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Activist of the Month: Heidi Bennett

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for February: Heidi Bennett. Read more about her experience as a strong advocate for K-12 and Higher Education.

Heidi Bennett - League of Education Voters Activist of the Month Feb 2017

February Activist of the Month Heidi Bennett

Heidi Bennett is one of LEV’s most involved and dedicated key activists. She first entered the activism arena when her kids were in preschool, at the turn of the century. Her big question: to send her children to public or private school?

Heidi Googled LEV, and connected with Co-founder Lisa Macfarlane. She has been working with LEV ever since – for about 15 years. Heidi recalls Lisa talking about her own kids, saying, “No matter where you send your kids, all kids deserve a great public school education.”

When Heidi moved from New York to Seattle for a better way of life, she never imagined she would be sacrificing her kids’ education. Joining local PTA and then Seattle Council PTA, she began speaking to PTAs in the Seattle area about how Washington schools compare to those in New York and other states, and how they need to advocate for better schools and better outcomes.

In 2006, Heidi gave her first testimony at a Washington state Senate hearing, emphasizing that we deserve to do better for our kids. She was so persuasive that a key Senator suggested that she do the opening prayer for the Senate.

Heidi’s activism took on a life of its own. She became heavily involved in the push for simple majority for school levies and fought hard for the Basic Ed “It’s Basic” campaign with Governor Chris Gregoire. She’s been the Legislative VP of the Seattle Council PTSA, board member and presenter for the Seattle Schools First levy campaign, and several years as the Regional Legislative Chair for Washington State PTA. She has reached hundreds of parents with her “What’s up with WA State Education” presentations and several years ago delivered over 5,000 postcards to Washington state Legislators and the Governor during WSPTA Focus Day. Heidi has also served on several district task forces/committees for highly capable, capacity, and others.

Lately, Heidi continues to engage and educate parents with education panels and PTA talks on Basic Ed. Her most recent panel last week in North Seattle included both high school issues and state funding, and featured Representative Noel Frame, the Government Relations Director of the Association for Washington School Principals, the Legislative Chair of the Seattle Council PTSA, Seattle School District officials, and the principal of Ballard High School. Heidi has educated hundreds of parents on why they need to advocate.

Heidi’s newest passion is higher education. “We’re getting priced out of higher ed. It costs $80-to-$90,000 to send kids to a Washington state college when you include room and board,” she says. “As wages are flat, even the middle class is getting priced out of a bachelor’s degree at a public, state school.” She put higher education on the state PTA platform two years ago and again last fall. This year, she expanded post-secondary advocacy to include community and technical college (CTC) certificates, while continuing to support the College Bound and State Need grants, and making both 2- and 4-year degrees more accessible. Heidi adds, “We need a regional college in the Seattle area, something that offers comprehensive Bachelor’s degrees without having to spend residential costs, similar to Portland State.”

“I want to see an expansion of career counselors in high school, so all students are aware of the opportunities for both a traditional of 4-year college track and other pathways,” she says. “Kids just don’t know there are job-ready career paths by earning CTC certificates or Associate’s degrees. We need to promote these options too to both students and families, and remove the stigma from alternative paths.”

Heidi grew up on Long Island and is a first-generation college graduate. She finished her degree at night, working full-time. She says, “You can’t do that in Seattle – there are not enough opportunities to earn an affordable degree at night at a less-expensive public college. I understand the challenges.”. Professionally, she cut her teeth in marketing on Madison Avenue, earned her VP title, and then moved to Seattle where she was the Director of Client Services for a downtown agency. She started consulting to focus on family life, and is winding down that chapter.

Heidi’s kids are recent graduates of the Seattle School District. Her daughter graduated from Ballard High School and is now at the University of Victoria. Her son graduated in 2016 through Running Start, and is now a rising senior at the University of Washington.

Noting that 70 percent of all jobs in Washington state will soon require a post-secondary credential, Heidi says, “If we want growth in our economy, we need to increase the current rate of only 31 percent of our 9th graders earning some type of post-secondary attainment to over 70 percent. We need to educate parents and students that not all jobs will require a 4-year degree.” To that end, she began advocating for Career Start, which allows students to earn a career certificate while still in high school, similar to Running Start that focuses on AA degrees. “Kids need to know ALL their options,” ” she says, “And the state needs to make them affordable.”

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Funding, Higher Education

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Activist of the Month: Sharon Taubel

Sharon TaubelAt the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for January: Sharon Taubel. Read more about Sharon’s work advocating for public education—especially when it comes to equity in education.

Sharon Taubel began volunteering in her daughter’s elementary school PTA years ago, and her volunteerism and advocacy continued from there.

Sharon is pretty straightforward about why she advocates for others: “I was not well-served by the education system.” But more than that, when Sharon observes what is simply “not right,” she can’t help but do something about it. (more…)

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Blog, Closing the Gaps, LEV News

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Paving the way toward greater parent engagement

Marta Burnet

Marta Burnet

By Marta Burnet

How can I help my child do better in school?

That’s a question many of us grapple with as parents—and one that was raised at a recent Spanish curriculum night offered at Apollo Elementary School in Renton. It’s a question that becomes even more daunting for parents who do not speak English.

Taking action to help your own children does not, however, need to be insurmountable. That’s why the Apollo PTA has spent the last year-plus finding ways to overcome barriers for these families and welcome their involvement in their children’s education.

