SA RISE Looking for Wins in Education
Bekah McNeel | October 17, 2016
Following months of community discussion, San Antonio Rising in Solidarity for Equity (SA RISE), an advocacy movement organized by Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) fellows in San Antonio, has honed its work into three critical issues. Over the next months, the group will pursue policy changes in local schools in the following areas: education tailored to the student, wrap around services, and resources for post-secondary success.
Struggling San Antonio school districts have received plenty of state and local government attention. Edgewood ISD and South San Antonio ISD (South San) are both under state intervention. Some districts, like Harlandale and San Antonio ISD, have seen progress through partnerships with local business and nonprofits.
LEE fellow and teacher at New Frontiers charter school Chris Green said he worries about discussions often lacking critical voices. When “stakeholders” and single-focus nonprofits lead the discussion, he fears a supply-side reform, rather than a robust discussion of real needs.
“The voices that have been typically ignored or lost in the shuffle are those most directly affected,” Green said.
Green, along with other LEE fellows, most of whom are associated with Teach for America (TFA) as well, have begun a process of community organizing to bring parents, teachers, and students to the table with the elected leaders and resources committed to the causes they believe in.
Over the past two months SA RISE has conducted house meetings around the city that drew a broad slice of the public – from parents to activists to teachers to board members.
The group estimates that about 200 people participated by contributing ideas and information.
On Oct. 12, the group hosted an open invitation issues assembly at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to synthesize the thoughts and issues that had bubbled up during house meetings.
Throughout the evening, around 75 participants considered the 20 topics gleaned from the house meetings. They voted in successive rounds, combining and reworking issues to end up with the final three issues.
Over the next months, the organizers will begin to research action steps through another series of house meetings.
They are looking for issues that are “ripe” for action in the next four to six months, said Advocacy and Community Engagement Manager at KIPP San Antonio and LEE fellow Veronica Martinez. Ripe issues are those with logistical feasibility and political will behind them. The end goal is to see official policy change at the district or state level.
“We’re looking for systemic change. It’s not a win until it’s written and codified somewhere,” Martinez said.
In the research action phase, organizers search across all districts and resource providers to find the right match. At the issues assembly, individuals from Communities in Schools, Relay Graduate School of Education, the San Antonio ISD board of trustees, and other organizations attended as private citizens, using their single vote to make their voices heard alongside parents, teachers, and one Rivard reporter.
Those individuals can speak on behalf of their organizations to begin connecting resources and opportunities throughout the research action phase.
The process is messy, Martinez explained, but worth it.
“All of us came on board because we want equity for children,” she said.
LEE fellows trained the team according to the Industrial Areas Foundation method of community organizing. Following tried and trusted protocols that have been leading to advocacy success since 1940, the method allows the team to adapt to the community as things progress.
“We have to use our own radars to figure out how exactly to do the work,” Green said.
LEE fellow and teacher at Charles C. Ball Elementary School Mary Hoekje said getting parents involved might be the messiest but most critical part of the process. School leaders across the city often express their perplexity regarding the elusive parent-involvement component of school turnaround. While nearly every organization tries to capitalize on it, few succeed.
“We explain to (parents) that being involved is the best way to ensure that their kids are getting what they want them to get,” Hoekje said. “It gives them power to make some changes that aren’t dictated by the board.”
While this reasoning resonates with parents, there are still many barriers to overcome. Language is one barrier, work schedules, transportation, and child care are others. SA RISE is doing its best to account for these things, with house meetings in a wide variety of communities, activities for kids who come to meetings, and meals served during dinner hour meetings.
Even with these efforts, movements like SA RISE have to remain vigilant to keep the group from veering away from parent and teacher voices and toward a more specific agenda.
Organizers hope that a win, even a small one, resulting from this SA RISE organizing cycle will fuel more initiatives. If policy change can happen in a smaller district, they hope that it will build momentum for efforts in larger districts. If a small initiative can find funding, they hope that more grants and donors will open up for future efforts.
Years from now they want to be able to look back at a long track record of progress in the messy pursuit of educational equity.