My Turn: Edelblut gives parents a seat at the education table

For the Monitor
Monday, January 01, 2018

In May of 2015, then-New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Virginia Barry sat in front of the Manchester Board of School Committee and stated that parents should not be expected to help their children with their homework, and that they should leave education to the professionals.

Committee member Robyn Dunphy immediately took her to task and stood up for parents. The comments of the commissioner made it very clear how the Department of Education felt toward parental involvement. This attitude trickled down to local school districts, left parents frustrated, and students without the kind of support needed for educational success.

Fortunately, with a new governor comes new opportunity.

When Dr. Barry announced she would be leaving her position, Gov. Chris Sununu appointed Frank Edelblut as her replacement. This announcement was immediately met with resistance. However, the governor boldly stood by his nomination. His instincts were correct. Edelblut has proven to be an excellent commissioner. Furthermore, since the change of leadership at the N.H. Department of Education, the attitude toward the parental role in education has changed significantly.

A few weeks ago I received a call from the commissioner asking if I would be willing to speak at a forum with early childhood education stakeholders. I was apprehensive about accepting this invitation. I did not send my children to pre-school. I could not imagine what I could bring to the table. The commissioner explained that he wanted me to come and speak as a stay-at-home mom. I reluctantly accepted the invitation not really knowing what I would say or how I would be received.

At the event I was one of 15 speakers, and as luck would have it I was second to the last on the list. As you could imagine, I was odd man out on this topic. To my surprise, I spoke to a very attentive room. I spoke on behalf of the more than 10 million stay-at-home parents around the country. I shared my personal story of how I was made to feel as though I was failing my children by not sending them to an out-of-the-home pre-school. I shared how I found my way as their teacher, the things that our time together taught me about my children, and how those lessons still help me to guide their education today.

I was taken aback by the amount of support I received in the room. I was thanked by many for speaking on behalf of parents. It opened the conversation that early childhood education is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and that families that choose to teach and nurture their own children, especially in the early years, need support, too.

My invitation to speak at that forum changed the conversation. This is what Frank Edelblut does. He brings stakeholders together, engages everyone in the conversations, and opens minds. He looks at our children’s education as one filled with opportunity and innovation.

Frank Edelblut sees parents as partners in their children’s education. He has opened the doors of communication between all stakeholders. Parents once again have a voice in their children’s education and feel valued. When families are engaged, and parents and teachers work together, the children benefit.

This is a very exciting time for our students, parents, teachers and education, in all of its forms, in the state of New Hampshire. I am grateful to Gov. Sununu, and Commissioner Edelblut for their leadership, and thank them for giving parents a seat at the table.

(Victoria Sullivan of Manchester is assistant majority leader in the N.H. House of Representatives. She serves on the House Education Committee.)