August 2015 RichmondMom with a Mission: Sarah Gross

Growing up, my husband and I both attended public schools. As parents and citizens, we strongly believe in public education.

Our family lives in the city of Richmond, and since beginning kindergarten, our twins have attended public school. In a few short days, they’ll begin their last year of middle school; and next year, we have every intention for them to matriculate into a RPS high school.

Did that make you flinch? Question our judgment?

Thankfully, in addition to recent promising staffing moves, there are highly motivated, unstoppable parent advocates…stepping into the occasionally challenging fray to ensure our city’s—and state’s—children get the education they deserve.

Meet this month’s RichmondMom with a Mission, Sarah Gross.
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RichmondMom Cheryl:
What is your title and how would you describe what it is you do?

Virginia PTA Sarah:
Currently, I am serving as the President-Elect for the Virginia PTA. This is a two year term where I serve with the President in a support role, learning the ropes, developing leadership skills and working more closely with our committee chairs and district directors. It’s an amazing opportunity to get educated and ready for the challenges of leading the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association.

I work directly with local leaders, equipping them with the tools they need to effectively meet the needs of their PTA units and further the advocacy goals of the association.

What gets me out of bed every day, though, is bringing the stories and realities of our public schools to the legislators and officials at the General Assembly. Every story is important and every issue can have statewide impact. It’s the challenge of getting those stories out – what’s working, what’s not working, where our students, parents and teachers need support and what we must change – that motivates me.

What was the catalyst that made you decide YOU personally needed to take action?

As a parent of two Richmond Public School students, I got really involved in one brutal budget process about 6 years ago and I was hooked. Learning about where our money is spent, uncovering serious inequities between buildings and, most importantly, hearing again and again that parents were desperate to get involved but didn’t know how was eye-opening. I starting learning as much as possible about constructive ways for parents to be heard and how to develop new channels for educating parents about RPS and their role. I also committed to getting involved in as many RPS committees as possible – so that there was at least one parent in the room.

Please tell us a bit about how you got started…

When my youngest went off to VPI [Virginia Preschool Initiative], I was desperate to get involved in something – and the PTA at William Fox ES was there. I volunteered for a few committees and went to a local training where I heard PTA leaders talking about advocacy and meeting other PTA people from around the state. I was energized by our shared interest in and commitment to Virginia’s public school students and teachers. I volunteered to serve on the Virginia PTA Capitol Committee – members attend every pertinent General Assembly committee meeting to gather information, represent the interests and positions of the Virginia PTA and communicate the progress of legislative initiatives that impact our members. From there, I applied to be the Legislation Chair – where I really learned to love advocacy. Locally, I volunteer to assist Richmond PTA’s get up and running – and make sure they have all the support they need from the Virginia and National PTA.

What is the goal of the Virginia PTA?

Virginia PTA is dedicated to advocating for the students of the Commonwealth, educating its members and promoting effective family engagement. Virginia PTA is in almost every county in Virginia and available to support parents, students and teachers.

What do you feel has been accomplished so far?

Virginia PTA continues to organize parents around common goals and train our members in effective ways to support their schools and students, effectively advocate for changes in policy and funding and empower members to speak up and get engaged in their schools.

Virginia PTA has pushed through important legislation on a wide variety of issues including school nutrition and school safety, vaccinations, bullying, continued investment in K-12 education, fairness in standardized testing and the reduction in reliance on these tests.

What makes you proudest personally about your affiliation with the group?

A few months ago, I met a PTA member from northern Virginia who felt that her school wasn’t effectively meeting the needs of her dyslexic child – that the teachers and administration were doing everything they could, but that training and resources were lacking. We talked about how she could gather information on the topic, with which groups she should partner, opportunities for her to speak and how to find others who shared her concerned. In July, at our Annual Conference, she presented a resolution for approval which seeks additional resources and training on dyslexia. It was unanimously approved – and will become part of our legislation program. I expect that we will see important work around this topic – because of her commitment – and her reaching out for help. I am so honored to watch women like her realize that they have power and can do hard things.

Empowering other moms (and dads) to stand up and be heard about issues that concern their families and communities – it’s amazing. It’s about education and communication and support. We all want to make a difference, but we don’t always know how to take that first step. PTA is all about helping you to find your path and take that step.

What’s next on-deck?

I’m looking forward to the next General Assembly session where I hope we will continue to push through changes to our assessment system and reductions in testing. I hopeful that the General Assembly will take a hard look at funding for our public schools and supporting the work of our teachers and administrators. And most importantly, as a Richmond mom, I’m looking forward to getting more involved with my son’s school, Richmond Community HS, and building that PTA to be an even more effectively bridge between the building and the home.

How can others get involved?

Join your PTA, of course! Look up your legislators – who represents you at the General Assembly, city council, in Washington? Send them an email, often. Tell them your stories. Let them know what’s working and what’s not. And this is a GREAT time to meet your candidates. Find out how they intend to represent you and your school, and then hold them to it if they win in November. Get in there and ask a question – it’s so important to just be a part of the process, even if it’s only as big as an email.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

In elementary school, both my kids loved that I was in the building every day. In middle and high school, not so much. They are both very proud of my work, though, and I use it to show them the importance of volunteerism, of giving back. It’s pretty cool when I occasionally make the local news or am quoted in the paper – because I think they think of me mostly as their mom. I love that they can see different sides of me.

And there isn’t anyone more supportive than my husband. PTA can keep you busy in the evenings so we get to split parent shifts when necessary. When I was thinking about the next steps in my PTA career and was looking hard at the job of president, he asked me all the good, hard questions and in the end said, “This is good for you, and you are good for them.”

Is there a quote that inspires you?

Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead

We agree with your husband, Sarah. Your service in the Virginia PTA is good for you, and most assuredly, good for us!

Thank you for all you are doing, and for being a RichmondMom with a Mission!