Sitting knee to knee, Innovate parent leaders hosted Acting Secretary of Education John King on January 30 for an intimate meeting about the group’s work to increase the number of world-class public schools serving low-income students and students of color in the Bay Area.

Secretary King requested to meet with the group after learning of their successful community organizing in Redwood City, which has resulted in several much-needed reforms, including the opening of two new high-performing charter schools.

Innovate Parent Leaders-Dr. John King 01-30-16--16“School saved my life,” Secretary King told parents, recounting how he grappled with losing both his parents when he was still in elementary school. He said his early teachers were a critical influence in his life.

Secretary King went on to earn three Ivy League degrees and build a meteoric career as a public educator, founding Boston’s high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School; then serving as New York Education Commissioner. As Commissioner, King led implementation of the Common Core Curriculum Standards and the development of the EngageNY curriculum, which has received high praise from educators across the country.

Secretary King listened attentively as parents shared their stories.

Redwood City parent leaders Patricia Lopez, Enrique Esparza, Maritza Leal, and others shared emotional stories of being disappointed by the quality of their local schools and their need to get involved to affect change. “Our kids can’t wait. We deserve options,” said Esparza.

Ligia Rivera, a founding member of Innovate’s East Palo Alto parent group, talked about the struggles parents face when choosing a school for their children. “We’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep on fighting,” said Rivera.

Karla Facundo, who lives in East Palo Alto and has three children, shared the experience of her eldest son, who attended schools in a neighboring district through the Tinsley program, which buses students from East Palo Alto to attend schools in the wealthier neighboring cities. He now attends Princeton University. Facundo wants to ensure high quality options at home, in East Palo Alto, and she wants them to be available for her youngest child, who is now in 1st grade.

Baylee Schwartz moved to East Palo Alto because it was the only place in Silicon Valley where she could afford to live. As her children neared school age, she researched the performance of local schools and was shocked by what she found. The proficiency rates for East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood School District are 18% in Innovate Parent Leaders-Dr. John King 01-30-16--33English and 12% in math. “I want my kids to be able to go to a school, here, in my own community.”

“I didn’t realize how much politics impacts education,” said Juana Martinez, describing how she became engaged in her children’s school and as a parent leader with Innovate Public Schools.

The room was filled to capacity including parent leaders Maritza Leal and Enrique Esparza who hosted the meeting at their home, Paty Lopez, Juana Martinez, Norma Alvarez, Isabel Ocampo, Ligia Rivera Murillo, Juan Carlos Murillo, Baylee Schwartz, Karla Facundo, Yesenia Facundo, Yesenia Rodriguez, Alejandra Macatee, and Leasina Tangitau.

Redwood City School District Trustee Maria Diaz and San Mateo County Board of Education Vice President Joe Ross were also in attendance, along with Innovate Public Schools staff and board members.

“The Innovate parents group in Redwood City was responsible for getting so much local support for the new schools, including the unanimous approval of the school board,” said Ross. “You are bringing so much important change to our community.”