New London - A group of 13 parents sat in a circle Monday night to discuss the challenges of understanding the issues within the city's school district and how they can arm themselves with the tools to become a powerful voice of change.
It was only their second meeting, but the parents who are part of the New London Parent Advocates, are already celebrating small victories.
Child care is now available at the Board of Education meetings, and an open house schedule that conflicted between two schools was changed.
These were both issues that were raised at recent school board meetings.
"Parents who want to come to the meetings often don't because they don't have anyone who can take care of their children," Mirna Lis Martinez said. "This now allows them to come and know that their child is being taken care of in a room nearby."
When a small group of parents in the community began speaking with each other and sharing stories about their children's education and their own frustrations with the education system in New London, a group started to form.
"We want to give parents a sense of comfort to go to the administration within their child's schools and be able to advocate for their child. Some parents are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation, and some parents do feel intimidated," Regina Nicholson said.
The group plans to wear red to Board of Education meetings to identify themselves and sit in a group.
"We're here because we want to hear each other's concerns, to listen and to educate ourselves. We need to learn the tools. How do we get what this group thinks is the best for our kids," Mongi Dhaouadi said to the group. "This is not a political organization, but we will learn political tools of how to get what we want."
Dhaouadi mentioned that while each person is allowed three minutes during the public comment period at the school board meetings, the conversation is not a discussion, and there is rarely any follow up.
"This is the time we start thinking seriously about advocating for better education in New London," he said.
A point person for the group has been identified to speak at the school board meetings, and Kathy Skrabacz plans to again address the board about the state of the roof at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.
"The roof has been leaking for too long. Please, just fix the roof," she said.
Dhaouadi said he plans to ask board members to include parents on the creation of the district's Strategic Operating Plan, a three-year plan required by the state as a condition of state intervention.
"This is the point of our meetings, to share our concerns, because while we're in the same district, there are issues that we don't know about at each of the schools," Nicholson said.
The next meeting of the New London Parent Advocates is Monday, 7 p.m. Oct.22 at the New London Public Library, while the next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Science and Technology Magnet High School.