Advocacy, Long and Difficult, is Critical to Creating Change

What a whirlwind couple of weeks it’s been since I joined NAGC as the Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs! I’ve already met so many enthusiastic members who are ready to strengthen their advocacy work, not to mention an incredibly dedicated team of colleagues who are gearing up for both a symposium and annual convention. I hit the (virtual) ground running and can’t wait to keep learning more about the association and working with our members to advocate for our gifted students and their teachers. But before I learn more about our members, it’s only fair that you learn more about me!

While growing up outside of Chicago (go Cubs!), I struggled in subjects like math and science; if it had numbers, there weren’t enough calculators in the world that could help me. By the third grade I was formally diagnosed with a Learning Disability in math. And even though I used my fingers to count and break the occasional pencil or two, I excelled in reading, writing, and history. It confused my teachers by the time I got to high school that my schedule included remedial math, followed by classes in my school’s “honors program” for English and history.

So, while I was different from most of my peers, what really separated me was my smother… I mean mother. A special needs educator for over 25 years before she retired as a superintendent for special services for a suburban school district, my mom was my biggest and most relentless advocate. Every IEP meeting, parent teacher conference, or whatever it was, she was there to evaluate the evaluator, teach the teacher, and make sure her son had the best possible services and outcomes.

I was far from grateful for her advocacy at the time, but as I got older, I understood how incredibly fortunate I was to not only have such a knowledgeable educator for a mom, but also a fierce advocate who literally stopped at nothing to make sure my educational needs were being met. And yes, if she could, she would be calling John Segota right now to make sure I’m working reasonable hours and being treated well… but I have to draw a line somewhere, right? Which is why she thinks I work at the National Association for Garden Centers.

Seriously though, her advocacy showed me that it can take just one person who is willing to use their voice (even if it was occasionally raised and slightly intimidating) to make a difference. The goal throughout my career, which has now led me to NAGC, is to empower thousands of voices to create the policy changes that so many educators and parents of gifted children would like to see in their schools, communities, states, and country.

In one setting or another, my entire professional career has been rooted in the importance of education and the power of advocacy that was instilled in me at a young age. I’ve worked for an urban school district, a state legislator’s office, a teacher’s union, and most recently a professional association for English language teachers. No matter the context, though, I’ve found one statement to always hold true: Advocacy is critical to creating change. And while advocacy can be a long, difficult, and sometimes lonely road, I couldn’t be more excited to work with you to create change for our gifted learners and do good things for a long time to come.