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Ready to make change: Recap of the 2019 Equity Symposium & Advocacy Institute

From January 26 through January 29 several hundred public school advocates and school board officials from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 2019 Equity Symposium and Advocacy Institute.

The weekend opened with Equity Symposium as Dr. Kandice Sumner, Instructional Coach and Restorative Justice Specialist at Boston Public Schools, lead the crowd to think of equity as a conversation about revolution, encouraging attendees to own their responsibility to create the changes that need to happen in our public schools. “Things need to break and be uncomfortable,” said Sumner.

The morning and afternoon clinic sessions featured an array of topics to equip attendees with the necessary tools and strategies needed to help push for equitable changes in their districts that will best support all levels of learners. Session topics included creating trauma sensitive schools, the opioid crisis, school criminalization, mindfulness, and safe and inclusive learning environments. Luncheon speaker Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org Founder and CEO discussed the power of crowdfunding and how Donors Choose is helping generate financial support for teachers and schools.

Equity Symposium ended as powerfully as it started with Laura W. Murphy, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Strategist and the President of Laura Murphy & Associates. Social networking platforms and even electronic appliances are gathering and sharing our data without our permission or knowledge said Murphy, making the case for “a call for advocacy for ours and our students’ rights.”

The momentum from Saturday’s event carried over into Sunday’s Advocacy Institute. Institute sessions provided attendees with insights and resources to ramp up their advocacy strategies and to help them prepare for their Hill meetings with their Congressional representatives. 

The 2020 Census and its impact on student count and school funding, the importance of workforce readiness, Title IV, and the vital need for a modernized and fully funded Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were some of the issues covered at the Institute.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos and Senator Lamar Alexander were featured speakers on the second day of the Institute. Other featured speakers included Dr. Norman Ornstein; presidential historian Jon Meacham; and president and founder of Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science Chris Graves. Senator Pat Roberts and House Representatives Steve Womack and Donna Shalala provided remarks during the Congressional Luncheon.  

To highlight the critical need for a modernized IDEA and its full funding, NSBA launched a new initiative that featured a press event on Capitol Hill that had a packed room of supporters. Congressman John Katko from New York; Charles “Chuck” Saylors, Chairman of the Greenville County Schools Board of Trustees, Greenville, South Carolina; Chris Ungar with the California School Boards Association; and Frank Pugh, NSBA President 2018-2019 joined NSBA Executive Director & CEO Tom Gentzel in speaking on behalf of students with disabilities and providing success stories and testimonies on the impact of special education services on our children with disabilities.

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