Want to effect change in your school? Meet the A+ Schools Change Makers.

Cynthia Grace Devine-Kepner and Secoyia Reed are both proud mothers of children who attend Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS). Their involvement in school, however, goes far beyond PTA meetings and fundraisers. Devine-Kepner and Reed are working hard to fulfill a much broader mission: improving the learning environment and educational opportunities for all students at PPS. And for their efforts— which range from helping to reduce class sizes to educating other parents— both women have been selected by their peers to receive a 2016 A+ Schools Changemakers award.

A+ Schools is the community advocate and leader for educational equity and excellence in PPS. The organization’s core focus is to remove any barriers to equity in schools, and the Changemakers awards are a way to acknowledge individuals who embody this mission.

“You are needed more than you think, even in the best of districts and schools.” — Secoyia Reed

Secoyia Reed has three daughters, ages 11, 13, and 15, two of whom attend Pittsburgh Public Schools. Reed’s first parent engagement experience was in the early 2000’s in Head Start, and it left an impression. Once her children moved onto PPS, she took on the challenge— along with other parents— of developing a Parent-Led Program at Arsenal Elementary School in Lawrenceville.

Since her initial involvement, Reed has had many positive and uplifting experiences as a parent. But she has also seen a lot of opportunities for improvement. This, she says, is why she continues to work so hard in the district. More recently, Reed and other parents have been working on solutions for class size reduction and ongoing recruitment of new parents as both organizers and volunteers.

“The most important thing for parents to understand is how much our children need our participation,” she says. “If you are busy, as we all are, find out what less time-consuming engagement opportunities are in your child’s school. You will find that they are needed more than you think, even in the best of districts and schools.”

“The door is open, the resources are there, and they want parents to come in.” — Cynthia Grace Devine-Kepner

Cynthia Grace Devine-Kepner, who works closely with Reed on many efforts at PPS, has a son in eighth grade at Brookline. She has been involved in his education since preschool. Recently, she and other parents led a school guard campaign and school nurse campaign for short-staffed PPS schools. Additionally, Devine-Kepner and other parents regularly meet to discuss ways to improve transportation to school, bolster school safety and increase student attendance. She also presents testimony to the school board and travels to Harrisburg to talk to legislators.

“First you go because you care about your kid,” she says. “Then you go because you care about your school and your district. Then, as you get more educated, you learn more about policy and ways you can make a bigger impact.”

As part of her evolution as an engaged parent, Devine-Kepner was also recently accepted into an education policy fellowship program led by the Institute for Educational Leadership, where fellows learn more deeply about policy and how it affects schools and children.

“I would give any parent the advice to reach out,” she adds. “Have a conversation and build a relationship with the teacher, the principal, a leader in the district—in whatever way that you feel comfortable. The door is open, the resources are there, and they want parents to come in.”

A great starting point for parents looking to get more involved is the Excellence for All Parent Committee. These meetings are open to all parents, and for PPS, they are held on the first Thursday of every month. Those interested should contact their principal or the equity office at their school or district.

Devine-Kepner and Reed were honored with other award recipients at the A+ Schools Changemakers Celebration on June 23rd at Consol Energy Center.

Featured image: Pittsburgh Public School parents pose together on a trip to the Bay Area, where they learned about “Schools That Work.”