By Sean Barron
Key ingredients to improve Youngstown city schools are engaged parents and a commitment to long-term involvement, a longtime community organizer contends.
“If we begin to create a movement between parents, between educators, between churches and between administrators, we can begin to challenge the status quo,” said Greg Galluzzo, founder and senior organizer of the Chicago-based Gamaliel Foundation.
The foundation is a grass-roots network of nonpartisan, faith-based organizations that tries to empower ordinary people to effectively take part in political, environmental, economic and social decisions that affect their lives, its website says.
Galluzzo was the main speaker during Tuesday’s two-hour Save Our Schools meeting at the Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church’s social hall, 7 Garland Ave., on the city’s East Side.
Several dozen parents, teachers, school-board members and others attended the session, hosted by the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods. The gathering was to set the groundwork for a broad coalition to support public education as state budget cuts threaten to undermine it, organizers said.
A major component for positive change is organizing parents, many of whom feel intimidated, powerless and discouraged when dealing with school systems, he noted. Compounding the problem is that some districts don’t want to be forthcoming regarding budgets, test scores, parental input and other matters, Galluzzo continued.
Nevertheless, “I think if parents can organize, they can do anything,” despite inevitable conflicts, disagreements and resistance, he said.
In addition, parents who desire the best education for their children also can take active steps at home, including curbing TV time for their children, providing good nutrition and spending more time with them, he explained.
Galluzzo compared organizing to change many school districts with organizational efforts during the civil-rights and women’s movements, saying that well-organized groups of parents can impact public policy regarding schools in the long run.
That view was shared by Kim Sampson, a staff accountant and consultant for ACTION.
“We want parents to ask for higher standards, and that schools can’t just teach to standardized tests,” Sampson said, adding that carpools and email lists are effective networking tools.
In addition, many area churches offer tutoring and weekend programs aimed at helping youngsters succeed in school, noted the Rev. J. Dwayne Heard, ACTION’s president and pastor of Elizabeth Missionary.
Parents need to be more proactive regarding the betterment of the city school district and create an enhanced learning environment at home, the Rev. Mr. Heard said.