Like most things, launching Families Empowered wasn’t on the list of my “life goals,” and running a not-for-profit organization wasn’t something I dreamed of doing when I graduated college. It was just a response to a real problem. My school journey began 11 years ago, when it was time for me to enroll my son in kindergarten at our neighborhood elementary school. We bought our house to be zoned to a very specific school, and as a former teacher I thought I had it all figured out. After all, I looked at the test scores for that school and the feeder pattern, and on paper it all looked great. Then I asked for a tour. Needless to say, it became clear that this school was not going to work for our family. That’s when we began looking for a school that would be right for our son. The process of finding, applying to, and enrolling in a school other than our neighborhood school was overwhelming, technical, and time consuming—and I was a former teacher!
It was at this point that I wondered where parents could go for help when they are looking for schools, and I began to ask other parents about their school search experiences. Most told me that they relied on other parents for information. I found that there was no organization in Texas dedicated to serving families first instead of focusing primarily on school systems or teacher interests. It was also at this time that high performing charter schools like IDEA and YES Prep were experiencing a surge in applications and began to see their waitlists swell. These schools had no ability to help parents on their waitlists, and there was nowhere to send them for unbiased support. We launched Families Empowered with a hypothesis that if we created an organization that listened to parents and developed services to meet their unique needs, we could add value all around: helping parents find schools and helping schools connect with interested parents.
Parents Want Schools That Work for Them
For the past eleven years, our team at Families Empowered has had the incredible honor of serving over 100,000 Texans looking for schools that work for them. We share school information, connect families to schools they want, and provide personal service to parents via our call center every day. While the majority of the families in our network come from the Houston Metro, Bexar County, and Central Texas regions, we also connect with families from Fort Worth, Dallas, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley. We’ve learned parents are open to all kinds of school options: traditional schools, charter schools, private schools, home schools, and now virtual and micro schools. Our families share one goal: they want schools that work, for them.
Even before the COVID pandemic, there were not enough high performing schools to meet the growing demand by parents. Parents are now exploring options they never before considered. They are questioning the quality of their current schools and they’re looking for schools that are smaller and more responsive. Every day, parents share with us compelling stories and inspiring ideas about how we could collectively improve educational options for their children.
We believe parents should be front and center in the policy conversations that elected officials, government bureaucrats, and local business leaders often have without them about reforming, innovating, and authorizing schools. It is time parents had a bigger seat at the table.
Raising Parents’ Voices for Change
To that end, we are excited to announce the launch of Texas Families First. Texas Families First is an advocacy organization focused on elevating parent voices, identifying and supporting parent advocates, and fighting together for policies that promote student-centered education options. Some of the things we’ll advocate for include:
- More small, autonomous schools, which could be charters, schools within schools, or micro schools.
- Micro grants for families to support their kids with technology, tutoring or special education services.
- A move to competency-based education and less reliance on seat time to measure student engagement.
- More flexibility within traditional districts for families to choose schools, including open enrollment policies, district charters, and hybrid high school options.
Families across Texas have been asked to step up, step in, and figure it out. The pandemic has forced thousands of parents to seek out greater school options and many are more engaged than ever in their kids’ education. We know that parents are the experts when it comes to what’s right for their children. They must be listened to, respected, and empowered to help reshape the educational options available to them moving forward.
Texas Families First will put the perspectives and interests of families at the center of our work in the year and years ahead. We hope you’ll join us! You can find and follow us on Facebook here. If you have questions or want to add your voice for change, we’d love to hear from you at 210-263-3524.
About the Author
Colleen Dippel is the Founder & CEO of Families Empowered and Texas Families First. She began her career as a public school teacher, then left teaching to help launch a private-sector education technology startup. She’s served as the Director of the KIPP School Leadership Program, the Director of Alumni Support for Teach For America- Houston, and as the Director of Education Initiatives at Aquinas Co. Colleen is the proud mother of two active children.
Charter Moms Chats
Listen to Ann Starr, Chief Program Officer at Families Empowered, in an interview with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats.
Ann Starr manages the Families Empowered program team, who focuses tirelessly on helping families find great school options for their children. Ann brings more than 25 years of nonprofit management and organizational development experience to her work, most recently as the Director of Learning & Leadership for Mission Capital. Ann has also held leadership positions at Forklift Danceworks, Texas Appleseed, and St. Edward’s University, and she has served on the Board of Directors for the SIMS Foundation, Amigos de las Américas, and Tiny Hearts Project. Ann lives in Austin with her husband and two wonderful kids who attend NYOS Charter School.
Read More About Families Empowered
- “Tools for Researching the Best Schools in San Antonio,” San Antonio Charter Moms, February 25, 2020
- “Get to Know More Schools at the Families Empowered San Antonio School Connection Fair,” San Antonio Charter Moms, November 8, 2018
- “Back to School with Keep Learning, San Antonio,” San Antonio Charter Moms, August 29, 2018
- “Empower Families With Knowledge to Choose the Right School,” San Antonio Charter Moms, October 3, 2012