Since the reach of PAA has been expanding lately, two of our co-founders, Pamela Grundy and newsletter editor Julie Woestehoff, thought newsletter readers would like to learn more about some of our organization's key figures. Due to space limitations, we're publishing excerpts of the profiles here. You can find longer versions on the PAA blog. There are a lot of great people to cover, so it will take a while. Look for future installments in coming weeks!
Karran Harper Royal's articulate, impassioned advocacy for children has made her a familiar figure in her hometown of New Orleans and a sought-after speaker on the national scene. She cuts straight through the puffery that so often characterizes education "reform," asking hard questions and describing the experiences of her city's most vulnerable children in eloquent detail.
Karran's activism began back in the 1990s, when her oldest son encountered difficulties in kindergarten. She became his full-time advocate, and learned to negotiate the complications of educational policies and bureaucracies at local, state and federal levels. She then expanded her advocacy to other children and families.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated her city, Karran served on the Recovery School District Advisory Council. She had been concerned for years about the quality of public education in New Orleans, and hoped that the state's control of schools would be a positive move. But she watched with growing dismay as the state used Katrina as an excuse to replace most New Orleans schools with charter schools.
Karran quickly saw the flaws in the system, especially for the children with disabilities whose families she advised. While traditional public schools were required to meet the
needs of challenged students, most charter schools preferred to simply kick them out. In a city with few traditional public schools left, children who were expelled or pressured out of charters had only deeply troubled schools as options. And even in the charter sector, many schools were failing to deliver on the educational miracles they promised.
Karran joined Parents Across America because her local work taught her the importance of working to improve education policy on a national level. As she pithily put
it, "It's from those policies that actions occur that impact children at school. If you have crappy policy, you're going to have crappy action."
At home, Karran sees herself as an "information sharer" in the communities she works with, helping parents and community members to understand their rights and sharing with them strategies to participate effectively in their children's education. "I can't solve everybody's problems," she noted. "I want to give parents the information they need so they can solve their own problems and be strong advocates for their children."
She is currently seeking to expand her political influence, by running for the District 3 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board.
PAA Affiliate SOS-Oregon in high gear
Read their latest blog post on the Oregon NCLB waiver. Now check out their plans, as reported by leader Susan Barrett, and be inspired!
1) We have a Policy Committee working to craft legislative concepts for our January legislative session. We meet on 8/20 and 8/28. Those are due 9/17.
2) We have formed (or re-formed) our Opt Out committee and will be working to start an Opt Out movement. That committee will meet again on 9/6.
3) We are working with a broad, statewide coalition to pass what is called Corporate Kicker Reform (a silly law) and to vote down a repeal of an estate tax.
4) We met with a coalition on 8/22 that wants to mobilize a large action on austerity measures (student debt and school cuts).
5) We are meeting with our new Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew on 8/29. This is a new position for Oregon. We now have one statewide superboard that oversees all of public education. We have been very outspoken about these statewide changes that were spurred on by Stand for Children, the Chalkboard Project, and the Oregon Business Association. We have testimony up at our website (blog): www.oregonsos.org
6) We are VERY pleased to have been reading about the LSCs in Chicago (thanks, Julie!) and the PAA white paper on LSCs as we are working to craft our positive education vision for Oregon. We have things here and there, but not compiled in one spot with cohesive, succinct messages.
7) One of our members, Susan Mach, has a play called A Noble Failure that will be professionally and locally produced and showing in January. There are some funds from the theater company to bring out some speakers associated with this. (Your suggestions are appreciated.) We saw the play when it was still in draft mode (or whatever the theater term is). It was EXCELLENT! In fact, it is perhaps a bit more relevant to those of you in areas with a number of for-profit charters, as Oregon is (at the moment) not as overwhelmed by those, but the message is still very pertinent for Oregon.
8) We are leading two workshops at the October 20th Northwest Teachers for Social Justice Conference that will be in Portland. This is a Rethinking Schools event. Both of ours are for advocates. One is about recent changes in Oregon education policy and what we can do about it, and the other will be about data, data, data, and the privacy infringement on our kids and teachers. (We have loosely talked about having a "Go to School Naked" campaign to highlight how exposed everyone will be. We figure a campaign with that name would surely bring attention to what is kind of a dry topic.)
9) Our group meets every 2nd Sunday for our regular organizing meetings. We have grown to have people outside of Portland metro and have people that drive as much as one hour to attend our meetings. So, we are moving forward. It just always seems like one thing after another, and like the hill keeps getting higher!
Good news from Texas
PAA founding member Karen Miller reports that the Texas Education Agency will now release charter applications before they are approved by the State Board of Education. Previously they were not considered public documents, and some applications had serious flaws, such as one by the largest for-profit education management organization (EMO), Imagine Schools. Imagine had "borrowed" the tax exempt status for two Texas applications from Ft. Wayne Indiana's Imagine Academy in 2008.
Considerable media coverage ensued in Texas and Indiana papers as well as the New York Times, resulting in placing the Indiana charter on probation, reconstituting its board, mandatory board training, cancellation of additional charter. One Texas charter board severed their ties with Imagine, four of five members resigned from the other board and contract negotiations with the remaining charter continued for a considerable time until Commissioner Scott approved the management agreement in May 2011. The school will open this month.