Reflections on My Journey and the Power of Families
I am incredibly honored and excited to serve as the incoming President & CEO of Families In Schools (FIS) – a legacy organization whose story and mission have inspired me since its founding in 2000. Since those early days, FIS has led and elevated the education reform conversation to include family engagement as a critical component of school system transformation, particularly for students from low-income families and students of color.
As I step into this role, I reflect on my personal journey. I have countless memories of my Mexican immigrant parents, who did what they could to give me and my siblings opportunities they never could have dreamed of for themselves.
I recall my first day of kindergarten when my teacher noticed that my feet were dangling from my chair (yep, I was petite from birth!). When my dad picked me up from school, she pulled him aside and communicated the problem with him. That night, my father found some unused wood, a few nails, and a can of paint, making me a little orange step stool to take to school.
When I had bilateral hip surgery in second grade, my mom informed my school that I’d be out of school for six months. She asked if they could send a teacher to our home while I lay in a half-body cast so that I wouldn’t miss out on learning. Because we lived right across the street, the school agreed to send someone for one hour a day.
And I recall the lessons my mother would give us to help us learn to read and write Spanish. My mom would often say that although she wished she could do more to help us in school, she could at least give us the gift of being bilingual and help us be proud of our heritage.
Since my parents didn’t know how to help us with homework, the questions to ask, or how to guide us through the school system, they also relied on giving us consejos (advice) about being good students so that someday we would become “alguien importante” – someone important. They constantly reminded us that education was the gateway out of poverty and that it was the one thing no one could take away from us.
When I think about these moments – the orange step stool underneath my desk, the hour of schooling when I was bedridden, the daily consejos, the Spanish lessons – I think of how parents with so little proudly give what they can to help their children succeed educationally and beyond. What I know to be true is that the love parents have for their children is golden; it is powerful. And yet it still mostly goes untapped, despite millions of personal stories like mine and the 50+ years of research telling us that the role of parents in their children’s education is the strongest predictor of school success.
I’m joining Families In Schools as we come out of a horrific pandemic that publicly revealed deep and widening disparities in our education system, begging us to do things differently and to “tackle long-standing historical inequities in education” as a report by McKinsey urges us to do.
This moment also gave us a glimpse into the lives of families and their unequivocal commitment to their children’s education. As important, it’s been a moment of racial reckoning demanding that we end systemic racism.
I’m also joining FIS at a time when our understanding of brain science requires that we invest in parents and their children starting at birth, not the first day of kindergarten, which is why our view of family engagement must broaden to what Dr. Karen Mapp calls “a full, equal, and equitable partnership among families, educators, and community partners to promote children’s learning and development from birth through college and career” and why we must all heed Dr. Dana Suskind’s clarion call for a Parent Nation; a society that better supports parents.
Indeed, reverting to our old ways of doing business serves no one. We know better now, so we must DO better. This is a huge moment of opportunity, one that recognizes families as the best hope we have in ensuring that children thrive and succeed.
As I begin my journey at FIS, I stand ready to meet the moment and bring our best to the work. I’m excited to have the opportunity to lead a team of talented individuals, partner with a dedicated board, and collaborate with hundreds of partners and allies, including parents, as we begin a new chapter at Families In Schools – one bolder and more committed than ever. I hope you will join us!