When Hispanic CREO convened its second annual conference, “Activate the Latino Voice,” on October 21, 2004 in Westminster, Colorado, the 400 attendees were ready to celebrate the many achievements the organization had made during the previous year.
Yet throughout the three days of conference sessions that followed, the aim of the participants remained sharply focused on the future, on working to create a world with better educational opportunities–and outcomes–for their children.
“If we improve the educational options for Latino children, we improve the whole world,” said Robert Aguirre, chairman of Hispanic CREO, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.
Launched in October 2003 at the National Press Club, Hispanic CREO started 2004 with fewer than 500 members, according to Maite Arce, director of membership and chapter development. By August 2004, membership had soared to more than 3,000 and affiliate organizations were increasing at the rate of one per month.
“Parents in this movement usually don’t realize the power of their voice,” said Hispanic CREO President Rebeca Nieves Huffman. She said her organization has seen the awakening of “the sleeping giant” of the school choice movement: parents.
“We’re so happy that we’ve been able to turn spectators into participators,” she said, after recapping the results from a five-city outreach project, Project CREO, that was initiated after the 2003 conference. The project was to get information out to parents about the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
As Education Undersecretary Nina Rees explained later in the conference, the U.S. Department of Education in 2003 became concerned that school districts with many schools in need of improvement often weren’t doing a good job of disseminating information about the alternative educational options available under NCLB. To address this, the department provided grants to organizations like Hispanic CREO and BAEO–the Black Alliance for Educational Options–to get the word out to parents about the school choice and free tutoring features of NCLB.
NCLB Outreach with Project CREO
Hispanic CREO took the project on as a grassroots campaign to raise public awareness about parents’ rights under NCLB. Huffman provided highlights of the campaigns in the five cities selected:
Miami, Florida: In just a two-week time-frame, outreach efforts resulted in 100 students being transferred to better schools and 200 students being signed up for free tutoring.
Austin, Texas: Outreach efforts were focused on immigrant and migrant families.
San Antonio, Texas: Huffman called this campaign “a stellar example” of reaching out and working with churches and faith-based organizations.
Dallas, Texas: Efforts here involved working with and through many, many different organizations.
Camden, New Jersey: In New Jersey, the focus was on working directly with the school district–including the superintendent–to get children transferred and to work out problems. The Camden effort was the subject of a new video titled, “Hispanic CREO: Bridging Reality with Hope.”
“The more that we can strengthen our public schools, the better,” said Huffman, while pointing out that traditional public schools were only one item on a whole menu of school choice options that Hispanic CREO was seeking to make available to parents.
Rees, who heads the Education Department’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, presented Hispanic CREO with a $2.5 million check at the conference to continue Project CREO over the next five years.
Rallies in Florida, Texas
In Spring 2004, Hispanic CREO joined forces with BAEO and the Florida Alliance for Choice in Education to organize the largest school choice rally in the history of the movement. Several thousand children, parents, and teachers converged on the state capitol in Tallahassee to demonstrate their support for the state’s voucher programs.
In what Huffman called a demonstration of “the power of the Latino voice,” Hispanic CREO also organized an effort to bring people from five different cities in Texas to a mass rally in Austin last May to coincide with a special legislative session on education reform. Despite getting less than three weeks’ notice, some 2,300 Latino parents went to the state capitol to call on state lawmakers to make better educational options available for their children’s education.
“Our mission is bold, and our purpose is courageous,” Huffman told conference attendees. “Our mission is to improve the educational outcomes of Hispanic children specifically by empowering their families with parental choice in education. … Our purpose is to be a national voice for the right of Hispanic families to access all their educational options and to be an agent for equity and quality in education.”
Town Meeting: El Grito del Pueblo
The conference featured a large number and variety of workshops, all related to school choice but split into three general tracks: Empowerment, Advocacy, and Unity. Workshops included: becoming parent leaders, updates on school choice legislation, charter schools, working with local school boards, education reform efforts in Colorado, and working with the media to get the most out of events.
The conference also featured a Town Hall Meeting–El Grito del Pueblo, or “the Cry of the Community”–which brought together leaders and community members to raise concerns about Latino education, to discuss what to do about it, and to urge Latinos to vote in the 2004 elections.
At the end of the conference, Hispanic CREO Board Member Gregorio Pedroza offered these words of advice to parents.
“We are here because we want for our children what we didn’t have,” he said. “But let’s not forget to give them what we did have: responsibility, fidelity, integrity, and a work ethic.”
The sponsors of the Hispanic CREO Conference were Edison Schools, KIPP, Martinez Communications, New Leaders for New Schools, Platform Leaning, and White Hat Management.
George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.