MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Michele Abdul Sabur got involved in education advocacy as a volunteer 12 years ago to make sure her own voice—and those of her children—would be heard. Now Sabur is a facilitator of the Parent Partner Network, an organization that seeks to improve achievement for all students. The network is integral to the Syracuse City School District’s efforts to connect with parents.
“I started my involvement as a parent who was concerned for my own children, who are African American and Muslim. I grew to care about the educational achievement of all children,” says Sabur, 58, who lives in Syracuse. “Education truly is the key.”
Sabur not only advocates for better learning for others, she lives by example. She came to Syracuse in 1969 to attend Syracuse University as a special education major. But when her husband, David, was drafted and served in the Vietnam War, she put her academic ambitions on hold to tend to family matters. She returned to SU as an adult and completed a degree in child and family studies in 1995.
Sabur’s five children graduated from Syracuse city schools and, now grown, include a teacher and two Ph.D. candidates.
Sabur strives to help parents make the most of schools’ resources. “There is a large body of research to support the notion that parents want to do the best they can by their children and that it is the responsibility of the schools to help them to do so,” she says. “The schools have the resources, information and data on the students and their needs. Parents can share their experiences, knowledge of their own child and commitment to reinforce attitudes, behaviors and habits which support success.”
Organizations such as the Parent Partnership Network are important, Sabur says, because some parents may not know the best way to approach the school district when issues regarding their children arise. “The educational world is hard to understand or to approach for most parents,” she says.
Sabur says too often parents feel as though they do not have a voice in a large school district. They may feel powerless to request information they need to help keep their children on track.
“Far too many parents have to overcome barriers of work, feelings of inadequacy or lack of importance, money, opportunity, transportation or childcare to be involved at the school,” she says. “Schools are not the same as they once were, educational expectations are not the same and neither are family lives.”
Sabur works with three parent liaisons, and they each serve parents in 13 schools. The liaisons meet one on one with more than 500 parents each year.
“We have a model of advocacy support which is not adversarial and has proven effective time and time again to get together the adults to work on the best interest of the child and to (have everyone) leave with better understanding,” she says.
The Parent Partnership Network liaisons assist with a variety of tasks, from attending student hearings to helping parents take advantage of special education services. “We especially like to help parents to prepare for a meeting so that they are not angry and can represent themselves and their children well in order to gain a better outcome,” Sabur says.
Like Sabur, the other parent liaisons have children who attend or have graduated from SCSD schools, which gives them credibility with fellow city parents. “The three liaisons, Maria Zapf, Mary Lisa Wade, and Nina Vergara, are very knowledgeable in the area of parental involvement and best practices,” Sabur says.
Sabur would like to expand the network and provide more services and resources. “We will, and must, do more,” she says. “What I call ‘internal advocacy,’ is very important—the ability to act as a catalyst for change in the district.”
Expanding the network’s online presence and establishing specific outreach to very young parents are also among Sabur’s long-term goals.
After more than a decade of advocacy work, Sabur is proud of the impact the Parent Partnership Network has made. “Our mission remains true and strong, and is treated as the guide and the touchstone to see if our activities are on track.”