By ROB W. ANDERSON
Public education is often considered the first rung on the ladder to success for children.
Having informed and involved parents is vital to achieving academic standards that prepare students for college-level curriculum or provide career-ready skills and abilities.
Seven years ago, a small group of Tulsa parents banded together to pose questions to school administrators and state legislators about classroom conditions and state laws that influence their children’s ability to learn. In the beginning, there were only about 12 members of the Tulsa Area Parent Legislative Action Committee, but since its creation, the group has grown to over 750 members.
Union Public Schools parent and PLAC Parent Coordinator Michelle Jones was on hand Wednesday night at Indian Capital Technology Center to share the history of the group and explain why establishing a local chapter could make a difference in public education locally.
“We are parent advocates, yes, but parents are the first teachers of their children,” said Jones. “We want to advocate for our children to have the best education possible, but we also teach our kids. A group of us banded together and started to have meetings. We invited our administrators. We invited our teachers. We invited our legislators to come and answer questions for us. That was our goal: to find out information and what we could do to make our schools better.”
The meeting was attended by about 30 to 40 people, including parents and community members, State Rep. Mike Brown and former State Sen. Jim Wilson, and school superintendents and teachers from Briggs, Grand View, Hulbert, Keys, Lowrey, Norwood, Peggs, Sequoyah, Shady Grove, Tahlequah, Tenkiller and Woodall.
Jones was thrilled with the turnout.
“This is just amazing. What a great start,” she said. “And you have your legislators here, and you have some fabulous legislators. I’ve not met [Brown or Wilson] personally, but I’ve heard wonderful things about [them]. We read and follow what you say and do for education, and [Cherokee County has] two huge winners in [its] corner right here. Be very, very thankful. The reason you want parents, rather than your administrators, talking to these folks, is because they hear from administrators on a very regular basis.”
The local PLAC chapter would establish monthly meetings to develop questions, which may later be lobbied at the state capitol. PLAC identifies funding issues and other education-related concerns that impact the local school district and approaches the state legislators with informed and research-based questions and requests, she said.
“The end-of-instruction exams are a great example. Your ACE legislation passed that in 2005, and it wasn’t an easy pass, it wasn’t a hard pass, but it passed through,” said Jones.
“When it came time to be implemented, they realized it wasn’t going to be good. We were going to have a lot of students fail. That ACE legislation was based off some reforms in Florida they thought would do a great job, but in Florida, they funded it 100 percent. In Oklahoma, they funded it 40 percent. PLAC wants to make that one of their goals this year: Fund the reforms or get rid of them.”
The legislative goals PLAC will be working toward this year include school funding issues, testing and school district accountability standards.
Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Presley said the meeting was seeded from information and discussions shared with Northeastern State University math instructor and TPS Board of Education Vice President Luke Foster, who is a legislative liaison for the TPS board.
“He brought the [PLAC] information back to us and that started the conversation,” she said. “We’ve been talking about being more active. I honestly believe [TPS and the parents] have a common interest, and I’ve seen how impacting a parent group can be at the state capitol.”
Presley said area school superintendents are working together to get the PLAC ball rolling, and Tenkiller Public Schools Superintendent Randy Rountree is heading up the group.
Rountree said establishing a PLAC group at each school is a way for parents to not only get more involved with their child’s learning experience, but to gain more insight on how the school gains funding and how laws come about that affect the learning process and/or environment.
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