By Conrad Dudderar
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two Canadian County school leaders traveled to the nation’s capital to attend an Advocacy for Public Schools Conference and Educational Equity Symposium.
Board of Education members Suzanne Cannon of Yukon Public Schools and Dorrie Parrott of El Reno Public Schools are Area 10 representatives on the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA).
Yukon’s Cannon and El Reno’s Parrott were among 14 OSSBA members who traveled to Washington, D.C. from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1 for the conference and symposium.
“We arrived in D.C. just in time for rush-hour traffic,” Cannon shared. “I thought traffic in Oklahoma City was getting bad, but it can’t hold a candle to D.C. traffic!
“Our taxi driver seemed to be having some road rage as he navigated the traffic, yelling at other drivers, changing lanes where there were no openings, never signaling and honking the horn all the time. It was exciting!”
Cannon and other school board leaders began their adventure into learning more about equity the next morning.
“What is educational equity?” she asked. “It is about more than we typically think it is.”
According to the National Equity Project, educational equity means that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.
Equity can be things like buildings with heat, laptops or Chromebooks, access to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services and Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
“We were encouraged as educational leaders to think about our story and to ask every child what their life story is,” Cannon said. “Helping every child believe in themselves is another way our students can succeed.
“Home is the best place for that to start, but schools provide a safe place for learning and help for our kids in the ways they need help as best we can. Equity is about all of us.”
The Advocacy Conference started the next day. Attendees were given updates on pending legislation affecting education.
They heard from various speakers about advocating for schools and children.
DAY ‘ON THE HILL’
For many attendees, the best part was getting to visit with federal legislators who represent Oklahoma.
“We spent a day ‘on the Hill’ visiting with our various representatives and senators,” Cannon shared.
“Since the OSSBA members represent the whole state, we had someone from every district to personally connect with their member of Congress.”
They were sure to thank each House member and senator for funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.
This federal COVID relief fund provides money to schools to support the academic, social and emotional well-being of students. This funding also addresses unfinished learning and student success.
The OSSBA contingent’s first visit of the day was with U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin.
“We were able to speak with him about how we have spent our ESSER funds, child nutrition, special education, and other issues having a direct impact on our students,” Cannon said.
They then met with U.S. Rep. Tom Cole’s aide about their concerns for education funding in the different areas. The aide plans to share those with Cole, the Fourth District congressman.
Cannon was pleased the Oklahoma group was able to spend some time with U.S. Sen. James Lankford. He was happy to see so many people from across Oklahoma.
“Sen. Lankford’s new aide, Bryce from Hydro, is related to none other than our very own Everett and Linda Baker of Yukon,” Cannon pointed out.
“Sen. Lankford was interested in learning about our educational needs and getting more funding for education.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas was able to join the group at the last minute.
“Rep. Lucas is very involved with the agriculture bill which is coming up this session for reauthorization,” Cannon said. “Child Nutrition funding comes from that bill.
“He doesn’t believe we will be able to get universal free lunch for all children although that was a need that has been identified as a result of COVID. I was very disappointed. Parts of IDEA funding will probably be approved, but not at the current levels.”
El Reno’s Parrott was able to speak with Congressman Lucas about the local communities and schools as his Third District constituent.
The OSSBA members saw U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice last.
“I was very excited to see her,” Cannon shared. “We have known each other since she was my local representative. She was pretty happy to see a face from home.
“We spoke at length about how we are spending our ESSER funds and COVID recovery.”
The Fifth District congresswoman said she would advocate for Oklahoma’s public schools on child nutrition and disabilities education.
While in Washington, D.C., Yukon’s Cannon visited with people from other states to learn how they are handling the various challenges education continues to face.
Federal dollars are important to the state’s school districts, according to El Reno’s Parrott.
“The value in being able to meet with our delegation in Washington, D.C. is to show them that concerns that feel local are really sensed in our communities, not just in Oklahoma, but around the United States,” she said.
“We were able to show them that we are interested, willing and able to work together to establish national policy that impacts the children that we see playing in the local parks just down the street.”
Parrott was grateful for this opportunity to link Oklahoma’s federally elected officials to local school districts.
“Education transforms lives and what we do today will impact children not yet born,” she said. “Teachers touch eternity.”
Parrott is president of the ERPS Board of Education, representing Ward 4 – Seat 5.
Cannon is clerk of the YPS Board of Education, representing Post 1.
OBSERVATIONS AROUND D.C.
The OSSBA representatives attended every session as a group.
They also went to dinner together most evenings – which made for some long days.
“I love Washington, D.C.” Cannon shared. “Even though I didn’t get to do any sightseeing, the atmosphere there was electric. The traffic, lights, people walking very quickly, and historic buildings were all amazing.
“Life is significantly different there.”
Most of the people Cannon talked with don’t have a car. Public transportation is easily accessible and goes everywhere.
The Oklahoma group saw grocery stores in pockets of neighborhoods, a Subway sandwich shop and CVS pharmacy on the ground floor of a high-rise building and amazing architecture everywhere they went.
A favorite sight one rainy night was seeing lights shimmering on the streets and people with their umbrellas hurrying about.
“People walking their dogs and riding bikes in downtown D.C. is something we are just beginning to have in downtown Oklahoma City,” Cannon noted. “I loved seeing how people live in different places we visited. I could look into apartments across the street from my hotel and see people going on about their lives. Of course, they had their curtains open!
“The never-ending sirens provided an atmosphere of urgency. I guess that would be one of my key takeaways from D.C. Everyone is in a hurry, walking fast and cutting in front of others both walking and driving.”
The Yukon school board member never saw an Uber driver use a signal and said the way they were able to change lanes so quickly and aggressively was “impressive.”
At the Capitol, the people who worked there were clearly used to tourists.
The Oklahoma visitors were quick to learn the “single file, next to the wall” rule.
“They were all in a huge hurry, walking very fast while looking at their phones, cutting in front of people and through groups,” Cannon related. “There were metal detectors in every building. It was also raining the day we were there, so dealing with wet umbrellas and coats made it just that much more of a hassle.
“The men had to take off their belts, we all had to empty pockets and put anything metal in a dish to go through the scanner.”
Of course, Cannon’s artificial replacement knee set off every metal detector in every building and she had to be searched every time.
When the OSSBA delegation went to see Rep. Bice, the hallway on the way to her office was packed with news people, cameras and Capitol Police.
It turned out new U.S. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) has offices in her hall and was going to have a press conference.