As a part of our PTA goal of broadening family involvement, we devised three objectives:

  1. Increase native language (L1) materials available to non-native-English-speaking families.
  2. Make L1 resources about Apollo available.
  3. Engage families, so that we can answer questions, spread resources, and get feedback.

(more…)

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism, Blog, Closing the Gaps

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Activist of the Month: Connie Gerlitz

Connie Gerlitz with her son Jordan

Connie with her son Jordan

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for August: Connie Gerlitz. Read more about her experience as a long-time advocate for all kids.

Connie Gerlitz got her start in advocacy through her work at Safeco Insurance “way back,” she says, where she worked to improve safety standards for children. She worked with the Legislature to fight for laws around things like seatbelts for children, car seats, and bike helmets.

Working with the Legislature gave her the confidence to speak publicly and testify on behalf of issues that she believes in, and she also gained insight into why working with the Legislature was so important.

Connie has been involved with the League of Education Voters (LEV) since its inception, and she recalls attending an exploratory meeting with LEV co-founder Lisa Macfarlane in Bellevue thirteen-some years ago. (more…)

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Blog, LEV News

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First step: Engagement. Second step: Change the world.

Micaela RazoEarlier this month, a study from the University of Washington examined ways that immigrant parents could become engaged in their child’s school when traditional methods are barriers to their involvement.

That study resonated with League of Education Voters (LEV) Community Organizer Micaela Razo, who has done much of the work mentioned in the study—both as a parent and as an organizer—by engaging parents in migrant families in eastern Washington.

We asked Micaela to tell us about her experience engaging parents in their child’s school, and she told the story of creating the first Spanish-speaking PTA in Washington state, formed two-and-a-half years ago in Grandview, and how she got there.

I became an advocate for my child when he was very young. We were living in one of the wealthiest school districts in the area and the PTA lived up to the stereotypes you hear about—that it’s just bake sales and fundraising.

But I was finding that I had to navigate the maze of school bureaucracy and learn to advocate for my child all on my own, so I decided to infiltrate the bake sales. I was the first parent of color to join the PTA. (more…)

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism, Blog, LEV News

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Activist of the Month: Linda Lozano

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for June: Linda Lozano. Read more about her experience as an activist and advocate for her community, her family, and everyone around her.

Linda Lozano testifies to the Office of the Superintendent of Public InstructionIt’s something of an understatement to say that the odds were against Linda Lozano from the very beginning. Born to a teenage mother, Linda essentially raised her younger sister after she was born—and Linda was just seven years old.

Linda learned a “culture of abandonment” from an early age, and she says she was angry for a long time. Linda openly admits that she made a lot of bad choices as a young adult, some of which landed her in jail, and some of which caused her kids to be taken by Child Protective Services.

“Sometimes in life, the stage is set for us. We know we want something different but don’t know how to achieve it,” says Linda.

So Linda set out to learn how to achieve something different. (more…)

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Blog, Closing the Gaps, LEV News, School Discipline

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Kelly Munn Receives Community Leadership Award from Issaquah School District

From Left: WASA 110 President Larry Francois, Kelly Munn, and Issaquah School District Superintendent, Ron Thiele

From Left: WASA 110 President Larry Francois, Kelly Munn, and Issaquah School District Superintendent, Ron Thiele

The Issaquah School District honored League of Education Voters State Field Director Kelly Munn with its Community Leadership Award at the Washington School Administrator’s Association’s regional awards ceremony held at the Puget Sound ESD on May 23, 2014.

Kelly has been an active volunteer in the Issaquah School District and an advocate for public education for many years. Kelly’s leadership has been instrumental in helping the district maintain high quality programs and meet the demands of continued growth as co-chair of the Volunteers for Issaquah Schools Community Bond and Levy Committee. Over the years she has also been very active in PTSA and served on the board of the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

Congratulations to Kelly for this tremendous honor!

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism, Blog, LEV News

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Activist of the Month: Betsy Cohen

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for February: Betsy Cohen. Read more about Betsy’s experience as an education activist.

Betsy CohenBetsy Cohen testified in Olympia for the first time two weeks ago in favor of the college and career ready diploma (HB 2181). That might come as a surprise to those who know her, since Betsy has been involved in education advocacy for years—since moving to Washington state when her children were young.

Betsy joined her children’s elementary school PTA and, with her background as a law professor, was quickly appointed as their legislative representative. Over the years, she has organized dozens of trips to Olympia and helped others testify (but she never had the opportunity to testify herself). (more…)

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Blog, Legislative session

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Live Blog: PTA Focus Day

The rally was a huge success! Legislators and the media heard the message: The time is now for education reform. We owe it to our kids because they are our future!

PTA parents from across the state spoke up for their kids and schools. One mom from Friday Harbor said budget cuts have already gotten rid of the lunch program. Further cuts could mean the loss of one of their principals.

Another mom from Puyallup said budget cuts could mean the loss of their early learning programs. She said, “We need to fund education from the beginning, otherwise we’ll be building prisons in the end.”

LEV’s Lisa Macfarlane said the “sleeping giant” had awoken. The PTA is a force for change. And legislators agreed. They are working on school reform this session, but they need the help of PTA and other education advocates to succeed.

Posted in: Blog, Events

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