By Angelica Solis, Director, Youth Policy Institute
(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders blog.)
Our national leaders are charged with some heavy responsibilities: representing the community’s interest and ensuring that that representation reflects national policy. This is easier said than done. Competing community interests, disconnect between local realities and national perceptions, insufficient information about specific topic issues, and many other factors often challenge our leadership’s ability to develop policies that address the specific needs of Latino students and their families. For this reason, it is important that school and community leaders working directly with Latino communities actively engage policy makers around the issues that are vital to supporting the students and families they work with.
Informing and educating policy makers and their staff about important education issues such as NCLB waivers, college and career readiness standards, family engagement, and mental health, is critical to ensuring that Latino voices and experiences are not lost as our national legislators craft policies that will impact our community. Most importantly, having policy makers hear first hand the stories of how education policies play out locally, allows them to put faces to the issues and to contextualize the statistics and data that may or may not accurately capture the impacts of these policies in our communities.
On March 6, the current cohort of NCLR’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) had an opportunity to do just that – share their local stories, experiences and expertise around these and several other key issues impacting Latino students and families across the country. The NILSL fellows had the chance to meet with representatives from high-ranking legislative leaders such as Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.), and others, that are currently leading discourse and developing policies that impact our educators, schools, students and families. NILSL participants shared first-hand accounts of how their schools can use resources to support teacher development; how realignment of existing funds can impact a school’s ability to provide mental health resources to the child that has to overcome the traumas of living in a gang-infested neighborhood; and how developing clear accountability measures can ensure local schools are held accountable for erasing the achievement gap.
These were the stories the NILSL fellows carried with them as they walked the halls of Congress and met with the staff of the powerful leaders that will make decisions that impact their communities. Equipped with these stories as well as the hard facts and data related to the issue topics, the school and community leaders were unwavering in their commitment to the share the key recommendations that will ultimately lead to improved student outcomes, safe and healthy school environments, and improved community and family engagement.
Without the voices of local school and community leaders in Washington D.C., our leaders’ job of representing our Latino community interests will be difficult to fulfill, and it is in our best interest that they are successful at what they do so that our communities can be successful in return.