In 2010, “Make Education a Priority” began as a local grassroots movement in Aledo. On Wednesday, it took on a new status, announcing its transition to a nonprofit organization.
The announcement took place at the Aledo ISD Administration Building where the group shared their vision they called - Working Together for All Students in Public Education.
“Did you know that the value of education - its importance and why we must protect it - is described within our Texas Constitution in 13 words? It’s simple and to the point, yet powerful and time tested,” said Bobby Rigues, Founder and CEO of Make Education a Priority (MEaP).
“In Article 7, Section 1, it begins by describing the term ‘learning’ as ‘the diffusion of knowledge’ with the next 13 words describing why it is important when it says, ‘being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people,’" Rigues explained. "In other words, we need to have an educated public if we are to protect our liberties, our rights - meaning our democracy. As we protect our democracy through an educated public, we provide individual opportunities for prosperity.”
Rigues said back in 2011, with the 82nd Texas Legislative Session just around the corner, a broken school funding system was taking its toll on school districts across the state.
"Lack of proper funding from a revised 2006 system was now having a mushroom effect, growing to the point that it was affecting classroom instruction,” he said.
To complicate matters, the Legislature faced a most difficult challenge, creating a balanced state budget in the middle of a weak economy.
“It became clear that budgetary cuts were inevitable and all state services would be affected; education was not immune,” Rigues added. “As advocates for public schools, raising the awareness of public education as a priority for our policymakers became the goal - a grassroots movement was born.”
Rigues said Aledo responded "beyond our belief, thousands of letters were collected locally and as word spread, thousands more from across Texas came in."
“Equally important and never accomplished before by resolution adoption, school districts came together as a majority and created a single voice with a simple but powerful message - four words, Make Education a Priority,” Rigues said. "It is here where the foundation to this nonprofit organization is found - in the world of public school advocacy, it is a story about 'unity' and working together, through engagement for all students to succeed.”
Craig Rothmeier, the current President of MEaP, shared the organization's vision and mission, as well three areas the group intend on focusing.
“One of our first efforts was to understand what other education advocacy groups were doing and how we can complement their efforts,” Rothmeier said. “We believe that the key to success of these efforts will be measured by how successful we are in prioritizing messages that positively impact students. This requires that we all work together to develop a consistent message and brand for public education, thus our vision of ‘Working Together for all Students in Public Education.’”
He said the focus of their efforts will be on the positive aspects of public education and the accomplishments of public education.
“Our students have achieved tremendous success in many areas and we want to make certain that we use these successes as a springboard to telling the story of contributions made every day, while promoting the need for greater engagement and involvement at all levels,” he said.
Specifically, he said, efforts will be focused on three main areas:
▪ Foster public engagement with public schools
▪ Promote effective school board governance; and
▪ Enhance relationships with policymakers.
"This platform of success also serves to help promote our vision of how working together and unity among multiple stakeholders will continue to enable students to fulfill their dreams and expectations of receiving a high quality education.”
He said by working together across the many public education stakeholders, from students and parents to campus administrators to business and community partners, they will also fulfill MEaP's mission "to foster public education opportunities for all students through partnerships, engagement and advocacy."
“We are committed to telling the story that drives even greater engagement by parents, community members and businesses,” he added. “Through all of this, there is one group of stakeholders who have the potential to tie everything together; that group is the more than 7,000 school board trustees serving the needs of 5.2 million students in Texas public education.”.
MEaP secretary Kathy Duke told how they intend to foster public engagement.
“Meaningful public engagement with schools extends well beyond the pattern of just parent, student and the classroom,” Duke said. “The type of additional engagement we wish to advocate requires community involvement at every level, and includes opportunities of involvement, of every kind, for everyone.”
She said meaningful engagement is critical if they are to maximize student opportunities for student success to insure all students are “future ready.”
“Our first objective under public engagement is to strengthen the interactions between communities, students and schools in order to bring about true meaningful engagement,” she said.
She said advocacy will include encouraging community members to engage through participation. Examples include, among other things, joining local school-parent organizations like PTO’s and PTA’s, local academic and extra-curricular booster clubs, campus and district level committees and other “roles of responsibility” that are available in public schools.
She said regardless of the engagement level, from a parent to a classroom aide to a school board trustee and every other opportunity in between, all are "critically important."
“At the state level, [MEaP] will support and collaborate with other non-profits like the Coalition for Public Schools, Pastors for Texas Children, Friends of Texas Public Schools and the Fast Growth School Coalition, just to name a few,” she said. “Under the flagship of unity, the voice of advocacy is found louder in numbers.”
She said their advocacy will also include one of the most important ways to engage - a right and responsibility that they all cherish - the right to vote.
Fostering public engagement with public schools is a reflection of the first objective for Texas public schools found in the Texas Education Code where it says, “Parents will be full partners with educators in the education of their children,’” she added.
Rothmeier shared additional objectives advocating public engagement, which includes encouraging and highlighting business and industry partnerships with public schools.
“It is business and industry partnerships that support student opportunities in career and technology endeavors,” Rothmeier said. “We are excited to foster and highlight these type of partnerships across Texas - strengthening opportunities for student success through STEM, classroom curriculum, and competitive activities.”
He said the recent announcement where robotics will now be a UIL competitive activity is an example where "wonderful opportunities for business and industry partnerships can flourish."
“As an organization, we will foster these partnerships and publicly share the successes found,” he said.
Rothmeier said an example of an industry partnership they will share with other school districts is found in Aledo, the Bell Corp. and Aledo Partnership - promoting manufacturing and industry.
“There are a number business and industry partnerships with school districts flourishing across Texas,” he said. “[MEaP] is excited to encourage and highlight these opportunities for student success.”
Another objective includes advocating public education awareness through social media and events.
“Public engagement involves maximizing the use of social media and events to increase the level of awareness of public education among the many stakeholders,” Rothmeier said. “Collectively, we have an opportunity to maximize the use of technology and reach a diverse public audience - we can positively brand public education through public education awareness.”
Rick Lambert, Vice-President, told how they planed on promoting effective school board governance.
“Local school board trustees are locally elected, held in trust, and are the stewards of our local community school. We are responsible for the direction and oversight of the schools in our districts,” Lambert said. “There are more than 7,000 Texas School Board Trustees representing more than 1000 school districts. Protecting the system of public education is a shared responsibility - beginning with us - locally elected trustees.”
He said in terms of school board governance, MEaP, will advocate best practices in local governance in order to meet the challenges of public education.
“Using the Framework for School Board Development document provided by the Texas State Board of Education, [we] will focus on advocating to school board trustees the value of strong governance as outlined in the document under the principles of vision, structure, accountability, advocacy and unity,” he said.
Lambert said their third area of focus involves enhancing relationships with our policymakers.
“There are a multitude of issues our policymakers face,” he said. “Our legislators - both federal and state level, our state board of education members, our education commissioner and the Texas Education Agency have phenomenal responsibilities.”
Rigues wrapped up the announcement calling it a “truly exciting time.”
“Providing the opportunity for student success and achievement is a publicly shared responsibility,” he said. "[MEaP] believes we can foster public education opportunities for all students through partnerships, engagement and advocacy.”