One Small Step for Parentkind!
Yesterday was an exceptionally proud moment for the #ParentPower Movement Team. After a few back and forth scheduling emails, our team of parents sat down last night with appointed Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Christopher Cerf. Many said "oh don't do it, he would just use you all to say he had parent interaction." Well, isn't that one of the reason why we said all those years Cami had the seat, she was not effective is because she would never engage with the parents in the city of Newark? If we did not work hard to try and arrange something with Superintendent Cerf, wouldn't we be doing a disservice to the parents we speak to and assist in our community?
I am a volunteer member for the East Ward Newark 350th Anniversary committee and Mr. Cerf and I ran into each other at the Kick Off Family Festival in October held at Military Park in Newark. We exchanged introductions and contact information and he said" He heard of ParentPower Movement and would love to sit and chat with us!" I said, "Do you really mean that?" He said of course so we exchanged contact information. Within the next 24 hours #ParentPower was receiving communications from both his office and Superintendent looking to set something up. Like I said it took some working out as we are all hardworking parents with different schedules and children in many extracurricular activities, but we settled on 11/4/15 at 7 pm at 2 Cedar Street, Central Offices for the Newark Public School District.
Leading up to the meeting the team reviewed emails, phone calls. social media inboxes and personal accounts we had with parents and came up with an agenda to help guide us through our first sit down with Mr. Cerf. Many of us or I should say most of us, the only interaction we have had with him has been seeing him at State Board of Education meetings when he was in the Commissioner of Education seat and now at local Newark Advisory Board meetings. So our team all met in the lobby of 2 Cedar Street in full #PARENTPOWER uniform, packed the elevator and made our way to the 10th floor. We were greeted kindly, of course and escorted into the conference room where within moments of our arrival Superintendent Cerf entered. We went around introducing ourselves to him and in return he requested that we call him " Chris." It took awhile but after the meeting warmed up a bit we much obliged. We all had our copies of our Meeting agendas with our logo on the top and handed one to Mr. Cerf. along with a #PARENTPOWER MOVEMENT button!
The agenda listed items such as:
- Who is #ParentPower Movement. Our Goals and Mission Statement
- IEP issues
- Facility Conditions
- Arts in Education
- School Closures
- Charter Expansions
We discussed how One Newark was not impacting our local neighborhoods as the data we where hearing from him or the district portrayed. The team brought in one of our parents who we have been dealing with for sometime to speak and give first hand account of the horrific experiences she had with her family going through the process of IEPs and trying to find a fit that met the basics of her child's IEP needs. Educated in over 10 years of experience and advocating for her children she let him know bluntly the tremendous cracks in the system. We discussed how we hear from many of the Special Needs/ IEP population of parents and their dissatisfaction. We also discussed failures in ESL and with our bilingual community. The team proposed that he institute to us a direct "hotline" for our team to get around the chaos and mess parents have to deal with when they contact Central Office for an issue! He agreed that was a wonderful idea and requested to his note take DeShawn, to "make it happen." The team was really happy about that. We set guidelines for response times and how the hotline would work. That was a big win for us!
As things from the agenda are still being worked out since our meeting, I do not feel it is helpful to share the details of what was discussed. I will share with you somethings. We worked out some lists and issues that needed to be addressed district wide and time frames for resolution. He knew what type of caliber parents he had in the room by our moxy to not back down and stand firm when we required certain actions to be taken. The running joke in the room for him was " Unfortunately, have no sympathy for you!" After the 3rd or 4th time he knew he wouldn't be getting any from this group of parents! He also knew that we had a parent in the room physically recording every word that was said. So when it came to "on the record" statements, he knew our entire meeting was on the record. He actually made a comment about our new relationship and I had to stop him and clarify, " I wouldn't call this a relationship just yet. Relationships build over time with trust and respect. So lets take it slow. 50% of all marriages end in bad divorces." We all laughed but acknowledge this to be a slow process. We also joked about propaganda and said well yeah...we will use what we can to grab the right persons's attention. He must have seen our many memes in the past. He did say " We should do more of these." " I corrected him and said" Oh NO THERE WILL BE MORE OF THESE NOT SHOULD." He definitely agreed. After about an hour and a half we concluded the meeting with some confirmation of timelines, said our goodbyes and had our individual chats with him one on one as we left the conference room.
Besides helping to create #ParentPower Movement, last night was a really proud moment for me to see our team of well informed, well prepared, professional and diplomatic parents work together as a team. To take this step together. We didn't call in a special favor to get us the meeting, we didn't have hedgefunders set up the meeting for us. We didn't take pictures for media purposes. The meeting last night is because while we maybe button pushers and feather rufflers, we are also Do-ers. We want to see change not just talk about it. To pull ourselves away from the table from having discussions with those empowered to make decisions would do a disservice to the families we work with and our followers. So, we are not expecting changes over night, we are not on a pink cloud of false expectations. #PARENTPOWER Movement has timelines set up with Superintendent Cerf and his team for resolutions on this first agenda and we will be happy to report solutions and resolutions as they are finalized with Mr. Cerf and the district. Until then, we encourage all TRADITIONAL Newark Public School parents to reach us at tel.862.227.1818 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org with their issues so we can help expedite solutions and resolutions regarding your child's education!