Why this Rocketship Parent Believes Everyone Can Lead
by Ana Soledad Uribe Tapia, Founding Parent of Rocketship Mateo Sheedy
At Rocketship we talk a lot about parent power, unleashing the power of parents to champion their children’s education, hold leaders accountable, and enable high-quality public schools to thrive. But what does parent power look like in action? We caught up with Ana Soledad Uribe Tapia, a founding parent at our first school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, to hear what being a parent leader means to her.
[Q] Sol, thank you so much for speaking with us! You’ve been a Rocketship parent leader for 13 years now. Can you tell me how it is that you got so involved with the school?
[A] Yeah! We started off with very humble begins over here. I wanted my children to have an opportunity to receive a great education. I could not afford to have my children attend a decent school, so I had to look for a solution to that unfortunate problem; that’s when I was presented with the opportunity to send my children to a new school, Rocketship. I was told that Father Mateo wanted to help children from underserved communities by providing them with a better education. You can read more about this vision and Rocketship’s founding story here. At the beginning, the school was very small and parents were the soul of the organization. I along with other parents would always help in anyway possible. We would provide snacks for the students and make sure that teachers were taken care of as well. It’s incredible to see how much our hard work has paid off.
[Q] Wow, you were very committed from the beginning. What does it mean to be a parent leader exactly?
[A] It can mean a lot of different things. At each Rocketship school we have Parent Organizing Committees where we work to solve educational issues in our own community. For example, at one of our schools we campaigned for the city to build a crosswalk near our school to ensure the safety of our kids. We also research and build relationships with our local elected officials. For example, this fall we invited Santa Clara County of Education Board Member Joseph Di Salvo to our school so that we could ask him about his stance on important issues like education and housing. We’ve also organized political forums in our community and organized over 2,000 community members to attend local and state actions to protect great public schools. But parent leadership can also mean just taking an active role in your child’s education. Coming to Rocketship cafecitos, community meetings, and volunteering in your school. Most Rocketship schools have a school site councils that parents can join.
[Q] How does it feel to be a leader?
[A] Power isn’t given, it’s taken. Let me tell you something, I think we all have the power and capacity to be leaders in some form or another. No one should ever feel inferior to anyone else.
[Q] Right, so you believe that anyone can be a leader if they decide that they want to become one?
[A] Yes. A lot of people say “No, I could never”. I don’t agree with that. I think that we just need to motivate people and give them a little boost of confidence so that they can believe in themselves.
[Q] Wonderful. Every 5 years California charter schools have to undergo a renewal process with their authorizer. In your own words, can you tell us more about what a reauthorization hearing is and what the process is like for an event like that?
[A] Sure. Reauthorization is one of the ways charter schools are held to a higher standard of accountability than traditional district schools. Put simply, if our school doesn’t demonstrate strong results our authorizer is compelled by state law to close our school. There’s a lot of organization and work that takes place to prepare for a reauthorization hearing. You have to assemble a committee of parents and delegate different roles and responsibilities within the group. It’s a standard we embrace and think all public schools should be held accountable to.
[Q] What was your first reauthorization hearing like?
[A] It was challenging. I needed to rally up a solid group of parents to speak at the hearing. I was motivated to have Rocketship reauthorized, however, so that helped to give me strength to rally up the troops. I honestly believe that our parent testimonies are what convinced board members to keep our schools going. For example, I remember hearing such remarkable stories from parents of children with special needs. They spoke about how much progress they saw in their children and that they were so grateful for Rocketship because of their dedication and support.
[Q] That’s remarkable. Now, I can imagine that it was not easy for parents to speak in front of a large audience or a board committee. Did the parents who decided to speak, have any prior experience with public speaking?
[A] No! We were all terrified, no one wanted to speak! Eventually, however, we decided to practice speaking in front of one another. That was really helpful to say the least, and we would also give feedback to each other. It was a very liberating experience.
[Q] Thirteen years later you’re still here. Can you tell me what kind of growth you’ve seen in yourself as a leader over the course of those years?
[A] I feel very confident. Today, my goal is to help other parents become more confident and involved with Rocketship. I want to help guide other parents down the leadership path; I’m telling you that anyone can become a leader, they just need a bit of motivation. Every parent has a voice, they should really use it. I’ve seen the positive outcomes that come as a result of being an involved parent.
[Q] I imagine some parents want to become more involved as a leader in their school but might be scared or unsure of how to do so. What advice would you give a parent who wants to become a parent leader but is a bit intimidated by the idea of it?
[A] I would say that if you really want to do something, don’t let fear or hurdles stop you from doing it. For example, a while back, there were a few mothers that told me that they wanted to volunteer for Los Dichos, a bilingual parent reading program that happens monthly at all Rocketship Bay Area schools. They expressed their desire to read to our students, but they said that they didn’t have anyone who could take care of their baby. You know what we did? We started to run a daycare that way these mothers had the same opportunity to volunteer as everyone else.
[Q] Wow, where there’s a will there’s a way. On another note, you have one Rocketship alumnus and one current Rocketeer. What do you love about Rocketship?
[A] I notice how much it has helped my children. Honestly, it has done so much for my family. My youngest one for example has become very involved in academics and hopes to one day attend Harvard.
[Q] That’s amazing, and it is certainly a possibility! Speaking of your children, how do they feel about their parents being so involved in their school?
[A] They love it! My little girl, Estrella, always brags to her friends about how involved we are in her academics. I love it! My kids are very proud of us.
[Q] Going back to the reauthorization hearing, can you explain how you felt the first time you gave your testimony to the board?
[A] Overwhelmed. I thought that maybe I would be silenced or that people wouldn’t understand me. Thankfully, that was not the case!
[Q] It was a good experience then?
[A] Absolutely! After spending so much time working with other parents, you feel a sense of comradery. We were a group of parents with different backgrounds, and after spending so much time together to prepare for authorization meetings or other school events, we learned so much from each other. Fighting for education brings people together.
[Q] Any last words or advice for parents who still might not be convinced that they have what it takes to become parent leaders?
[A] Don’t take no for an answer, you can become a parent leader as long as you want to become one. I’ve seen all of the positive things that have come as a result of being involved with my kids’ education. I think that once parents see the results, they’ll want to continue to become more involved. Nothing is impossible.
Ana Soledad Uribe Tapia is a founding parent at our first school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy. Tapia was born in the beautiful city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico where she studied to become a lawyer at the reputable, Universidad de Guadalajara. Since immigrating to the states 25 years ago, Sol (as her friends call her) has turned her focus from studying law to researching academic opportunities for her two children. Throughout her time volunteering for Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, Sol learned the power of parent leadership and has since joined other organizations such as La Mesa Verde. She is proud of all the parents and entire Rocketship community for their passion and dedication to their children’s education!
Published on December 17, 2019