My daughter began her educational journey in Pittsburgh Public Schools, exploring who she’ll be when she grows up and discovering new interests. I learned about the school district’s preschool program when I worked in the communications and marketing department. At the time, I shared custody with my daughter’s dad. She split schooling, spending two weeks in Pittsburgh with me and two weeks in New Jersey with her dad. Pittsburgh Public Schools offered a high-quality, affordable option, which was a lifesaver since I had to pay for full-time early childhood education for a part-time student. During this time, I got an in-depth understanding of the district and its programs. I learned to navigate the system and actively engage in my daughter’s education.

Sometimes staying active is difficult for single moms. I was kind of active by default. I worked in the administration building. I later landed a job at a child advocacy organization located inside the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where my daughter attended pre-k. So, I wasn’t working to get parent of the year, rather I was able to connect my home and family life, without stretching beyond my capacity or exhausting myself. And that’s hard. Now, that I’m an entrepreneur, I rely on technology, like email and social media, to stay on top of everything. We’ve since moved out of the city, which laid a strong foundation. As a past PPS employee and a former middle school English teacher, I learned how to speak up for my child. Here’s how you can be heard.

Get to Know School Leaders

Develop professional and positive relationships with everyone involved in your child’s education, including those at the top! Currently, Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, school board members and other district leaders are available to hear your concerns and answer your questions. They are hosting a round of community engagement sessions for a new initiative called Imagine PPS. The district is calling on everyone, especially parents, to help them reimagine the way the district delivers education so that every student graduates personally prepared, college and career ready and civically engaged. Check out the schedule below!

Also, be sure to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, principal, and guidance counselor. Know the role they play in your child’s life and how they can help your student succeed. Add their telephone numbers and email addresses to your contacts., and be sure they have your updated information. Often, as a teacher, I was unable to get in touch with a child’s parent, simply because they listed an outdated number. Provide the teacher with your availability and another person they can contact, perhaps the child’s father, older sibling or grandparent. Plus, let them know the best way they can reach you–maybe you can’t answer the phone at work, but you can respond to text messages.

Share Your Vision

Share your vision for your student’s success. Work with your student’s teacher and principal to set high expectations for your child. If you can’t attend meetings in person, make your voice virtually heard. There are several surveys you can take on PPS’ website, sharing your areas of interest and giving feedback on the district’s graduate profile. Right now, district design teams are creating action plans for :

  • System Design (Graduate Student Profile, Graduation Requirements, Pupil Progression Plan)
  • School Design (Career Middle School, Birth- Age 8 Programming, STEM School – Medical Careers)
  • School Improvement of Underperforming High Schools (Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, Pittsburgh Perry High School, Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12); and
  • Areas of Interest (Mental Health/Trauma-Informed Care, Arts, Athletics, “Homemade” Healthy Food, Program for Students with Exceptionalities (Special Education) Infrastructure)

Seek Support

You don’t have to navigate school systems all alone! Inquire about parent groups at your school. If you can’t make a meeting in person you can still receive updates from representatives who can attend. You can also create a support system. Perhaps it’s a mom with a special education student who can answer your questions about IEPs and 504 plans. Perhaps it’s a retired neighbor who can cover a meeting while your at work–many seniors crave companionship, so it can be a win-win! Perhaps it’s an afterschool program or a community resource, like the library, which offers free homework help and endless educational resources. Be sure to utilize technology too! Pittsburgh Public Schools communications department, led by two members of Single Mom Defined, informs the public through blog and social media posts, videos and more.

Got questions? Continue the conversation in Single Mom Defined’s private Facebook group.