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Parents find role as student advocates

January 5, 2019

Parents Noah Smith and Jennifer Matthias adopted an unlikely role in 2018 : squeaky wheels turned education activists : after they and others with students in Fort Wayne Community Schools learned of plans to end high school honors classes.

Even after the school board announced the courses would remain, Smith and Matthias remained a regular presence at board meetings, and, with others, contacted state lawmakers about educational decisions. They also serve as two of four administrators for the Facebook group KISS : Keep Indiana Schools Strong, which has about 800 members. The group shares information about state education issues and schools.

Neither Smith nor Matthias expected they would become so intimately involved in such matters.

“It just gripped us,” said Smith, who has three daughters.

While other parents might be afraid to speak up or unaware of the issues, Matthias said she is glad to be a voice for parents as well as for teachers who confide in her.

“I’m advocating for every single child who goes to our school district,” said Matthias, a parent of four.

FWCS board members have welcomed and encouraged parents’ advocacy efforts. On a local level, board President Julie Hollingsworth said, parent engagement is good for the district’s health, and their perspectives can prevent complacency.

“Some of the parents involved have brought issues to our attention or a way of thinking of things that maybe we haven’t thought of before,” Hollingsworth said.

Matthias and Smith acknowledged it can feel like they are fighting an uphill battle where it’s difficult to see progress.

“We question ourselves, trust me,” Smith said, noting they remind themselves to have realistic expectations.

Along with questioning FWCS leaders about the new math curriculum, parents are interested in the district’s implementation of the $50 million federal PEER grant, personnel issues, policies and procedures, they said.

While they might not attend every board meeting, Matthias and Smith plan to have at least one person from their core group of parents in the audience.

Parents’ voices aren’t needed just locally. State lawmakers also need parents’ feedback and stories about what’s happening in schools, Hollingsworth said.

Teacher shortages and pay are particularly pressing topics, she said.

“Those are issues that affect all districts across the state, so I think that it’s even more important for parents’ voices to be heard during this coming legislative session,” Hollingsworth said.

Matthias and Smith hope more parents follow their lead.

“I think we’ve been asleep at the wheel” regarding public education, Smith said. “What we’re trying to do is wake up others.”

asloboda@jg.net

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