What Parents Are Saying About WA Charters’ Third Annual Conference – The Urgency of Now: Fusing Equity and Innovation

Last week, parents, educators and partners gathered to connect with peers and industry leaders from across the state and country at WA Charters’ third annual statewide conference. It was both a celebration of charter public schools’ success in providing high quality options to Washington students, and an opportunity to share more about how charter public schools are making the difference in our communities. From keynotes about emotional intelligence and radical approaches to parent advocacy, to sessions about mentorship, racial equity and family engagement, attendees spent their weekend getting inspired, learning best practices, and having tough but important conversations about the challenges and opportunities of the next generation.

Meet Jeremy Gradwohl and Linda Solis, who attended the conference for the very first time last week, and read what they had to say about the event and what it means to them be advocates for charter public schools.

Jeremy Gradwohl, Teacher and Parent of Isabella Gradwohl, who will be part of the founding class of Willow Charter School

 What drew your family to enroll at your charter public school? 

I grew up in a family of educators. My grandmother was a public school teacher, my mother was a Waldorf teacher, my aunt founded the Malamalama Waldorf school in Paradise Park, HI on the big island. That said, I personally hated school and was in and out of schools most of my life. I finally dropped out when I was 18 and in 10th grade.

As a parent of two children, I realized that I needed to understand the systems that failed me growing up, so I became a public school teacher. I have worked at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA for the past 10 years. While working at Lincoln I have seen first-hand the number of students who have ended up at Lincoln because somehow they were neglected throughout their formative years, or the system just did not work for them. My 13-year-old son is currently at the local middle school and it has been a real struggle. He really needs more one on one support. I am really just looking for a smaller environment that provides more personal support at a pace tailored to the individual student.

What was your favorite session or speaker at the conference?

I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Marc Brackett, for his insight into the importance of “soft skills” — meaning emotional intelligence and mindfulness. This is an area that Lincoln High School has been a pioneer at. Our school recently put out a documentary called “Paper Tigers” which shows how to educate through a “trauma informed lens.”

The theme of the conference was “The Urgency of Now: Fusing Equity and Innovation.” The sessions tailored for parents focused a lot on advocacy. What are some of the ways you’re excited about getting involved in your school, community or the charter sector?

I was caught off guard by the statistics of racial inequity in our state and I think this is an area that really needs to be addressed.

What does being a parent advocate mean to you? 

 For me it meant going back to school and getting my teaching certificate so that I could navigate the murky waters of public education, learn the lingo and acronyms, understand my rights as a parent and my child’s rights and responsibilities. It also meant attending parent teacher meetings and holding both my child and the school accountable for their success. It has not been easy.

What are you looking forward to most about working alongside WA Charters as a partner to parents and schools?

 Listening to others with a goal of not only building more responsive schools but supporting current public schools in becoming a place where individuals can find the support they so desperately need.

 

Linda Solis, a parent who will be working at Willow Charter School

What were your big takeaways/impressions of the conference?

I loved that I didn’t feel like I was wrong for standing up for charter schools. Everyone there was so excited for the efforts of this different educational wave and it just felt so good to be able to talk with people and not feel like I was being judged for caring about charter schools. It was a nice change of pace for those of us who are working on bringing a school together.

What was your favorite session or speaker?

My favorite session had to have been “Mentoring and Building Relationships with Students and Families” because we got to hear about things that teachers and students are already doing. It reminded me that we are not reinventing the wheel, and that we can borrow ideas and implement them into our school.

It also made me feel not so alone; again another reason why it was so nice to be at this conference. It was a reminder that we are not the only ones who are running into walls. There are people who have run into the same problems, but they overcame them and their schools have been up and running for two years already!

Were you able to connect with other parents, staff and experts at the conference? Describe some of the connections that you made. 

I made connections with parents, staff and experts who were all open and willing to allow me to reach out at a later time with questions. For example, Sara Irish, who is a parent engagement coordinator and has done a lot of translating, gave me her card to help me with the translation of our files. Something that seemed to be so simple to her, meant so much to me. For her to offer to help so easily was amazing.

The theme of the conference was “The Urgency of Now: Fusing Equity and Innovation.” The sessions tailored for parents focused a lot on advocacy. What are some of the ways you’re excited about getting involved in your school, community or the charter sector?

As an English Language Learner myself, and as someone whose parents wished they could be more involved as I was going through school —because of the language barrier they couldn’t — I want to be someone who makes these challenges for both the students and parents so much smoother, easier and less stressful. Having bilingual staff available is something that the Walla Walla School District will benefit from because of how prominent the Hispanic population is in this community.

What are you looking forward to most about working alongside WA Charters as a partner to parents and schools?  

I am so excited to be part of something that is molding the future of our children. This is something that is so crucial for the education of today’s kids, not only in charter schools, but those in the mainstream public school setting as well.

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