Profile of a Parent Advocate Par Excellence

Myrdin Thompson (part 1)

Both educators and parents espouse parent involvement in their children’s schools. Research indicates the more parent involvement, the better the school and the more successful the student. But parents nowadays are so stretched in so many directions that being actively involved is easier said than done. What can we learn from parent role models?  Periodically this blog will feature parents who are exemplars of parent advocacy and engagement.

My first profile is of Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, Kentucky, an extraordinary role model whose everyday life revolves around her commitment to education and schools.

Myrdin Thompson

Believe it or not, I met her through twitter (@MyrdinJT)! A delegate to Mom Congress, she is an avid tweeter, who is immersed in education policy, programs, and news. She also attends meetings, participates in teleconferences, and confers regularly with parents, teachers, education officials, and politicians. Her blog, Roots and Wings, www.rootsandwingslibrary.com, discusses her views on parent engagement and education issues.

Married for 19 years and the mother of three (Seth, 13, Jonah,10 and Finn, 6), Myrdin received her BA in English Literature from the University of Arizona and her MA in Renaissance Drama from California State University, Fullerton. She’s worked as a Marketing Director/Volunteer Coordinator at the non-profit Visual Arts Association, as well as an adjunct faculty member teaching English literature at a local community college. For the past nine years she has been a full-time volunteer in the public schools.

How and why did you originally become involved in your child’s school?

Seth started a half-day pre-school program when he was four. I must admit I was reluctant to send him off into the world, so I offered to be a room parent. I didn’t stay every day that he was there, but when I wasn’t helping in the classroom I was volunteering with the PTA. I was fortunate to be able to be a partner in not just his educational experience, but to really help the teachers and work with his classmates.

Within the last nine years I’ve held every position on a PTA board except treasurer! I just never thought I wasn’t supposed to be involved. While I don’t have a degree in education, I have always had a connection with teaching and learning. It just made sense to me to offer my assistance. And thankfully through the years, all my children’s teachers as well as the schools they’ve attended have been very supportive of parent engagement/involvement.

What inspired you to become so active and vocal?

Well, when you are born Woodstock weekend and your parents are both artists, it seems to have been in the DNA! I don’t think there has been a time in my life when I haven’t been active and vocal about something that I passionately believe in. I believe in our public schools. I believe in our teachers, principals, support staff, administrators, school board members. I believe that we all want what is best for the children in our communities, but at times we don’t know how to connect with one another in order to make that happen. I believe that one person can make a change, but that several of us working together on the same goal can make a movement.

How did you get involved on a state/national level?

When I was elected to be the 15th District PTA President, I was responsible for reporting to the Kentucky PTA on activities and initiatives happening in our community. Because our school district is so large (155 schools with a student population of 100,534) our PTA feels it is important to be engaged at not just the local level (by attending the bi-monthly school board meetings and participating in-district and community initiatives), but also to attend education sub-committee meetings at the State Capitol and National PTA Legislative conferences (where we also have the opportunity to visit with our elected officials) as well as National PTA conventions. By attending all of these meetings, events, and workshops, I was able to gain knowledge and a greater insight on how the legislative process works, about how to be a stronger advocate, and how to take the information I had and effectively share it with not just our local school PTA/PTSA leaders, but to all our families and community members.

During my time as the District President (2009-2011) I was  named the Parenting Magazine Mom Congress delegate for Kentucky and was recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change.

Mom Congress Seal

These roles have also connected me with other parents from across the nation who are working in their own communities on various initiatives (whether it is the Books Make it Better campaign, advocating for stronger school communities, or healthier school meals). By using my social media sites I have been able to keep my fellow delegates and friends connected with issues such as the recent ESEA hearings in Washington, D.C., how the Common Core State Standards are being (or not being in some instances) implemented, or how Congress recently decided that pizza sauce is a vegetable (I call that one “Tomatogate 2011″).

