Expect More Arizona’s Pearl Chang Esau’s passion for education is a testament to her family’s history and her own upbringing.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Esau grew up knowing that at one time her father’s parents lost everything they owned with Communist China and left their home to move to Taiwan.
The year before Pearl was born, Esau’s dad landed in Los Angeles. Through education, he found opportunity in his adopted country and rose to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
“I’ve seen how education can empower,” she said.
He passed that message of learning to his two children, so much so that when Esau graduated from college she went to work for Teach for America. Her first assignment was in a fifth-grade classroom in East L.A. She stayed with Teach for America and was executive director of the Arizona affiliate before being tapped in 2011 to lead Expect More Arizona as president and CEO.
“I feel we have so much potential in Arizona. I feel we have a great education system. We’re certainly not maximizing our potential,” she said.
Expect More Arizona’s message can be summed up as this: “It’s no longer acceptable to have mediocrity,” Esau said.
But much rests with the parents of schoolchildren. And that’s where Expect More Arizona now puts a lot of its hope. Though the organization started as a public awareness campaign to make strong education a priority, the focus today is on the power of parents.
“We have to help parents understand what that looks like,” she said.
Pearl hopes that through outreach and training, parents discover the key “building blocks” of education.
The group’s building blocks include “world-class achievement,” and the idea that all Arizona students should be “prepared for and successful in college and career;” and a “commitment to innovation,” or the expectation that “Arizona students are critical thinkers and innovative problem solves.”
To teach these ideas to parents, trainers are now attending workshops across Arizona. Those trainers will pass along the message to parents. Expect More Arizona plans to create a set of videos that highlight good schools and then take parents to see those schools through field trips.
But then, it’s the parents’ turn to take action, impressing what they’ve learned onto their children’s schools, Esau said.
“We’ve never advocated for abandoning neighborhood schools. We want informed parents who know what they want,” in education, she said. “You can improve your school.”
Advocacy for good education starts with parents’ desires for their children, then a desire to improve their school and then education in the state.
That message takes Expect More Arizona back to its roots and its “Vote 4 Education” campaign this election season. The group is again asking voters to consider what candidates and policies can best impact education, even creating a list of questions that can be asked at public forums. And once those candidates are elected, Esau said it is the role of parents to see that education remains in focus.
“Parents are the best champions for education we have in the state,” she said.
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