We're Looking Back and Moving Forward

Who We Are | 05/19/2016

Amber England
Oklahoma Executive Director

Amber England is the Executive Director of Stand for Children Oklahoma.

We’re proud to be part of the Stand for Children family—an organization that’s celebrating 20 years of impact on behalf of children across 11 state affiliates.

While we may be the newest addition to the Stand family, we’re no strangers to the fight to improve outcomes for children. Our Oklahoma story begins in 2013. Shortly after launching the affiliate here, we began an important conversation about the growing teacher shortage and low teacher pay by launching our Teachers Matter Campaign. Unlike today, when we first started talking about the teacher shortage there wasn’t a daily dose of layoffs and cuts in the news.

That same year, we fought to ensure our lawmakers were adequately funding the education reforms they’d passed in previous years.

Then in 2014 we continued to advance that conversation by hosting our first Teachers Matter event with Oklahoma’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, New York Times bestselling author Amanda Ripley, and the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools superintendents.

We invited lawmakers, educators, and community leaders to attend the event because it was important that our message was clear: If you want to raise student outcomes, highly effective teachers matter most. In fact, according to one study, teachers have two to three times the impact of any other school factor.

That fall, we supported and helped elect many education champions who serve in the legislature today. We also challenged incumbent lawmakers at the ballot box who our parent members unanimously agreed hadn’t taken courageous stands for children with their votes on education investment and policy decisions. 

In 2015, we talked directly to teachers when we hosted eight focus groups across Oklahoma to listen to teachers and their ideas for solutions to the barriers they face in the classroom.

The result was our Oklahoma Teachers Matter: Listening Tour Report. In the report, Oklahoma teachers cited low morale, overcrowded classrooms, and feeling excluded from the decision-making process.

Educators told us they chose to teach out of love and passion, not the promise of a large paycheck. As one teacher put it, “I got into education not for the incomes, but for the outcomes.” But, teachers agreed higher pay would elevate the teaching profession and improve morale.

2015 was also a big year for our Family Engagement and Organizing program. In October, 27 parents from Cesar Chavez Elementary in Oklahoma City walked across the stage at our first ever Stand UP graduation ceremony. After an 8-week commitment of learning to use their voice to take a stand for stronger public schools, these parents went out and did just that. They took the leadership and empowerment skills they learned in Stand UP and increased participation of Hispanic voters by 12.6 percent. That accomplishment is important because today Hispanic students are the largest and fastest growing demographic of students at OKCPS. They need a voice and our parents proved that by participating in school board elections they were giving them that voice.

In both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, we launched our Summer School campaign to ensure students weren’t falling behind during the critical summer months. Then when students came back to school in the fall, we launched our I Pledge 5 campaign, asking parents to take five important actions to keep their children on track to success. 

While we have accomplished a lot for kids in this state since arriving in early 2013, there is much left to accomplish. The conditions for teachers and our classrooms have unfortunately worsened due to severe budget cuts. Fewer people are choosing to teach, and many who do are fleeing to bordering states for better pay. Districts have resorted to shortening school weeks and cutting classes.

That's why in 2016, we joined the Oklahoma's Children, Our Future coalition to launch the Yes For 779 campaign--a campaign to give every teacher a $5,000 raise and provide targeted investments in the classroom that will expand access to early childhood education and help improve reading in early grades and high school graduation rates. 

In helping launch this effort, we've made history. To date, the effort to put State Question 779 to a vote of the people remains the fastest and largest signature gathering in the state of Oklahoma.

In November, we’ll have a chance to make a once-in-a-generation investment in Oklahoma's children and our collective future. And we're incredibly proud of the work our parents and staff have done to make this moment possible.

If we’ve learned anything since our founding in 2013, it’s this: Change doesn’t come easy. In fact, it's really hard.

Complaining doesn’t change anything. And neither does staying home on Election Day. Only when we stand up for children this November and vote YES on State Question 779 and elect education champions to the Oklahoma Legislature will we finally turn this crisis around.

Will you join us? Take the pledge to become an education voter today.

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