Public school bureaucracies are like rivers of molasses: Once they start flowing in one direction, it is messy and time consuming to change its course. But sometimes as parents, we need to band together to do just that. Last fall, Prince George’s County set its course and announced boundary changes, including one that affected my daughter and her friends. She is in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program and had been slated to continue in that program at Kenmoor Middle School the next year. My son was in his last year at Kenmoor, so I knew the school and had a good relationship with the staff. With the boundary change, our kids would be slated to go to Walker-Mill Middle School (also a fine school, but farther away).
Several friends and I talked about fighting the boundary change. Was the drive that much longer? We had to find out. So at school opening time, I timed myself driving (at the speed limit) to each school. The trip to Walker-Mill was 18 minutes—and clogged with red lights and speed cameras. The trip to Kenmoor was 6 minutes down one road. If our kids went to Walker-Mill, it would be harder for parents to be involved, and our kids would have a longer bus ride.
I realized others in the community who also looked forward to their kids attending Kenmoor would be affected. Transportation and involvement would be even more difficult for kids who lived just north of us. I could have made a case for my daughter to go to Kenmoor Middle School and would probably have gotten her in, but I wanted other kids to have the opportunity to go to the closer school too—now and in the future.
This battle was worth fighting.
1) Collecting Data
We first collected data to support our case. School employees told us where to find information and who to contact. Most of the information we needed was on the county public school website, in board of education documents and policies and on the superintendent’s page. They also helped us find out how many kids would be affected by the boundary change. Our goal was to determine how making the change we wanted would help the school system reach its goals.
2) Gathering Support
I set up our petition on Change.org and made a short, direct appeal. Then I followed the site’s instructions to invite signers to spread the word.
I sent an e-mail to all our relevant town listservs and asked people to join us. I listed several easy ways people could participate. I included links, phone numbers and text to modify and send to school officials. Finally, I included a summary of our research. Two friends edited it.
Then I started a Facebook group, for the petition and campaign updates. I friended everyone I knew in the effected neighborhoods and added them to the group.
3) Involving Public Officials
I reached out to local organizations to strengthen our support. Cheverly Advocates for Public Schools joined the campaign and added credibility to our arguments. Prince George’s County Talented and Gifted Association (PGTAG) board members supported us. The president of the association, Joseph Kitchen, was an important voice in this campaign.
I contacted State Senator Victor Ramirez, State Delegates Jolene Ivey and Michael Summers and all the mayors and council members in the effected neighborhoods. The officials signed the petition, made calls and wrote letters of support.