Ferndale School Board Secretary Twomey Shares View on Advocacy Conference

Ferndale School Board Secretary Twomey Shares View on Advocacy Conference

(Karen Twomey, Feb. 5, 2017)

Ferndale School Board Secretary Karen Twomey traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28-31 for the National School Board Association Advocacy Conference. Here is her account from the trip.

When our district sends me to a conference I always feel this extreme sense of responsibility to bring back value to the district. I am pleased to say with great confidence that my trip last weekend to Washington, D.C., was so worth it. After I returned home,  news broke about decisions made by key lawmakers, possibly as a result of the advocacy work I participated in.

At the conference, held annually for School Board members from across the country, our capital had a very different feel. There was a hyper level of civic engagement in these opening days of President Trump’s administration.

Saturday opened with an Equity Symposium aiming to give guidance to the role districts might take in closing opportunity gaps and building inclusion. The information and tools I collected can have great application in Ferndale.

Sunday we heard presentations on current federal policies and politics that may impact our schools. NSBA representatives laid out their legislative priorities and talking points to bring to our representatives in Congress. Foremost on all our minds, of course, was the coming vote on President Trump’s Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. The nomination was scheduled for a committee vote on Tuesday.

Due to complicated political dynamics, NSBA chose not to formally take a position on the nomination, as many other education organizations have. Given the amounts of protests filling the city opposing Betsy DeVos, many conference goers felt uncomfortable in silence. I sought feedback from my Ferndale board colleagues, and I am proud they were supportive of me. I decided to team with a coalition of board members from across the country to speak out.

That night we developed a nonpartisan document, and Monday our coalition headed to the hill to visit the offices of each Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)  Committee, as well as key members who were undecided. It was important to us that the talking points respected the values of both parties. Our concerns were not of Betsy DeVos’ ideology, but rather competency, ethics and track record. We then came together at a Tri-County Alliance reception with members of congress before joining with a big protest of the Seven Nation Ban outside the Supreme Court.

At Tuesday’s breakfast, our Michigan senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, confirmed their commitments to key education issues, and asked for our help and continued vigilance. I then joined my conference colleague and leaders from both teacher unions, the AFT and NEA to the room where the HELP committee was preparing to vote on Secretary of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos. Though silence was required in the room, the excitement was visible when two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who we had just visited the day before, indicated not to count on their votes on the Senate floor. (The committee voted 12-11 in favor of DeVos, but on Wednesday, Collins and Murkowski both announced that they intended to vote no on the Senate floor on Monday, February 6.)

After the committee vote, I managed to squeeze in one more event before heading to the airport Tuesday evening. I joined our Oakland School Board Association at the Swiss Embassy to learn about their apprenticeship model and similar business partnerships happening here under the support of the Department of Labor. Again, this provided many ideas for applications in Ferndale.

The weekend’s  experience left me with much more than luggage to unpack. I am so glad I took this trip on behalf of Michigan and our country, and especially, Ferndale.

Ms. Twomey has been a member of the Ferndale School Board since 2010. You may contact her at karen.twomey@ferndaleschools.org.

Note: This story has been updated to change “Sweedish” to “Swiss.”


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