30 parents at a time, over a number of weeks. Each class can also include grandparents and others who wish to learn advocacy skills for supporting public education. Participants are exposed to various learning styles and can then best determine their own style. They learn about how school districts are organized, how funding works and how school boards govern. The sessions help them understand how to read and interpret school accountability data, while looking at the results of their own schools. As parents see the challenges in academic results, they are challenged to find ways to remove barriers to learning, in their homes, schools and community. Each graduate creates his or her own action plan how they will partner to increase student achievement. PPS PEP mirrors the anchor standards of Common Core State Standards and complies with Title I regulations.

After working with hundreds of parents in these sessions, we have seen outcomes that show that parents can truly impact public schools positively. We have seen accountability data improve in districts where we have worked with parents, and we have seen parents create projects that boost student achievement. Example: In one elementary school where science scores had dipped, parents started a hands-on science lab, and science scores improved the next year. PPS does not claim that parents alone are responsible for such improvements, but we do believe that when parents and schools work together, everyone wins.

PSI: What does it take to become a PPS chapter? What type of work do chapters do?

Foster: When a group of parents contact PPS about becoming a chapter, they follow a process that includes an application and a group of at least twelve parents who commit to work with the organization. Applicants must provide information on their district, its demographics, why they want to become a chapter, what their goals are and how they intend to accomplish those goals. They also must commit to working to create a chapter that reflects the diversity of their district. PPS National board members review the applications. Once approved, PPS National staff works with the new chapter to incorporate and get started. Support for PPS chapters by national staff is ongoing and includes technical support, development support, chapter services and regional/national conferences.

PPS chapters work to support public education in their school districts and communities, while encouraging support from the public. PPS chapters provide parent leadership sessions and are able to use the PPS PEP. Chapters take on a variety of work, including: Regularly scheduled events for the public to discuss public education, school board candidate forums, monitoring school board meetings, translating proposed school board policies into other languages for various language groups, providing tours of schools for prospective students and families, working for adequate funding for public schools, engaging with bond elections, helping parents navigate enrollment policies, and in general, being involved in the issues of public schools in their communities.

PSI: What one or two organizational accomplishments are you most proud of?

Foster: I am most proud of PPS for having reached parents from every demographic and for being able to involve many parents who have not been at the table before. PPS PEP has been translated into Spanish and is available for Spanish-speaking parents. PPS believes that public schools succeed when every part of the community supports them that includes parents, and it includes all parents.

PSI: Is there anything else that you would like to share about the organization?

Foster: PPS is thrilled to be a part of The Learning First Alliance. We have admired and supported the work of the groups that make up LFA and have worked with many of the groups. We are excited to be part of the group now and looking forward to working with everyone!

This content originally appeared by Anne O'Brien on Learning First Alliance's blog and is posted here with permission.