parent engagement

Los Angeles Parents Spoke Up and Got a School Board That Puts Kids First

One year ago this week, we introduced our organization, Speak UP, and its platform and principles. For far too long, we pointed out, parents have not had a seat at the table when education policy decisions are made that directly affect our kids’ lives and futures. Instead, adult special interest groups that don’t always put the needs of kids first have dominated education policy debates. School board leaders have ignored parents, we argued, because parents rarely hold them accountable for their actions by showing up to vote. The way to change that, we suggested, was for parents to get educated about the issues, get organized and to make our voices heard loud and clear at the ballot box. And that’s exactly what we did. Parents embraced our call to action, and within our first year, we not only built a powerful grassroots movement from the ground up, but Speak UP members also successfully executed a massive mobilization effort to help elect a new Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board majority that shares and embraces our kids-first mindset and agenda. Focusing our initial campaign efforts on Board District 4, we built our membership school-by-school and neighborhood-by-neighborhood—both in person and through social media. We kept thousands of parents informed about the critical issues facing the district through our website, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. We held our first candidate forum, and then we mobilized parents to vote and campaign for our endorsed kids-first candidate, Nick Melvoin, who unseated a two-time incumbent and president of the school board by a whopping 14 percentage points. How did we do it? Speak UP members held house party meet-and-greets, knocked on thousands of doors, sent 16,000 emails to our voter contacts in the district, and scoured our school directories to get pledges from nearly 1,900 of our fellow parents to “Pick Nick.” Then we followed up to make sure parents actually voted—early and by mail, when possible. Over the course of the campaign, we doubled our membership—and we had fun doing it. (Yes, there was food and wine involved!) Of course, there is nothing more fun than winning and knowing that our efforts made a massive difference. So thank you to all of the parents who sacrificed countless hours, often away from your family members, to change the lives of all Los Angeles kids. But our job is not finished—far from it. In many ways, it’s just beginning. Now that we have succeeded in electing a kids-first majority to the board, we need to follow through and make sure the agenda we worked for is implemented amid pressure from special-interest groups intent on perpetuating the status quo. We must remain alert and ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice on behalf of our kids. We need to be tireless in our efforts to hold our new board members accountable to their promises to give parents a seat at the table and to make all decisions with the best interests of our kids in mind and at heart. We are so proud to report that one year after our launch, the parents have spoken. Now is no time to stop. We must continue to speak up and make our voices heard.
Photo courtesy of Speak UP.
Jenny Hontz is an award-winning journalist, instructor and media consultant in Los Angeles. She is a founding member and communications chief of Speak UP.

Join the Movement