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Parent and community advocates talk reimagining L.A. Unified at annual summit

superintendent greets parents Superintendent Austin Beutner greets parents and community partners at the 2018 Alliance summit hosted by Families in Schools.
(Samuel Gilstrap/L.A. Unified Communications)

By Samuel Gilstrap | Nov. 8, 2018

LOS ANGELES – Over 400 parents, family members, educators and community partners convened Wednesday to focus on advocacy for parent and community engagement in public education.

Families In Schools hosted its fifth-annual Alliance summit at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles. The day-long event included workshops, panel discussions and opportunities for participants to share ideas and questions.

Activities culminated in an afternoon session in which Superintendent Austin Beutner joined two students and two parents from L.A. Unified to discuss ways to strengthen family and community engagement in schools.

“Forums like this are essential,” Beutner said. “Listening to the voices of students and parents is the most important thing we can do. It is these voices that hold us accountable. It’s how we make sure that every child — irrespective of where they are from — is positioned to succeed.”

Evelyn Alemán, a parent of a recent graduate and of a freshman at Cleveland High School, was among those who joined Beutner on the panel.

“The strength of school communities makes a profound difference in the lives of students,” she said. “If you have a school where the teacher, the principal, the families, the students  and the community organizations in the area are working collaboratively, your family is going to thrive. Your child is going to do well.”

With examples such as parent teacher associations and advisory councils, Alemán said that while current structures are a valuable part of public education, more supports are needed to help parents and guardians navigate complex systems and advocate for their children.

“We need to go beyond compliance-driven systems and build real and meaningful supports for parents from all walks of life,” she said. “Including those who don’t speak English well and those who are busy working multiple jobs to feed their families.


Right: Aliance 2018 afternoon session panelists, from left, parents Taulana Jones and Evelyn Alemán, Superintendent Austin Beutner and high school seniors Isaiah Schwarz and Angela Saha. (Samuel Gilstrap/L.A. Unified Communications)

Rounding out the panel were parent and activist Talauna Jones and students Isaiah Schwarz, a senior at Grant High School, and Angela Saha, a senior at Van Nuys High School.

Panelists agreed there is a strong need to re-examine structure and accountability in the school system.

“Parents are the best advocates for their kids,” Schwarz said. “We cannot hold schools accountable from the top down or by focusing on test scores or GPAs. We need to look at it from the ground up, asking our parents if schools are providing what is best for their children.”

Beutner agreed, saying L.A. Unified is refocusing its efforts to organize around the needs of every child in every community.

“This needs to be the organizing principal of public education,” he said. “Focusing on each child, inspired, learning and able to succeed. That’s what we have to create in each of our classrooms, each school and in all of our communities.”

Beutner commented further on efforts underway to move resources closer to school principals, families and teachers, reiterating the critical role they play in decision-making.

“We need to move community engagement efforts into the communities where they belong,” he said. “And, parents need to be with us on this journey. None of this is possible without them.”

The panel was facilitated by Education Leaders of Color CEO/Executive Director Layla Avila. The day’s activities were emceed by Harbor Teacher Preparation Acaedmy senior and student school board member Tyler Okeke.

Workshops throughout the day focused on a variety of topics, including race relations, special education and understanding state and federal education laws.