Maya Martin: PAVE, Parent Leaders, and the Power of Voice

A fifth generation Washingtonian, Maya Martin worked at Achievement Prep and Center City Public Charter Schools, helped launch the My School DC unified enrollment lottery and was an admissions officer at Dartmouth College before becoming an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Education Forward DC. In that role, she found families looking for agency in their children’s education. With support from Education Forward DC, she and a group of eight parent leaders founded PAVE—Parents Amplifying Voices in Education—in April 2016.

Education Forward DC: Why did you decide to create PAVE?

Maya Martin: We wanted to create an education system that wasn’t just created for families…but was created by and with families, where families and parents were partners and leaders in creating a diversity of high quality safe and nurturing schools in every ward and community in the city.

Ed Forward DC: How can parents support the creation of equitable high-quality schools?

Maya: You can’t have strong schools without having a strong relationship between the schools and the school system and its parents. Parents and schools need to be partners in making sure that every kid has what they need.…

The reason that parents are important in this process is that they will make policy stronger. They will highlight the things that we can’t necessarily think about from our lens. When you hear from all stakeholders, that’s when you actually get to real change.

Ed Forward DC: Talk about your Parent Leaders in Education boards.

Maya: We have Parent Leaders in Education (PLE) boards in six of the eight wards here in the city. We have our families come together every single month to receive policy and advocacy training around the issues they select. They pick their issues at the parent policy summit every May and once they have those issues, they decide the direction of their actions.

But we also give them training around policy so they can understand how the system works. You can’t advocate and influence a system when you don’t know who the players are, where power resides, and how you make change. So we do that work with our PLE board members, who make this amazing commitment of 2 ½ hours every month in their board meetings, plus all the other actions and activities they might take on, like testimony before the DC Council, op-eds and blog posts, texting and tweeting their council members, and meeting their council members. They are doing all that work and really driving the direction of our advocacy in the city. Because it’s their work. And they’re not just advocating for their child, they’re advocating for all children.

Ed Forward DC: Do things turn out differently when parents are truly involved?

Maya: We have so many examples of parent power. In our first year our parents identified that the funding we were providing for schools wasn’t adequate, especially in a city with a growing tax base. You want to make sure the programs that are going to build a great work force, like your schools, are funded equitably. That first year our parents worked together, they called their elected officials, they tweeted, they texted, they met with people. They were able to increase per-pupil funding by 3.5 percent.

Parents at the Parent Policy Summit in May 2017 voted on out-of-school time and high quality enrichment programs as one of their priorities. They increased funding from $4.9 million in the 2018 budget to $20.25 million in the 2019 budget. That was done by parents.

Ed Forward DC: What motivates you around parent voice?

Maya: When you have the power of your voice and when you feel the power of your voice, you realize you have the power to actually make change. I had done policy and advocacy work for a long time and I knew I could call an elected official from my perch in school leadership, but I said, ‘Why should that be my experience? That should be the experience of every family.’ Every family should know their elected official, they should know how the system works, how to navigate it, not just for their child, but for all children. And when we are able to do that, the city is better, because our system is stronger.