Advocacy group formed for public schools

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A new organization designed to serve as an advocacy group for public schools in Missouri is working to spread its message across the state. The group is currently led by Gary Sharpe, who served as the executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators (MASA) until 2007.

"In the last couple of decades, many right wing organizations, corporations and individuals began persistent campaigns to criticize the performance of the public schools and to devise strategies to privatize the delivery of education services to school age children throughout the United States," said Sharpe, who serves as president of the new advocacy group. "While I was serving as executive director of MASA, numerous conversations occurred among state executives about the changing attitudes of state legislatures across the country regarding support for the public schools and the need for advocacy groups who supported the public schools to speak out about the misinformation begin disseminated and the positive achievements of the public schools."

Sharpe said that the need for advocacy increased when Missouri legislators began to show increased support for privatization issues, such as vouchers, charter schools and school choice to subsidize scholarships for private school students and began to make substantial cuts in the funding of public school programs.

"At that point, conversations between public educators increased and there seemed to be a crescendo of voices encouraging the start of an independent, not-for-profit and non-partisan organization to stand up and speak out in behalf of public education," said Sharpe.

A board of directors was established for the group, which was named Missouri Public School Advocates (MPSA). Board members are mostly retired individuals who had successful careers in public schools. One of the directors is former state Representative Sara Lampe, of Springfield.

Lampe serves as the southwest Missouri representative on the 13-member board. The organization's bylaws allow for a total of 15 directors so the board will likely be expanded, said Sharpe.

"The mission of the organization is "to stabilize and strengthen support for Missouri public schools,'" said Sharpe.

The group has adopted the following goals:

* Educate the general public about the importance of and achievements of public schools.

* Promote the state's responsibility for supporting public schools.

* Assist in securing adequate resources for public schools.

* Assist in recruiting the brightest and best students to teach and administer in public schools.

* Assist in retaining the present teaching and administrative force employed by public schools.

* Become active in the process of determining the best state policies for the operation and administration of the public schools.

"We are recruiting members to join MPSA who believe in the public schools and feel it is the state's responsibility to make supporting public schools a top priority," said Sharpe. "We are utilizing every opportunity to interact with the media on education issues through personal interviews and press releases. We have formed a speakers bureau to talk to education groups, public school support groups and civic and community clubs.

"We are working to recruit public school supporters to run for public office," continued Sharpe. "We have developed brochures and videos to distribute through individual contact, the Internet and social media groups. We are working to raise the necessary funds to hire personnel or contract for needed services."

In addition to helping public schools, the group is focused on telling the positive story about the accomplishments of public schools and informing the public about the needs of public schools, said Sharpe.

"We plan to grow large enough with public school supporters throughout the state to impact the development of state policy," said Sharpe.

The group has developed a website, which is located at www.mopublicschooladvocates.org. Community members can find information on joining MPSA or establishing a local MPSA chapter on the website.

"Community members should be interested in learning about MPSA because 85 to 90 percent of our youth are enrolled in our public schools and keeping our schools strong and of good quality is vital to our future," said Sharpre. "To quote Sandra Day O'Connor, 'The public school is the heart and soul of how we continue as a nation.'"

For more information, call Sharpe at 573-230-3388 or email him at garydsharpe@gmail.com.

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