Stand For Children educates and organizes parents, teachers and communities to demand excellent schools.
Up a flight of stairs in an airy meeting room overlooking Saint Claude Avenue, Dana Henry is getting ready for a gathering — the Orleans Parish parent endorsement committee training. It’s a get-together for parents to learn more about the Orleans Parish School Board: what it does, and who parents should back to be on it.
“Stand for Children is really the only organization in the city that focuses strictly on organizing parents to support good policies in public education,” says Dana Henry, the New Orleans Director for Stand for Children. “The parents in our organization are really the backbone.”
This national non-profit helps New Orleans parents become better education advocates in all sorts of ways: how to have a productive conversation in parent teacher conferences, or what to do when a really challenging homework assignment gets slapped onto the kitchen table after a long day of work. But Stand for Children also teach parents about policy. Which ones are good — for kids and public education — and which ones aren’t.
“So tonight,” explains Henry, “we’re going to have a School board member, Woody Koppel — who’s here — to talk to our parents about the functional roles of an Orleans Parish School Board Member. We don’t want to assume that everybody knows, because we have a BESE board, we have RSD, so we want everybody to understand from a board member what are the primary responsibilities and roles of an Orleans Parish School Board Member.”
RSD, OPSB, BESE. There are so many structures in charge of education in New Orleans, and on many — like OPSB, the Orleans Parish School Board — the people who run them are elected. And they make big policy decisions that affect kids’ lives in schools.
Stand for Children wants parents to endorse and elect candidates they truly believe in — candidates who share their views about education. The first step is understanding what a school board member does. Which brings us back to this meeting at Stand for Children.
Director Dana Henry asks Orleans Parish School Board Member Woody Koppel: “As we go through our endorsement process here and we interview candidates, is it safe to say that the school board member of the future in Orleans Parish would be more like high level business managers' day, as opposed to day-to-day people that implement?”
One of the parents in the room listening is Mike Stenson.
“We’re here to get more information on the people who are going to be running for school board,” explains Stenson. “That way we have a better knowledge on who we’re voting for, who would represent things we want represented if they get elected. It’s important to have people there who share your views. If they don’t, then you end up having a school board that doesn’t vote in things that you want voted in.”
“I didn’t realize that change has to take place at the development, the policy level,” says Cyndi Nguyen, another parent at the meeting. In her two years coming to Stand for Children meetings, Nguyen says she’s learned how to talk to leaders on the front end; how to say: this is what we need before they establish bad education policy.
“So it used to be where things would come down, and you would go out and be upset,” recalls Nguyen. “I found this process is more educational. It actually trains me how to deliver my message to a policy maker where it makes sense to them.”
Nguyen says you have to break it down for them. When it comes to education, some policy makers have no idea what parents go through.