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Detroit Parent Network (DPN) is a key resource for the city's parents and caregivers – and Sharlonda Buckman, DPN's CEO, is a modern-day superwoman on a mission. The Detroit native and current resident is dedicated to driving conversations toward the city's most often overlooked individuals when it comes to education – students and parents. We asked Sharlonda to tell us a little bit about her own experience growing up in Detroit.
"My mother, Gertrude Gillis, raised us with unconditional love and took the time to create for all four of her daughters memorable movie nights, holiday dinners and so many unforgettable moments."
Most rewarding part of your job:
"Being able to wake up each day and fight for social justice and quality education for Detroit families while, at the same time, creating opportunities for individual parents to grow."
As a student, were you as outspoken as you are today?
"No, no. I was very shy and smart, and the other students called me 'lollipop' because of my long skinny body and oversized head! … Grades were always important to me because my parents gave $1 for A's and fifty cents for B's. I always listened to my teachers and did my homework."
What do you see that's different in schools for today's students in Detroit?
"Education used to be more holistic, and we were taught lots of art, physical fitness and other non-academic components. We also went to schools in our neighborhood, and our parents could easily get to the school. Everyone wants to say parents have choice, but choice isn't choice if you don't have access. By access I mean transportation, which is a major barrier for many parents."
Do you feel Detroit's educational landscape, with its open marketplace structure, works for families?
"No, I don't believe it's working for many families. The market of schools available for our children is unregulated. Real substantive teaching and learning has taken a back seat to political and budget concerns. This is not good for our kids, and the current flood of schools with no track record dilutes the student pool for our best and highest performing schools."
What is DPN's role in repairing or addressing the challenges?
"Our mission is to be that constant reminder (that) … parents are the key ingredient to the success of our children. We have to show our children through action and deeds that they're truly our legacy and that education is vital to their role as our future leaders."
What does DPN offers families to help them develop their voice and be empowered to take action? "We're very proud to serve 20,000-plus families through programs such as Project Graduation, helping parents help their students navigate the complicated and costly process of applying to college; Pathways to Literacy, a new initiative serving parents of children ages birth to 5 promote literacy through interactive play, and the Board Fellowship Program, a partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber recruiting parents and business leaders to serve on school boards. Our staff and volunteers present daily workshops and programs at seven Parent Resource Centers in Detroit Public Schools, three Parent Empowerment Centers in Education Achievement Authority Schools, and our Citywide Parent Resource and Training Center."
How do we make Detroit a better place to live and raise families?
"I'd love to see city government, community members and businesses take the lead in stabilizing education, neighborhoods and economic development in the next 24 months. Detroit needs to harness education as a primary economic development strategy to grow business and job opportunities and show the world that Detroit is a viable option for investment and families."
What's your pet peeve when it comes to non-Detroiters' perceptions of Detroit?
"My biggest pet peeve is the question itself. Too many people move just a few miles outside of the city and think their geographic genealogy has changed. It hasn't, as you still came through Detroit and are part of Detroit's success and failures. … Many of us still remain in Detroit because we will not submit to the notion that Detroit is dead."