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Everyone can be an advocate for their schools
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
When school board members think of advocacy, they probably think about KSBA’s Governmental Relations Director Eric Kennedy walking the halls of the state Capitol.
But championing public education does not begin and end in Frankfort, Campbell County school board member Kimber Fender and Kennedy told board members at a Winter Symposium session.
“Our legislators spend more time in their home districts than they do in Frankfort, so we have a much better opportunity to reach out to them while they are at home,” she said.
And Fender, who recently retired as the director of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, should know. She spent 15 years as chairwoman of the Ohio Library Council’s Government Relations committee and in 2017 received the council’s advocacy award.
While it’s important to meet with legislators and to fight for or against specific bills moving through the legislature, Fender and Kennedy believe school board members should be advocating for their schools every day, everywhere, and with everyone.
“We are really concerned that the general public’s support for public education is not where it used to be, and definitely not where we need it or want it to be,” said Kennedy, citing the outcome of the November election.
School board members should enlist parent/teacher organizations, school-based decision making council members and booster groups to spread the word about the good things happening in schools and the challenges, Fender said.
“These are people who are already invested in your schools,” she said. “They are really natural advocates for your school district.”
But board members should also reach outside the district to recruit allies for public education. By enlisting business leaders, faith leaders and others in the community, districts can create advocates throughout their community, she said.
That’s why it’s important to make sure the community knows what your district is trying to accomplish and to spread that message through word of mouth and use of social media.
“If they are not aware of what’s going on in your schools, they can be very strong opponents to any changes or improvements you try to make to your district,” Fender said.
She stressed that advocacy shouldn’t always be about asking for more money; it’s about developing relationships. Then when you do need more money, the decision-maker already understands what’s happening in your schools and why it’s needed.
One way to inform people is to send government officials and legislators one-pagers about something going on in your district, Fender said. Districts shouldn’t allow the news media to tell the story of their district, but should tell their own story, she said.
That could mean sending one-page documents about something going on in the district and using social media to share what’s happening and tagging people in the posts who need to see the information.
Most legislators use Twitter so including your local legislator’s handle in a tweet can get the information seen, Kennedy said.
“So many of them don’t see all of their email because they are just flooded with it,” he said. “Because Twitter is on their phone, they get it instantly, you are almost guaranteed that these legislators will absolutely see something if you tag them.”
Fender stressed that advocacy can’t be around one issue, or just for a certain amount of time. It’s constant.
School board members are some of the best advocates for public education because they are part of their communities, she said.
Whether it’s at a party, a community event or the grocery store, school board members will always be asked what’s going on in their schools, so it’s important to always have a positive response ready.
“I think about two or three things going on in our district before I go to an event,” she said. “So, when somebody asks me that question I always have something ready to share.”
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