I also try to connect the people that I know with other groups or organizations that are doing similar work so that everyone can share best practices. I recently stepped down from my leadership roles in PTA (but still am a PTA member at both my children’s schools and at the district and state levels) in order to be more engaged in advocacy with Mom Congress as well as to continue the work I have been doing here in Louisville on behalf of KaBOOM! All the work I do is as a volunteer.

At the end of the day if a parent decides he or she doesn’t want to act on information I’ve provided, I’m okay with that. But I never want someone to say that had they known they would have done something. So I provide the knowledge, the action is up to them.

Describe Mom Congress.

Mom Congress — a parenting initiative with Georgetown University — is here to help you make the changes you want in your local schools and for kids nationwide. Each and everyday I am awestruck by the passion and commitment of an incredible group of women who represent each of the 50 states — and the District of Columbia! Parenting Magazine hosts a “contest” every January, where a mom is encouraged to nominate herself to be a part of this movement. I was selected to be in the inaugural class in 2010 and then invited back in 2011 as the arts advocate (both of my parents, my brother, and all three of my children are artists).

The “action plan for change” that the 2010 class created was featured in both the fall issue of Parenting Magazine as well as in the companion book to the documentary Waiting for Superman. Mom Congress meets at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and affords the moms selected the opportunity to not only connect with one another, but to connect with groups such as Reach Out and Read, Reading is Fundamental, Save our Children, PTA, the Gates Foundation, Kindercare, and Jamie Oliver of Food Revolution (to name a few, it’s quite a long list!). We also have had the opportunity to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his department staff to better understand the role of the DOE in our nation and to support parent engagement initiatives.  For more information, your readers can go to http://www.parenting.com/mom-congress-member-resource-center.

How many hours a week do you spend on research and advocacy and why do you do it?

I just had a conversation with a friend about this! On average it’s a 40-hour work week. Once I drop my children off at school I return home to my “office” and start researching, reading, blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook, answering emails, making phone calls, attending a conference call, participating in a webinar, attending a community meeting. When I’m not at home (or out and about) doing all that, I try to volunteer at my children’s schools, either by attending a field trip as a chaperone, or by serving on a committee, if needed. I try to keep current with all that is happening, either locally in education, or on a state and federal level (because that does impact our local decision making process) not just for my community, but for my friends who live in other locations as well.

I believe that by connecting parents with the resources and information that is out there, it better enables them in their decision-making processes about education. At times it may not seem that something happening in Connecticut will have a resonance here in Louisville, but often I find that a discussion taking place about what makes a highly qualified teacher (for example) in another state will have some impact on a discussion in my state. As these debates play out on the national level, we must also be aware that there is going to be local impact. I believe that a parent educated about education issues/concerns is better able to make an educated decision. It doesn’t have to be the same decision I make, and we can respectively agree to disagree, but at least he or she has the information needed to make that decision. And, yes, it’s all voluntary!

End of Part 1

Next time: Part 2 – Lessons for Parents and the Future of Public Schools

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3 Comments on “Profile of a Parent Advocate Par Excellence”

  1. Myrdin is one of the advocates and parent leaders I admire most in this world. She seems to know all the current topics, work night and day for issues, and still manage to be an awesome mom and wife. I adore her!!

  2. Richard Hall says:

    Wow – I’m really impressed by just how committed you are to this cause – if only more parents could match your efforts!

    BTW What do you think about schools having parent service hours programs where they offer a discount on fees if you serve so many hours a year?

    • That’s an interesting idea Richard. I think if it is presented so all parents have the option of participating and that both the parents and administration have input on how those hours will be tracked and what discounts would apply, then it could work. Without collaboration on such a project it might work for a year and then fail to succeed. In addition, you always have to know that there will be some parents who can’t give any service hours due to job or other constraints. We know that in our schools there are always parent volunteers on hand, and when we look closely we realize that we rarely see new faces. Also, it would have to be established where the volunteering is to take place. If it is only on campus opportunities then you might be eliminating those parents who can’t be on campus. I’ll have to give this one more thought. Great question!


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