Four parents of Brighton Central School District students are hoping to effect change in their community.

Four parents of Brighton Central School District students are hoping to effect change in their community.

To that end, they recently completed a 20-week course through the Parent Leadership Training Institute, or PLTI. This was the first time the nationwide program was offered in Rochester. Parents in the Greece and Rochester school districts participated, as well.

The goal of PLTI is to educate parents on how to better advocate for their children, schools, and districts. Topics include city, state and federal laws; policy and municipal budgets; problem-solving skills; public speaking; and forming coalitions. The participants each come up with a project to help their districts. They're also expected to take what they learn and share it with other parents in an effort to encourage their participation in their children's education.

“I think the point was to take parents who are already involved and give them extra training in leadership skills and some of the knowledge they might need to make bigger change,” said Claire McLauchlin, who has two children currently attending Brighton schools and one who graduated in 2010.

McLauchlin’s project, which is still in progress, focused on bringing together parents interested in renovating the Brighton High School auditorium and lobby, turning into a premiere showcase for the community for the visual and performing arts.

“Brighton is a district that really values the arts,” McLauchlin said. “Instruction is amazing, and what the kids do is wonderful. We're just trying to raise the level of the facilities up to meet them.”

Erika Ange, who recently moved back to Brighton from Washington, DC and has one child in kindergarten and one in daycare here, used her project to establish a resource compiling different categories of ways to show appreciation for area teachers.

“I feel like the teachers aren't really paid for what they're valued,” Ange said. “It's real easy to just get gift cards, but there are great websites out there, and I created a little resource that says ‘Here are some different categories of appreciation and things you can do.’”

Not all the parents’ projects were entirely Brighton-centric. Maranne McDade Clay, a mother of four Brighton students, lead a community-based volunteer initiative to observe and evaluate the Rochester City School Board for her project. Developed with an evaluation tool from other board evaluation programs across country, her initiative released its first monthly report in late April.

She had been thinking about the project for two years, but she said the PLTI helped her make it a reality.

“The goal is to raise the profile of the issues that the district is facing,” McDade Clay said. “What's good for the city is good for the county.”

While many of the projects were directly school-related, some, like Kelly Finnigan’s, were more community-based. Finnigan, a father of two current Brighton students, joined the program because it was new and because he looked forward to interacting with and learning from parents from different school districts.

In his role as a social worker at Catholic Charities Community Services, Finnigan sometimes works in a downtown soup kitchen that has a gospel youth choir made up of kids that go to soup kitchen or live in the neighborhood. For his project, he wrote an application to the Rochester Area Community Foundation for a grant that would help pay for a music director, equipment, sweatshirts that the kids are going to design and wear at the concerts, and food for rehearsals.

“It's like running a marathon,” Finnigan said about the PLTI experience. “It was difficult, but the rewards are absolutely worth it… not that I've ever run a marathon.”

Finnigan, McDade Clay, Ange, and McLauchlin laugh. The four — and the rest of the PLTI graduates — are friendly even after classes are over, and they help each other with their remaining projects. They will soon begin meeting as an alumni group to work together on addressing bigger issues than any one of them could have alone.

“It's very inspiring,” McLauchlin said. “Once you finish your project, you think, ‘What else could I be doing?’”


—Includes reporting by Colleen Farrell