Fighting for Families Through an Allegiance to Public Schools in Tennessee and Nationwide
As part of SiX’s 2018 #FightingForFamilies Week of Action, Lyn Hoyt, State Alliance Coordinator for the Tennessee Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, wrote a guest blog on the importance of investing and supporting K-12 public schools and advancing local efforts supporting community schools in Tennessee and nationwide.
By Lyn Hoyt
Public schools are the vehicle through which we guarantee all children a free education from kindergarten through 12th grade. In our collective interest, we promise that poor children and rich children, students with disabilities, students of color, immigrant and non-immigrant, will have access to an equitable, quality public education, paid for by taxpayers and controlled by local communities. Public schools ensure that our students have the skills they will need for good jobs and productive futures. They also teach young people how to participate in our democracy.
Yet across the country, we continue to invest more in schools serving white children than in schools serving African American and Latino children. And as the number of students living in poverty has risen in the U.S., state and local funding for public education has decreased in the past decade. Public schools are one more American institution caught up in the rising inequality that faces our nation.
The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), a national labor and community collaboration, believes that public schools play a critical role, not just in strengthening our economy, but also in supporting the success of local communities. As we participate in the State Innovation Exchange’s “Fighting for Families” week of action, we know this: We have to get education right.
As the State Alliance Coordinator for AROS in Tennessee, we are building a statewide AROS coalition that includes organized parents, educators, students and community members. Tennessee AROS includes the Tennessee Parent Teacher Association, the Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and other local community-based groups. We came together a year ago to advocate for a new approach to the complex challenge of improving our public schools. Our mission is to support the creation of public schools where families, communities, students and educators take ownership of their schools to insure the success of every child.
This year, we are working with a unique bipartisan group of state legislators to promote “transformational” community schools across Tennessee to create a locally led, district level approach to school improvement. The most effective community schools combine six components: a rich, culturally relevant curriculum; an emphasis on high-quality teaching, not high stakes testing; wrap-around supports for students and their families; positive discipline practices such as restorative justice; authentic parent and community engagement and inclusive school leadership. Studies by the Center for Popular Democracy, and the Learning Policy Institute, along with the National Education Policy Center suggest that these components, working together, can have dramatic effects, not just on student academic outcomes, but on school culture and climate, teacher retention, chronic absenteeism and more.
Our community schools bill HB2472 and SB2393, filed by sponsors Senator Steve Dickerson (R) and Representative Harold Love (D), creates a fund where the state may allocate resources from various sources to support staffing community schools site coordinators through a Local Education Agency and district-led application process. Any school in the state whose performance has placed them on the priority or focus list would have the opportunity to apply. The commitment to a needs assessment and site coordinator are the major part of the fund application plan. AROS will advocate for a deeper engagement with educators and families to be a part of school-level implementation. It is an exciting time to be organizing parents and teachers to become a critical part of creating the schools our children deserve as we fight for families.
Our approach has been one of bi-partisanship. The community partnership piece is something that appeals to conservatives. And the community voice in the process is one that appeals to progressives. All agree that we must do more to make sure children can be successful in school. Everyone also agrees we must approach this sustainably with multiple funding sources, not just state or federal grants. So, long term commitment from the community and school districts are critical.
The long-range strategy is to develop a culture of shared decision-making that includes educators and families, ultimately strengthening participation in democracy, supporting great teaching and stabilizing communities as well as improving student academic outcomes. In public education, that’s how we make sure that our democracy is working for all of us. AROS is proud that Tennessee is working collaboratively to strengthen community schools across the state. We are modeling the democratic process and organizing the community around those agreed-upon goals and identifying the community resources to achieve those goals to help make our schools great.
Lyn Hoyt is a Nashville resident, public school parent and the State Alliance Coordinator for TennAROS.org