CharterFolk Contributor Kimi Kean – What is Parent Power Worth? $28,000,000!

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are pleased to present a Contributor Column from Kimi Kean, Co-Founder and CEO of Families in Action for Quality Education.

We provide a bio below.

Formerly a high school drop out, Kimi Kean has spent over two decades as an enthusiastic, results driven public education leader in Oakland, CA. Kimi was the award winning principal of Acorn Woodland Elementary, leading the turnaround from lowest performing to CA Distinguished School before serving in executive leadership in Oakland district and charter schools. In 2019, Kimi co-founded a non-profit coalition dedicated to building the leadership and collective power of underserved families to lead transformation in education at the school and city levels. Families in Action for Quality Education creates grassroots demand for quality education, having trained over 500 Oakland parents and youth who lead campaigns that have unlocked $29M in resources along with policy and practice wins. A product of community college, UC Berkeley and Columbia Teachers College, Kimi was also a New Leaders Cohort 4 fellow.

What is Parent Power Worth? $28,000,000!

Like me, have you grown tired of wondering why elected officials don’t seem to value the student outcomes at quality charter schools are making possible in communities where public schools have failed generations of students of color? Do you find yourself getting angry that school board members oppose such basic rights as decent school facilities for public charter schools?

At Families in Action for Quality Education, we think it’s time for us to stop wondering and being angry. We believe it’s time to turn our frustration into political power and that organizing our parents is the solution.

To understand why we believe wholeheartedly in family power, we must rewind to the Oakland school board meeting in November 2022. The school board in our “progressive” city deadlocked on authorizing a $28M Prop 51 facilities grant at Cox Academy in deep East Oakland.  That means, the huge state facilities grant that was won by Education for Change for Cox Academy could not be utilized. Mind you, Cox Academy is a charter school serving 400 amazing students who happen to be 90% low income, nearly 100% Black and Brown, in an aging school district building with a leaking roof, flooded electrical room and a litany of other safety concerns. Cox Academy school leaders and the EFC superintendent were shocked that they were unable to broker their way to a solution. 

With the board’s failure to approve the facilities agreement, Cox students were destined to learn in a building where rain water fell inside classrooms during rainstorms, causing parents to send umbrellas to school with their children so they could keep their desks and school work dry. 

Since 2019, Families in Action for Quality Education has been in the business of building the power of Oakland families to advocate for their children’s education and lead campaigns that help disrupt the status quo in education and achieve real wins for Oakland kids – at the family level, school level and citywide. We knew the Cox family leaders well – they were part of our Lit 4 Literacy campaign in fall 2022. Cox family leaders were enthusiastic participants in FIA’s leadership training that included how to organize other parents around literacy data and strategies. 

It was natural for FIA to convene with the Cox Academy school and Home Office leadership and their parent leaders to make a plan to win approval of their Prop 51 grant. We had a vested shared interest that all Cox kids should be able to learn in a dignified and safe environment. Together, we researched the facilities issues, who were the decision makers and how we could move power to get to a yes.

Over the next year, with the support of school leaders and FIA, Cox family leaders, moms, grandmas, dads, English and Spanish speaking took the reins. They invited every board member to their campus to meet with them and tour the school and to understand what it would take to get their yes vote. When some school board members didn’t respond, the Cox leaders “bird dogged” them at board meetings, showing up early to greet them and talk to them as they walked into the board meetings. As you can imagine, Cox families were a force to be reckoned with. 

Cox school leaders and parents showed up to every board meeting for nearly a year. They got nearly every board member to visit the school. And on October 23, 2023, the Oakland school board voted unanimously to approve the Cox Prop 51 grant. 

Parents were so proud of their victory. One mom, Marleny R. told me, “Now that we have won this victory, I know we can accomplish anything.” Cox family leaders have formed both a Black Family Council and a Hispanic Family Council. They use those vehicles to teach more families about reading data and how to make sure their kids get to grade level and beyond. 

Who knows what lies ahead for these powerful parent leaders? I know it will be powerful. I now know that parents can breakthrough where school leaders sometimes can’t. And I know that the future of our movement for educational excellence and opportunity for kids faces very difficult political opposition. But if WE can embrace parent power, create the space to build it, and tap into the inherent leadership of families in our schools, our movement will be unstoppable.