parent empowerment strategy 3 voting with voiceSometimes parents must use their voice not just to make a choice but to make a change. Empowered parents can vote with their voice to drive change for their own children, which again is important. But acting individually, parents can only get the most out of the existing system. Changing the system requires organizing a collective voice. There are always competing interests in any political system, and collective voice allows parents to be competitive. An example of this type of organizing comes from Innovate Public Schools in the Bay Area. Innovate employs a model of parent organizing tested in the workers’ rights and civil rights movements. Matt Hammer, founder, and CEO, explains: “Our model is about two things: first, supporting parents to become effective leaders of their community, and second, supporting those leaders to build and work through an organization. This is the only way for the community to express collective power effectively and address the fundamental imbalance of power in many education systems — namely, that parents aren’t at the table.”

Jose Arenas, Innovate’s vice president of community organizing, says, “Good organizing is really about talking to people who want to participate, and helping them create a strategy to win something. Organized parents are parents who know why they are there, what they want, and how to get it.”

Juana Gonzalez-Martinez, an Innovate parent leader, embodies this. She shared that organizing “helped me look inside myself and see a fighter — but my fighter has been asleep. Now I am hungry, and I want to go out into my community, let them know what a good school looks like, and encourage them to come and fight with me for education.”

Organized parents like Gonzalez-Martinez are finding that these are fights they have the power to win. Parents in some Innovate communities have successfully set their sights on winning school board votes to allow nonprofit public charter schools to open in their districts. In other communities, parents are organizing to change special education policy. Their latent demand has become actionable. And keep in mind that the parents are leading and organizing for the agendas they themselves have created. Further, parents who realize they can exercise power to effect change keep fighting. They stay active to protect their gains and advance them.

This empowerment also becomes multi-generational. Leasina Tangitau is an Innovate parent leader in Redwood City, where she and others organized to win the approval of a KIPP and a Rocketship charter school. At a training for parent leaders, Tangitau reflected that “I didn’t know I had the power to make a difference — and now I do,” Then she looked to her children in the front row listening to their mother speak. “And my children will grow up knowing they have power too.”