Educator explains ways to advocate for children

Karen Madsen, president-elect for the state’s school director’s association, talks about the benefits of being an advocate for children to elementary school PTA members on Thursday. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
Karen Madsen, president-elect for the state’s school director’s association, talks about the benefits of being an advocate for children to elementary school PTA members on Thursday.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — Karen Madsen knew her daughter belonged in an advanced math class.

But when the president-elect for the state’s school director’s association was told by school counselors her child wouldn’t be admitted to the higher-level class, she did something about it.

She advocated her daughter’s case with the school’s administration and won.

“I was uncomfortable doing it. I was clearly outside my personal comfort zone at the time, but it was the right thing to do,” Madsen told members of the South Whidbey Elementary School Parent Teacher Association on Thursday.

“My kid ended up taking advanced placement math in high school and she always did well,” she added.

Madsen believes parents should engage in more dialogue between themselves, school administration, staff and teachers. She has been involved in the PTA for more than 20 years and has been a school board member in Everett for 11.

“You guys on Whidbey have a reputation for being involved in education but there are ways to take it to a higher level,” she said.

Madsen feels a committed group can achieve a lot, especially if they have it within themselves and the tools to make it happen.

She noted that becoming a schools advocate was like running a marathon.

“You can’t run it today or next week, but maybe — with some hard work and changes in behavior — you could run a marathon after two years,” she said. “It’s the same with being an advocate. It takes time, it takes baby steps.”

She added that one needs to know what one is talking about and recommended going to an education Web site to study an issue for 20 minutes each day.

“Read an area of interest to you, do your homework, work toward the goal of really understanding an issue,” she said.

Other tips included always bringing in a solution to a meeting with school officials, along with the complaint. The problem could be a safer park, a needed stoplight, not enough funding or the wrong folks elected in the community.

“If you’re not happy with an elected official, don’t just vent; find someone willing to run, or go for it yourself,” she encouraged.

Madsen said that, to be effective, parents needed to be both active close to home, in their own community, and advocate as part of the larger statewide organization.

“Don’t get caught up in the minutiae of an issue, either,” she cautioned. “Look at the big picture.”

Elementary school assistant principal Scott Mauk offered some insider advice.

“It’s good to pick something tangible to advocate for, like transportation or special education,” he said.

That comment induced Madsen to recommend an action plan.

“Now is the time to contact your state senators regarding special education funding,” she said. “The government has never supported those programs to the extent they promised, nor what is needed. Decisions are being made this week and this is the time to act.”

She added that if each person present sent five e-mails to friends, and a letter was sent to U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, that would get the ball rolling.

For more information on getting involved in local school issues, call the PTA’s local Legislative representative, Kris McRea, at 331-5183.

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