Community Organizer Training Program


There is a growing recognition in the education justice movement that community organizing and parent leadership are essential to achieving significant change, including opening and sustaining high-quality schools and in creating systemic changes within districts and states. In a time of a global pandemic, higher unemployment and racial justice uprising, the stakes are even higher for parents, who are frequently excluded from the current decision-making process about changes happening in the school system today.

Through successful organizing efforts in the Bay Area and across the country, effective grassroots parent leadership and organizing have been key to changing the political landscape and challenging the status quo.

The current pandemic-caused crisis in education offers new opportunities to change existing structures that have not been effective at serving all students and the chance to bring parent partnership to the next level–but only if parents and community members have a seat at the policy-making table. Now more than ever, education justice organizations pledging to make a fundamental change in communities have the opportunity and responsibility to engage parents at a deep level as true partners in building the necessary power to create and sustain change, using both traditional and online organizing tools.

Now accepting applications. Deadline to apply is Friday, August 14 , 2020.

The Need – A Pipeline of Organizing Talent to Build Parent Power

While there are many education organizations doing advocacy work and occasionally mobilizing parents, very few develop parents as leaders and aim to build powerful parent-led actions and/or organizations capable of advancing their interests in the public arena. What separates the successful, sustainable parent organizing from periodic mobilization efforts is the sustained and systematic development of parent leaders in the principles and practices of community organizing.

Education organizations often lack the in-house expertise to train, manage, and develop parent organizing talent. As a result, the parent-facing staff are often either assigned to other important work or find themselves alone, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout. Like becoming an excellent teacher, becoming an excellent organizer requires intensive training, support, and ongoing development by other seasoned professionals in the craft.

Each of Innovate Public Schools’ organizing faculty brings decades of professional experience in grassroots community organizing. Furthermore, all of our faculty trainers and coaches have demonstrated success in building long-term reform efforts led by low-income parent leaders.

Innovate Public Schools regularly receives requests to provide training and on-going consulting to help organizations build their parent organizing capacity. To meet this need, six years ago Innovate launched an eight-month Community Organizer Training Program (COTP) designed to meet the needs of organizers and organizations through quality professional development sessions focused on community organizing theory and practice.

Program Highlights

Innovate’s COTP is an eight-month commitment, including five three-day sessions* and one-on-one coaching from our experienced organizer faculty between sessions. In addition, at the completion of the program, COTP graduates will join our distinguished alumni network and have opportunities to continue their learning through Innovate’s alumni engagement activities.

The program is designed to provide new organizers with a foundational understanding of community organizing theory and practice. COTP emphasizes developing strategic thinking skills into coherent political judgment and clear strategy development for internal and external change. The COTP cohort is required to complete reading and writing assignments between sessions, as well as attend Innovate’s three-day overnight training institute (may be remote, pending government health guidelines) for volunteer parent leaders during the course of the program.

Through reading, seminars, reflective writing assignments, observation, and critical feedback, the program will include these topics:

  • Understanding the role of an organizer and the role of a parent leader
  • Learning Innovate’s community organizing model including:
    • Conducting powerful 1-1 relational meetings;
    • Utilizing house meetings to build a parent network;
    • Holding research meetings to build strategic relationships with key stakeholders and public officials;
    • Coordinating large community action events to secure policy changes at the local level; and
    • Practicing the art of reflection to deepen leadership capacity
  • Adapting these classic organizing approaches to the current online/remote environment and learning new best practices to do online base building, engagement of officials and leadership development
  • Developing strategy and building campaigns to win local policy change around issues prioritized by parents and community members
  • Learning tools to build a strong and sustainable Parent Leadership Team of volunteer parents and community members, including sustaining these teams remotely
  • Effectively using data to build a case for the need for change in the community
  • Understanding and navigating the public arena and opportunities in the education justice movement

2020-21 Schedule

*In adapting to the current COVID-19 crisis, we are currently planning for two possible scenarios for the program.

The best-case scenario includes two virtual COTP sessions over Zoom in October and November and three in-person sessions in January, April, and May in California. Participants and their parent leaders would also attend one of our in-person Parent Leader Institutes in either February or March.

If the current public health recommendations do not allow for in-person gatherings in the first half of 2021, the second scenario would be to hold all sessions remotely, including our Parent Leader Institute (which may be shortened to accommodate the virtual structure).

Virtual COTP sessions will have a shortened daily schedule but still be held over three days.

COTP Dates and Locations:

  • VIRTUAL: October 19-21, 2020
  • VIRTUAL: November 16-18, 2020
  • IN-PERSON OR VIRTUAL: January 19-21, 2021 in CA
  • IN-PERSON OR VIRTUAL: April 19-21, 2021 in CA
  • IN-PERSON OR VIRTUAL: May 24-26, 2021 in CA

COTP Dates and Locations:

  • Bay Area: February 26-28, 2021 in CA
  • Los Angeles (National): March 26-28, 2021 in CA

If the current public health recommendations do not allow for in-person gatherings in the first half of 2021, the second scenario would be to hold all sessions remotely, including our Parent Leader Institute (which may be shortened to accommodate the virtual structure).

Meet our National Organizing Team!  

Meet our National Organizing Team!

Applicant Requirements

Innovate’s training program is focused on serving education justice organizations. We recommend that the job description of cohort members include at least five “one-to-one” meetings each week with individual parents and stakeholders, as well as a clear goal of identifying and working with/developing parents as leaders. We will be teaching organizers to move along a trajectory of professional work that leads to building organization, developing a political presence through public meetings, and taking public action toward the goal of creating, supporting, and sustaining world-class public schools, particularly for underserved groups of children.


Due to funder support, the discounted cost per organizer is $7,500 (our actual cost is closer to $10,000 per person). For organizations interested in sending teams, fees are $5,000 per organizer (i.e. for a team of two organizers the fee is $10,000, for a team of three organizers the cost is $15,000, etc). Fees include training and materials, coaching time, lodging and meals during in-person training sessions, but does not include any travel expenses. For remote sessions, no travel costs will be needed. However, if we are able to do in-person sessions in 2021, there will be travel costs to the California retreat locations.


We know that this pandemic has created a tremendous amount of economic stress for individuals and organizations alike. If you have a strong interest in the program but the full fee is a barrier, please contact Alicia Ross, Sr. Program Manager of National Organizing, at


We are accepting applications for the 2020-2021 COTP until Friday, August 14, 2020. Please contact Alicia Ross, Sr. Program Manager of National Organizing, at with any questions or for more information on this program.