By Nicole Petersen
Inequality, bullying, school safety and parent involvement are some of the issues faced by families in the current public school system. Parents and students of different backgrounds, values and communities are continually isolated from one another and from the decision-makers in their school districts. While these problems and inequities continue to worsen, most parents in Northeast Florida don’t know who to turn to for help.
That’s where Parents Who Lead (PWL) and United Way of Northeast Florida team member Tiffany Clark come into play.
Parents Who Lead is a collaborative initiative among Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF), Duval County Public Schools and Jacksonville Public Library in which members come together not only to advocate for parents in their school districts, but also to learn the necessary skills required to fight roadblocks to improve school standards at the city level.
Clark, an administrative assistant in the marketing and campaign department of United Way of Northeast Florida, joined the inaugural Jacksonville cohort of PWL in September 2018. PWL’s 21 application-selected members consist of parents and caregivers who strive to improve the lifelong health, safety and learning of children.
“Parents Who Lead is an opportunity for parents to learn to engage their community, city leaders, and advocate for all children,” Clark said. “We learn to navigate systems within our city that a lot of parents aren’t familiar with.”
Clark said she joined PWL because of a history of concerns for her own children’s education, specifically in communication between schools and parents.
“I’ve always been engaged in my children’s education,” Clark said. “Parents Who Lead is a way for me to become more involved and to not only benefit my own children’s education, but the education of all students in our community.”
The curriculum for PWL stems from the National Parent Leadership Institute, featuring a mission defining opening retreat, ten weeks of parent leadership classes and a parent-selected community project.
Clark’s proposal for the community project involves creating Jacksonville’s first city-governed parent advisory committee. Clark expressed she, and many other parents, feel they don’t have a say when it comes to legislation and funding within schools.
“A lot of parents don’t have time to make it to school board meetings or know who to contact if they have a problem or question about a budget cut,” Clark said. “Parents Who Lead is an advocacy solution for parents so that they have someone who will make their concerns heard.”
The opening retreat of Jacksonville’s PWL took place on Sept. 22. The parents take three- hour leadership classes every Tuesday night and completed phase one of those classes in mid-November. Clark and her peers are set to enter phase two of their training at the beginning of December.
Clark said she feels honored to be a part of a group that allows her to go above and beyond what is required of a typical parent. She is thankful to her family for the opportunity to be able to make time for something she is passionate about.
“I am extremely grateful and humbled to have been selected to be a part of this group,” Clark said. “To be able to be a part of the very first cohort of Parents Who Lead in Jacksonville really is amazing.”