What I Learned in D.C.: Advocacy Matters

Guest post by Steve Carlson

A principal has many things to do—too many, in fact. This makes prioritizing crucial.
It can also mean that we also sometimes neglect things that just don’t have the urgency of a student crisis, a concerned parent, or a homecoming dance. But as I expand my personal learning network (PLN) I have increasingly come to realize that advocacy for education is something to which I needed to devote more energy. It’s important that we not only recognize the important work of principals but remember that advocacy—for our students and our schools—is part of that important work.

It’s hard to believe, but decision-makers at the state and federal level levels don’t always get to hear a lot of voices on an issue before they take action. However, I’ve come to realize that they listen to the voices they do hear and often are swayed by well-informed advocates. With so much at stake I believe we as principals must be a passionate voice in the conversation to advocate for sound educational policies and statutes that are in the best interest of our students.

I’m fortunate to have had some rich opportunities to advocate for education. I attended the NASSP Princapital-us-5432570large_locipals Institute in Washington, D.C. This was a four-da experience that included professional development along with advocacy opportunities. Each state was represented by one of their secondary Principals of the Year and all principals that attended had scheduled meetings with their own federal legislators for the opportunity to discuss education issues that are before Congress right now. As a result, my wife Erin, a high school English teacher, and I met with Rep. Candice Miller and with legislative aides from the offices of Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Gary Peters. We were warmly received as we spoke on a handful of topics.

One of these topics was the changing role of the principal and thus the need for high-quality professional development. We tied this into a talking point about Title II, Part A funds. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state governments can set aside up to 3 percent of their federal Title II, Part A funds to be earmarked for school leader training. Our “ask” was that Congress appropriate Title II, Part A at the full authorization level to make this 3 percent earmark more likely to happen. Since most Michigan principals are undergoing training associated with a rigorous teacher evaluation tool, the money to support this training is so crucial.

My experiences with NASSP have given me some amazing opportunities to engage with lawmakers and others who influence decisions about education. The truth is, though, that anyone can get into the arena to be heard.

NASSP’s Federal Grassroots Network has advocacy opportunities for its members.
The goal of this initiative is to have at least one principal in each U.S. congressional district be an advocate for the educational priorities at the national level. The outreach you do could be meeting with your congressperson when they are in your home district or it could be emails, phone calls, etc. Those who sign up for this opportunity receive a monthly newsletter from NASSP as well as a weekly email that centers around current issues. This means that you don’t have to do a lot of research or reading to stay up on the issues; the issues are brought right to your inbox.

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At any given time, at both the state and national level, there are many bills on the floor that could have serious consequences for our students and their educators. For every bill introduced, there are dozens of “ideas” that are being considered. Through my own experience, I know that principals are a valued resource for lawmakers because of our unique perspective and our vast experiences.

I’d like to challenge you all to make your voice heard in some way. The online tools offered by NASSP really make it quick and easy to do.

You already have an opinion: why not share it with those who can affect change?

Steve Carlson is the principal of Sandusky Junior and Senior High School. He is the 2016 Michigan Principal of the Year and the state’s national nominee.

1 Comment

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Very well said, Steve. Advocacy does matter. Our legislators need to hear our voices and learn from us what the realities and challenges are in schools today. Thanks for sharing!

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