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Charter Board Partners

A Seat at the Table for Parents

December 14, 2017 | by Venus Valladares

Venus is a parent board member on the board of Washington Leadership Academy and the art director for a Washington, DC trade association. She spoke Tuesday night at the CBP Holiday Party. We loved what she had to say about the role of a parent on a charter school board, and we were not alone. Her remarks are below.

I’d like to thank Carrie and Charter Board Partners for the invitation to both attend today’s event and to speak this evening. 

The first day I attended governance training with Charter Board Partners, I was hesitant, very timid and uncertain about the value I would add. I recall the look on Carrie’s face when I first spoke about myself and my experience—or lack thereof. Her face read, oh god, is she going to survive this bunch! Because I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into; board service is not for the faint of heart! 

Venus Valladares and Carrie Irvin

As parents, we know the importance of being active with our child’s school. It’s important for your child to see this engagement, and it makes us, the parents, feel good when we show up to help with the bake sale or teachers’ luncheon or playground build—and those things are important—many hands make light work.

BUT—I can tell you that serving on the board of directors has been vital to my understanding the role and impact of the board in the education of our children. Being a member of the Washington Leadership Academy board has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life. Initially, I decided to serve for, admittedly, very self-serving reasons, but I quickly realized that my responsibility was multiplied by 200. I want to ensure every child in our school has all the tools and support needed now to have a successful career in college and beyond, and that starts at the table with other like-minded people. 

So when I meet other parents looking for ways to be involved, I now encourage them to consider serving on the board of their child’s school. I tell them that what we do helps pave the way for leadership and sets the course for the school’s vision, to make their interest and intent known to the leadership. And not for the same selfish reasons that initially led me to join, but for several reasons:

  1. Boards need to have representation of the community or demographic they serve.
  2. In its essence, boards are a collaborative. 
  3. To serve as a recalibration instrument when necessary if the board loses focus on its mission. 

And for boards to be successful, we must:

  1. Not make decisions in a vacuum. They have to create opportunities to interface with their charges and parents or caretakers to understand what are the things of importance to the community, rooting programs and services in the experiences and needs of the families. There are real-life consequences to the decisions we make.
  2. Board members come to the table with already-existing relationships and they have to mine those resources for the betterment and success of the school. 
  3. Board members have to create authentic relationships with each other, with leadership and faculty, but most importantly with the students. And a phrase I picked up from attending a Charter Board Partners seminar is to “grow your tent”—meaning the board should be intentional about having families share and interact with the board. 

It would be cliché to say Charter Board Partners empowered me, but through their training I have become engaged in a way that I don’t think I would have previously. Carrie’s support has been unyielding. CBP helped me to see the spectrum of things a parent, with very little experience in the education field, can bring to the table to help the school fulfill its mission. They provided me with the tools to play a role in the development of one school, but those tools are allowing me to help amplify the voices of our school community. 

Anyone who has been in DC for the past 20 years remembers the dire situation of the DCPS: parents had to make agonizing choices — whether to allow and sacrifice your child to attend a DC public school while trying to work from the inside to try and make the system work, or pay tens of thousands for private school. Charters allowed families to have choices AND it helped drive DCPS to improve its system. 

I’ll close by saying, if parents don’t have a seat at the table, they literally don’t have a voice in the room. And that perspective is surely and sorely needed!