A TALE OF TWO CITIES: A story of two mothers struggling to break down barriers in the public education system


By: Ashara Baker, NPU Center for Parent Voice


This spring has been a theme for me around parent power. Not the predictable kind where I mention the victory of the impossible win at a school board meeting or parent conference.

This is the other side of the coin… The uncomfortable side, where you see the “ real” personalities come alive and doors that were once open begin to close.

In my role as National Parents Union New York Director, I have the privilege of meeting so many amazing, caring, and pissed-off-for-greatness parents. They are tirelessly fighting within systems that by design push them out.

For months, I had been supporting and coaching a fierce Mother/ PTA president at West Prep Academy located in NYC. This fierce Mother along with hundreds of other parents, were unwilling to accept a bullshit decision to relocate the school’s middle school program that serviced predominantly black and brown – and largely autistic – students. This decision made by the  NYC Department of Education, one of the largest school systems in the country, was followed by a lack of formal communication to impacted families, and disrespect for the highly sensitive nature of this problem. In opposition to this action, this fierce mother mobilized hundreds of parents and thousands of community members around an injustice playing out at her children’s school. The Parents of West Prep Academy attended dozens of community board meetings, held several press conferences and rallies to bridge the gap of awareness. This mother did everything I knew was effective and strategic.

Months went by and finally we were facing the big vote. I tried my hardest to keep this mother energized, focused on her mission, and optimistic for a small chance of hope.

But I knew, even from hundreds of miles away, that the victory and affirmation she was seeking, would not be granted. Watching this panel of representatives reach a consensus on BASIC board resolutions was the kind of bureaucratic trainwreck you couldn’t look away from.

So I watched a board of city representatives turn a blind eye while others blatantly followed the leader on a bogus vote. My heart broke. Not because of the way the vote turned out, but for all of us who continue to put our faith in a broken system.

Those parents deserve parent representatives who vote with integrity, sense, and heart. Not those who play games with childrens’ futures. But, that’s what it is: a numbers game.

Now let’s board the Amtrak to travel more than 300 miles away to a small Central, Upstate New York suburb named Greece. The way things played out in this town is a familiar tune, but it reminded me of the work that I still have ahead of me.

Another fierce mother, tired of seeing school board leadership that did not speak directly to the needs of the school community, reached out to me and shared her interest in running for the local school board. Prior to coming to Greece, this mother left the heart of the city of Rochester and moved her children to the suburbs to provide better opportunities for them. Shortly after arriving she saw the clear disconnect with how the district was supporting families. Especially Black, Brown, and special education students.

Three seats were opening on her local school board, and she wanted to serve her community in one of the seats. Her heart and her advocacy were in the right place, but she was trying to enter an arena that was designed to keep voices like hers silent. There are so many regulations for running a school board campaign, so every milestone was a victory – when she turned in her petitions, when she placed her first lawn sign, when she received her first donation, and when she participated in her first meet-the-candidates forum. She did everything she could to be a visible candidate in her community.

Even when the priorities of her community didn’t align with hers. She wouldn’t run on booking banning, she wouldn’t focus on segregating LGBTQ students, or increasing police presence in schools. She stayed true to her platform and fought like hell. When election night came, she lost by 252 votes.

I so badly want to right many of the wrongs in New York State. In the ongoing battle for educational equity and justice, it is imperative that we elevate parents into positions of genuine power. I’m not talking about token roles as parent representatives or the symbolic act of holding banners at school board meetings. I envision the kind of authority where the moment a parent steps into a room, it is clear that they will be STANDING ON BUSINESS.

Parents should be sharing news of their victorious election campaigns, triumphing over status quo incumbents who have long maintained their grip on our educational systems. These wins are not just personal achievements; they are critical milestones in the fight for better schools and fairer policies. However, we must also remind ourselves that every setback is not a loss but a lesson—fuel for the journey ahead and motivation to push even harder.

I am here to claim victory and power for the families I support. I proudly stand with the two incredible mothers who have sacrificed their jobs, time, money, and personal lives to advocate for issues that deeply matter to them. These women have navigated complex and often hostile systems, and their courage and determination inspire us all. It’s important to understand that their struggles were never about personal shortcomings; they were up against a well-built, entrenched status quo machine designed to resist change.

Our fight is far from over, but we will continue to move forward with a clear vision and unwavering commitment.. To all the parents who continue to fight, who sacrifice and persist—know that your efforts are seen, your battles recognized, and your victories celebrated.