CHRISTIANSBURG — A call to stand up and speak up for public education brought out over 150 parents, government leaders and community advocates Saturday during an event convened in Montgomery County.
As he looked out over the crowd, keynote speaker Steve Cochran said the group was already well on its way to fulfilling the third plank of affecting change — showing up.
“That’s showing up at school board meetings, it’s showing up at board of supervisors meetings, it’s showing up in civic groups, it’s showing up in political organizations,” said Cochran, a longtime activist and past chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.
“Let your voice be heard,” he said. “... This is the firewall that we need to support public education.”
Saturday’s outdoor event, held in Christiansburg at Moose Lodge 1470, was a summer summit organized by the Montgomery County Dialogue on Race. The focus on public education emerged from an earlier summit, organizers said, out of which grew a conviction that more needed to be done to rally around the county schools.
People are also reading…
The nation’s public schools are under attack at all levels, Cochran said, putting a strain on teachers, administrators and school board members. Funding battles, convoluted policy mandates and politicized debates over masking, books and — coming next Cochran predicted — charter schools and vouchers are all taking a toll, he said.
“It’s just not right,” he said. “... Teachers, our hardworking, dedicated teachers who were already starting out being underappreciated and drastically underpaid, are feeling the brunt of this.”
The dialogue on race, formed over a decade ago to pursue ideas to combat racial disparities, has created a working group centered on issues in education. Supporters called the nation’s public school system a crucial part of promoting a diverse society and safeguarding access to education and opportunities for all children regardless of their background or income bracket.
“People need to know the truth,” said Penny Franklin, one of the founding members of the race dialogue and a Montgomery County School Board member since 1999.
The summit, she added, was put on to carve out time for people to come together, share information, dispel faulty criticisms and form a plan for advocacy.
The stakes are high, Franklin said. “If we are not educating our children, the impact that it will have on our communities will be devastating,” she said. “Where will we be?”
Saturday’s event ended with supporters forming breakout groups to brainstorm next steps for action. That game plan will be key, Cochran said.
Those on the other side of the issue are highly organized, he said, pointing to events from the past two years.
“I hope you’ll come out of today’s gathering committed to organizing,” Cochran said, adding that included attending public hearings, thanking educators for their work and, crucially, being regular voters in every election.
“From school boards to the governor’s mansion to the White House, decisions are controlled by who shows up to vote,” he said.
“You hold the key to their ability to support or tear apart our American system of public education … You have the power. Show up, stand up and speak up for public education.”