Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Parents working together to improve schools

The Parent Organization Network (PON) is a congregation of grassroots parent organizations that strive for equal learning opportunity for children of color in our own local public education systems including the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), Montebello Unified School District (MUSD), Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), Lynwood Unified School District (LUSD), and Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD).

The network is directed by Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Los Angeles Urban League, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

Other member organizations include; African American Parent/Community Coalition for Educational Equity (AAP/CCEE); Alliance for a Better Community (ABC); CDTech ParentLink: United Families for Social Change; Central American Resource Center (CARECEN); Community Asset Development Re-Defining Education (CADRE); Lynwood Save Our Students (SOS); Padres Activos de SFV; Parents for Unity (PFU); Parent Pioneers; Tongan Community Service Center, and Watts/Century Latino Organization (WCLO).

Together, these organizations strive to connect, empower, and mobilize parents and parent organizations across Southern California. The PON seeks to attain a sustainable movement of parents and advocates, a public school system transformed by parents, guardians and caregivers actively participating in holding schools accountable, a system where parents are valued as instrumental collaborators in making decisions and in effecting change in schools, and public schools where all students, parents, community leaders, and educators are welcomed and respected as partners in an educational village.

Goldie Buchanan, a former educator who is the founder of the African American Parent Community Coalition, is the manager of the PON. We asked Goldie about her work:

Q. Tell me about your background and how it led to your passion about empowering the community.

I grew up in a small town in Louisiana in the 1950s and became the first African American to graduate from Colfax High School. My mother wouldn’t let me quit but I think the experience gave me the tenacity to do what I do today. When the teacher asked us to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance, I refused because the pledge stated that we were equal when I clearly knew we were not. In turn, other African American students refused to stand for the pledge. It was then that I knew I had become a leader.

Q. How did the Parent Organization Network start and which community was your target audience?

The program was initiated by APALC Executive Director Stewart Kwoh when he noticed that there were so many parent organizations in existence but close to nothing significant was being accomplished. That’s when he realized that it would be a good idea to get these organizations to congregate together to discuss educational issues, their needs, and how they plan to address it.

In the beginning, the meetings were facilitated by a consultant. After the initial group of seven organizations were solidified and firm foundational documents were established, it was determined that more permanent leadership was needed.  That’s when APALC posted an ad for a manager to lead PON. Eventually, I applied and was selected for the position and have been here since 2007

Most of the PON member organizations service parents with children in LAUSD schools. However we have other small school districts that other PON members work with like Lynwood and Pasadena.

Q. Tell me about one of PON’s success stories.

Throughout the 7 years of the PON’s existence, one of our biggest accomplishments was on November 19, 2008. The PON Membership adopted the PON Parent Engagement Standards that was developed using feedback gathered from three PON Parent Summits with 300-400 parents and community leaders in attendance. The standards are as follows:

Communication
Ongoing, two-way communication between school, staff, and parents on school programs, student progress, and student needs that is effective and timely. Communication must occur across different mediums and be parent-friendly as well as culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Supporting Student Success
School staff maximizes parent learning and opportunities to support student success. This requires full disclosure and assessments of school programs and services in addition to parent notification and training.

Relationship Building
School Staff maintains a welcoming environment for all parents and develops and maintains personal, productive relationships with all parents. These relationships should be nondiscriminatory, respectful and trainings should be provided.

Health and Safety
School staff maintains a safe and clean learning environment for all students, parents, and staff. Safety concerns are balanced with adequate supervision and fair discipline policies. Resources, referrals and trainings should be provided.

Decision-Making
Authentic parent and community involvement is evident in school decision-making structures and process where authentic parent engagement is vital. Equip parents and demonstrate community ownership of the school.

On November 19, 2008, the PON Membership adopted these standards. Later in April of 2009, the PON Standards became part of the LAUSD Parent Engagement Tool Kit. Schools now have the choice to use the PON Standards or the LAUSD Parent Engagement Plan as the framework for developing their Parent Involvement plans. Later that year, PON was invited to participate on the LAUSD Parent Engagement Steering Committee, charged with the task of developing implementation strategy and tools for the newly developed Parent Engagement & Involvement Plan.

Q. How has PON grown over the years and what are your current goals this year?

As an organization, PON has become an authentic parent voice with an obvious parent driven agenda.  Building sustainable alliances through honesty, trust and transparency amongst 15 community-based organizations in five unified school districts. PON’s role is to ensure that parent engagement is always at the forefront of all educational conversations and reform efforts. One of PON’s 2012 goals is to continue to retain, incubate and establish more parent organizations in areas where there are none.

Q. What are the main benefits/the take-home message you hope to spread to the parental communities of Los Angeles by running this program? What are these meetings worth the time these parents take out of their busy day?

We teach civic activity to get these agendas completed. We are not just fighting for the education of our own children. We are fighting for all children who deserve a better education and a better future. We teach parents about the education system and how they can get their foot in the door and their voices heard by the right people.

Q. What can we look forward to from PON in the future?

PON wants to work with more schools and teachers to close the knowledge gap between parents and teachers about the education system. We are also working on building capacity to spread the word about PON in other districts and to keep our organization running.

For more information about the PON, email Buchanan at gbuchanan@apalc.org

Above photo by Tiffany Panlilio

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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.