#83 – Parent Leader Institute – A Look Back and Looking Forward
Written by Jia Lin-Bothe
Director of Family Empowerment
As part of our family empowerment model, we conduct surveys to hear directly from parents and caretakers and continue to invite them to participate in the Family Empowerment Committee (FEC) at our partner schools. The FEC meets monthly to review family-related data, plan upcoming family-focused events, and hear their needs and wants directly from parents and caretakers. By continuing to invite families to the decision table, we can hear directly from those we are serving and those we are seeking to serve.
In these FEC meetings, we’re empowering families to become advocates for their school communities. We know that parent and family advocacy is a valuable component of the school system because it helps ensure that families’ needs and concerns are considered in the decision-making process. Research has shown that when schools, parents, families, and communities work together, students earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, stay in school, and are more motivated.
As our family empowerment model grows deeper in Charlotte, we’re constantly thinking about ways to enrich and empower families. We’re partnering with Innovate Public Schools to host their first-ever in-person East Coast Parent Leader Institute (PLI), to take place in Charlotte. The PLI allows families (parents and caretakers) to build their leadership skills and learn how to leverage the power of community organizing to make transformational changes for students in our community. The PLI East will occur from Friday, March 10, to Sunday, March 12, 2023, at the DoubleTree by Hilton South Charlotte Tyvola.
Parents, caretakers, community organizers, and organizational leaders are all invited and will be present. We will be sponsoring and supporting the attendance of at least 30 parents/caretakers from our partner schools for this opportunity. We’ve known that this is something that’s needed. In 2022, we piloted this training for families at our partner schools, and were honored to support the attendance of five parents from across our school partners for the 2022 Virtual PLI.
We were able to follow up with one of these parents, Zina Culbero. Zina has three students (one at our partner school, Sugar Creek Charter School) and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Organizational Psychology and Leadership.
Jia: You were so excited about the Parent Leader Institute (PLI) last year and had high expectations! You shared that you hoped the training would give you a greater knowledge of supporting students and parents/caretakers within our school system. Did PLI meet your expectations?
Zina: The PLI experience was a life changer for me. I met so many awesome people like [myself:] parents, grassroots organizers, and community advocates, who shared such awesome ideas, feedback, and input. I loved every single session! My original goal was to find ways to help parents navigate an often unbearable school system, especially for Exceptional Children. Since the PLI, I’ve expanded my goal to impact my entire community and help everyone navigate often unbearable social services, legal, housing, and school systems.
J: How has PLI pushed you to become a better advocate for all children?
Z: The PLI was so motivating. Hearing the different stories, suggestions, wins, and misses of the members of [the previous] year’s cohort was inspirational. One of the primary things I took away from the experience was that knocking on doors, telling your story, and being willing to share your wins and misses, were the key to advocating for your children. When people, especially senior school staff, see parents walking in the door with a united focus, ideas that serve all, and “knowing their stuff,” they listen. I have told my story more times in one year than I have in the 13 years that my children have been in school. As a parent of an Exceptional Child, I have been engaged with the school board for more than 10 years at this point, but up until last year, everything was a fight. After PLI, I knew that it was okay to walk in the door letting them know that I wasn’t here to fight but I was definitely here to get what my daughter is entitled to, and was fully prepared to show them how we were going to reach that goal.
J: I remember you mentioned the one thing that stood out to you from PLI was that “power is neutral in nature.” Could you expand on this a bit more?
Z: Absolutely. Power is very much neutral. It is not good or bad. It does not come with a title or years of experience. It simply is the individual that gives the “power” the good or bad qualities that impact daily lives. A powerful [school] principal is no more powerful than a powerful parent advocate. Power can be wielded differently, which is why many parents feel they have no voice. They see themselves as “just a parent” instead of “a powerful parent.” The adage, “Say it with your chest,” comes to mind when I think of “power.” When you know and voice your opinions, ideas, feedback, and even concerns, “saying it with your chest” is your power, not your title or position.
J: How has PLI empowered you in your day-to-day life? Life as a parent? Life as a community member?
Z: Since PLI, I have been much more determined to have my voice heard. As a parent and community member, I’ve joined the PTA at all of my children’s schools (elementary and high schools), and even the Parent Forum at UNCC, where my oldest daughter attends. I’ve learned a lot through the years, and I’ve been much more determined to share that information with not just parents but with their children as well. I was elected PTSA Secretary at North Meck High School for the 2022-2023 school year, and one of the immediate changes that I made was to the PTSA newsletter: I shifted the shared information from only school-based events to school- and community-based events, including mental health, education and personal enrichment events on a weekly basis. If I find out any new information, I immediately add it to the newsletter so I can “share the wealth.” I also make it a point to attend and participate in more community events since my participation in PLI. I learned there that my voice and story can make a difference everywhere I go, so although I focus on the needs of children, I speak to parents and community members at every event to either offer feedback, support, or information.
J: What is one piece of advice you would give to another parent/caretaker who will be attending this year’s Parent Leader Institute?
Z: Participate! The leaders and hosts are an awesome group of people from all walks of life. Don’t just silently listen off-camera while multitasking. Take it all in, [and] write notes. Ask every question that comes to mind. Give feedback to subjects that may not be in your “wheelhouse” or focus area. One thing that was tremendously helpful to all of us was the feedback from people who had different goals and ideas than ours. And don’t be afraid to make connections because everyone appreciates having a fellow leader or advocate in their corner.
J: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Z: Everyone is a leader. Everyone is an advocate. If you feel passionate about something, make your voice heard. Your power comes from your passion. Use THAT power to make the changes you want to see in the world.
With that said, we’re looking forward to the PLI taking place in Charlotte so that we can continue to transform our local education system. More to do, More to come!
- Listen to the Square Pizza Pod episode featuring Katura Devane, a parent who will be attending the PLI, and Charlene Mack, Vice President of National Training and Partnerships at Innovate Public Schools.
Are you interested in attending the Parent Leader Institute? Or know someone who may be interested? Send them our interest form!
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