I believe that place matters.
I'm a fifth-generation Washingtonian. I grew up and went to school in D.C. When I graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School, it was important to me to return to and work for the place where my family and I had roots and history.
People say every place and city is unique, and I believe that to be true. It’s essential that organizations are led by people who understand the city in which they are operating and share the history and experiences of those they are serving.
Even more critical is ensuring any efforts to improve education are led by the community. That is the mission of PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education).
PAVE was founded with an all-parent governing board in 2016. It is dedicated to creating an environment where the vision for education in Washington, D.C., is created with children and families, not for them.
Before founding PAVE, I was a school leader at a charter school in D.C. During that time, I noticed a few things.
First, the real decisions were made by a select few and not the parents affected, which has real repercussions. An example is the well-intentioned initiative that allowed more students to use Metrorail to get to school. The final policy did not consider what happens when students have to cross neighborhood lines, especially if it is early in the morning or late at night when it is dark. These are important issues for PAVE parents.
Second, I was almost always the only Black woman or longtime D.C. resident at the meetings where policies were actually debated, not just voted on. When it came time for votes, there were more people who looked like me in the room, but their ability to influence the discussion was limited.
I often thought, "Where's my mother in this process?" My mom was my biggest advocate as a child. But I often couldn’t find anyone like her in meetings that were going to have the biggest impact on children who looked like me.
There were a lot of great intentions in those rooms, but there was a gap. That is how PAVE was born.
We needed an organization for parents that was completely responsive to their unique needs, voices and concerns.
In our first year, PAVE met with over 100 families to understand the issues that mattered most to them. Together, we developed five core values:
- All families have access to high-quality schools and the information they need to make the best decision for their children.
- All schools have adequate and equitable funding to support the needs of children and families.
- All students have a safe, healthy and welcoming school environment.
- All students have access to out-of-school time and summer school programs that allow them to foster their passions and enrich their learning.
- All parents have the resources they need to support the success of their children at home – and in school.
They are given the space to connect to one another because together, they have immense power to impact change.
They set the agenda for the year and we, the staff of PAVE, simply support.
They meet with policymakers to make sure the people who are making decisions hear directly from those who are affected.
The impact of PAVE parents was almost immediate. For example, the Department of Health was going to swap school nurses with Community Health Managers who are not trained nurses and cannot administer medication. A number of advocates, including PAVE parents, testified before the Council to stop the change and later, support new legislation that PAVE parents believed better met the needs of our kids. Now, many schools, especially those east of the Anacostia River where many children have chronic health conditions, like asthma, are keeping both their full-time nurses and getting a health manager.
On another issue, I recently ran into a Councilmember who said to me, “When can I meet with PAVE parents again because it was actually that meeting, in part, that pushed me to think about the way we fund our schools.”
He literally said to me, "Those meetings are important."
That’s why PAVE exists: to demonstrate the power and the promise of parent voice.
Our ultimate goal is to see parents running for office so they can influence the system, not just from the outside, but from the inside out.
That is what place-based parent power means to me: parents and communities being, creating and reimagining the change that they want to seek for our schools — to the benefit of all of our kids in every one of our communities.