By Laurel Busby
Longtime Palisadian Katie Braude created Speak UP so parents could join together and push for education that puts kids first.
“There was no organized effort that speaks 100 percent for kids, and we feel parents are the best advocates for kids,” said Braude, who started the group last year with Venice resident Emily Gold. “We feel there needs to be a place for parents to have that voice, and it turns out what we’re doing is organizing parents in a way we don’t think anyone else is.”
Braude noted that parents often don’t vote in school board races, including the upcoming L.A. school board runoff election, which will be decided on May 16, but these elections are vital for kids.
Speak UP, which stands for Speak United Parents, aims to organize parents across the economic spectrum to both learn about the candidates and select the people who will fight the hardest for their children’s interests, which do not always correspond to administrative or teacher interests.
“There are frequent conflicts between what would be good for kids and what would be good for adults in the system,” so the idea is to look at each issue through a kids-first lens, Braude said. “Does a policy really benefit kids first or is it really geared toward what the adults need? . . . You can say everything is in the interest of kids, but when you drill down, sometimes a policy reallyisnot.”
Braude, the executive director of Speak UP, is accustomed to advocating for children. Beginning in the early 1990s, she helped spearhead the Palisades charter school movement with fellow Palisadian Pam Bruns and other parent, teacher, student and administrative leaders. Her children, Ben, 36, and Lisa, 34, both attended local schools, including PaliHi.
A few years after they graduated, Braude, whose husband is Lucien Wulsin, worked in public affairs and development for KIPP charter schools until 2010, and then she was a consultant for Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, an organization that helps Latino parents prepare their children for school. Braude also served on the L.A. County Board of Education (2011-17), originally appointed by Zev Yaroslavsky, and is an area representative on the Palisades Community Council.
Currently, she and Speak UP are focused on the LAUSD District 4 school board runoff election. The group initially endorsed two candidates: Palisadian Allison Holdorff Polhill and Nick Melvoin. Melvoin, who has worked as a teacher, attorney and educational advocate, succeeded in reaching the runoff with incumbent board president Steve Zimmer.
Both Speak UP and Holdorff Polhill, a former PaliHi school board member, have now joined forces to support Melvoin. On the speakupparents.org website, Melvoin has pledged that if elected he will put kids first by working to give all children a quality education and also to ensure that the district operates in a transparent manner.
In January, Speak UP held a candidate forum, attended by about 150 people, to provide an opportunity to both question and listen to the various candidates, and the organization also hosted a February event with Holdorff Polhill and Melvoin to allow attendees to become even more familiar with their newly endorsed candidates’ viewpoints.
In the forum, parents’ top priority was providing children with great teachers, Braude said.
“That really gets into an interesting conversation,” she added. “What are the things we really need to ensure there are great teachers for every kid in every classroom?” More respect, higher salaries, and accountability are important issues that need to be considered in answering that question, she noted.
To help improve the teachers and schools, Speak UP seeks to unite parents across the city who may live in disparate neighborhoods with varying needs, but who also have some similar desires for the education system, including quality teachers, school choice, local decision-making and an adequate, balanced budget.
Braude noted that Westside parents are often accustomed to advocating as a group for their children, but parents in other communities may be new to such efforts. At the same time, these parents are rapidly learning and have a drive to improve their children’s schools.
“Our plan is to identify issues that par- ents have in common across the city—for example around choice—and work to- gether with other parent groups to have actions, petitions and conversations with our representatives,” Braude said. “The power of this is you have parents representing these different parts of town who don’t normally come together, now standing to- gether and sharing their different resources . . . We see that as a powerful union.”
For more information, visit http://speakupparents.org.