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Doing Your Homework
How to Organize a Successful
Parent Group
by Sue Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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Parents in in our district want to organize a group to become more effective advocates for our children. Our district always say they have no funds to implement programs to improve education. The teachers want to help but are stifled and frustrated by the "lack of funding' excuses.

I have a 19 year old daughter who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. I am dedicated to making a difference in the lives and education of kids who are in the system or who will enter the system.

Do you have any suggestions about how we can start a new organization and make it successful? 

From Sue

Make sure every member of your group has copies of two articles: One Parent is a Fruitcake and What One Person Can Do (Do You Have a Free Hour?)

One Parent is a Fruitcake shows how much power a few people have when they organize.

What One Person Can Do (Do You Have a Free Hour?) shows that with very little time and absolutely no money, you can bring accurate information about law and education to large numbers of people.

The key to success is to empower others by providing quality information.

Educate Others
Start by enlarging the base of educated, informed people in your community. Advertise by putting flyers everywhere. Using Flyers to Educate Others.

Empower everyone in your group to do this work, not just the "leaders". Work to improve the education of children who have a variety of needs - English language learners, homeless children, disadvantaged children, children with disabilities.

Work with Other Groups
Look for other organizations whose members are interested in changing the status quo. The Yellow Pages for Kids with Disabilities lists dozens of organizations and groups in every state.

Visit the websites of these organizations. Publicize their events and support groups through your e-mail network. When you do this, you will make a huge difference in your community and your state.

And it will not cost you a dime.

Build a Website  
Here is the website of a very successful parent organization in Concord, Massachusetts.

Here is the website that I set up for the New Hampshire Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.

Here is a link to Bridges4Kids.org, a site that is based in Michigan. The site has links to organizations and groups, a calendar of events, where to find help for a child, how to contact your legislators, and much more.

All these websites evolved over time. You don't need to know much to get started. My first web page looked like a typed piece of white paper - but because it had good information, people heard about it, and continue to use it.

Set up a Communication Network
Start collecting e-mail addresses so you can communicate with a large number of people at one time. Learn to use Excel, Word or Access to keep contact information - a database of people you want to keep informed.

When you send email notices to your group, be sure to put their email addresses in the bcc so their privacy is maintained.
 
Publicize Events
If you learn that something good is happening or will soon happen in your community or state, send out an e-mail alert to the people in your contact list.

The other members of your organization have their contact networks. Make sure that the information about events or services is sent to all networks.

Write a short new release or article about an event. You can use this service to send the news release or article to all the newspapers in your state. You can cover the entire state in two hours hours or less.

"Lack of Funding" Excuse  
As to the lack of funding excuse, ignore it. That argument is no more relevant than saying, "I was speeding in a school zone because I am broke."

Focus on the legal requirements for reporting results, research based educational programs, state academic content standards, improving graduation rates, lowering dropout rates, least restrictive environment, and ensuring that teachers are receiving training in research based methods.

Learn About Your State's Open Records or Sunshine Laws
School bureaucracies are often secretive about how they operate and how they decide to spend money. Learn about Freedom of the Information Act (and get a Sample Freedom of Information letter).

You also need to know about the open meeting rules or Sunshine Law in your state.

Order a copy of Tapping Official's Secrets for your state. Tapping Official's Secrets is a complete compendium of information on each state's open records and open meetings laws.

Useful Rules for Successful Groups

* Take advantage of every opportunity to educate and inform.
* Do what you can, when you can.
* No job is too small or too large.
* Empower individuals within the group to make decisions.

All bureaucracies resist change. Changing a bureaucracy won't be accomplished overnight, but it can be done. Your group needs to be patient and persistent.

It's important that parents stay involved after their children leave school - otherwise, the wisdom that comes from years of experience is wasted.

Good luck,

Sue Whitney

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Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.


Copyright © 2002-2014 by Suzanne Whitney.

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