Guestblogger Shannen Coleman Siciliano is a former Baltimore City Schools teacher. She was the founding Co-chair of the Baltimore Education Coalition and currently serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Child First Authority. She is also a member of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).
In October 2007, I walked into a room filled with 250 parents from 10 different Child First sites from across Baltimore City. We joined together for an action with Baltimore City Schools and its CEO Dr. Andres Alonso. The issue: better school facilities. I sat towards the back of the room; this was my first action and I was skeptical.
Time ticked away and whispers filled the room. We waited and wondered if Dr. Alonso would show. Just then, a parent — yes, a parent and not a paid staff member – grabbed the microphone and said, “Dr. Alonso isn’t coming. We need the planning team to come forward to caucus.”
I was intrigued that a parent was taking the lead and my interest peaked. After what seemed like a short time, another announcement was made. “The team has caucused. We have drafted a letter expressing our disappointment and will deliver the letter to Dr. Alonso tomorrow morning at 10:00 am.” I left, encouraged by the leadership of the parents, still skeptical of the follow through from the school system.
Three days later I received an email from Child First indicating that Dr. Alonso responded to the parents and wanted to hold the action again.
Two weeks passed and I was back in a room filled with 250 people. Again, I was doubtful but intrigued by the organizing power of the parents. Dr. Alonso took the stage. “Never in my years of being an educator has a group of parents questioned my illness and demanded that I reschedule my appearance. This is EXACTLY what the school system needs!”
“Wait…what?” I asked myself. He continued to describe his vision for school facilities and commended the parents for their advocacy. I was intrigued.
Over the next 6 weeks, my school had contractors in the building almost every day. All of our most pressing issues (ones that existed for many, many years) — HVAC system, plumbing, electrical issues, chipped paint, etc. – were addressed and fixed. I was amazed. All because parents demanded it.
I experienced collective power, saw its impact and wanted to do more.
I joined Child First full time in July of 2008. In January of 2009, my opportunity to create lasting power came in the form of the Baltimore Education Coalition. After an article in the Baltimore Sun highlighted state funding cuts to Baltimore City, Child First joined 30 organizations to discuss our next steps. From 2009 to 2012, I served as co-chair of the Baltimore Education Coalition. We organized around school funding and saved over $150 million in cuts to Baltimore City Schools.
We also began working on a school facilities campaign for all of Baltimore City Schools. In April of 2013, the Baltimore Education Coalition and its partners were able to secure $1 billion in school construction funding that will renovate 40% of Baltimore’s schools – a major step towards securing the $2.1 billion needed for all schools.
As I walked out of the statehouse building after the vote to secure that funding passed in the State House, I knew that once again collective power won. I sought to help build power — lasting power from communities, parents, teachers and churches to ensure equity for Baltimore City schools.
I looked down at my expectant, growing belly, and thought now my child, along with other children in my neighborhood and across Baltimore City, will learn in buildings that truly reflect their potential.