Sharon Upshaw, PLI Graduate
Parent Advocate PPS
Sharon Upshaw is one of those people who keeps on accepting challenges and starting new adventures, like keeping up with the latest technology and working to make Mississippi public schools better for all children. She doesn’t even have kids in school anymore, since her son and daughter have both graduated. But she has lots of nieces and nephews and “just children I care about in the system” which keeps her involved. In addition, she has two grandchildren who are future students.
Perhaps without knowing it, she embodies American philosopher and educator John Dewey’s words: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.”
Sharon was selected for the first Parent Leadership Institute (PLI) of the Parents for Public Schools’ Schoolhouse to Statehouse program in Mississippi – the Clarksdale PLI in the Delta region. An employee of the Quitman County Development Organization, she started there as a Vista volunteer. Her work centers around youth and parents. She is also Vice-President of the PTO at Madison Shannon Palmer High School.
Sharon graduated from the PLI, absorbing information on accountability data, graduation rates, and school boards. Each graduate must commit to a two-year project that will involve other parents and impact student achievement, and Sharon chose to develop a school improvement project called Stay In Line In ’09 at Madison Palmer High School in Marks, Mississippi. She began by talking with high school students about why kids drop out of schools. Seniors were nearing graduation time.
Sharon identified individual students who were close to dropping out and who were not on the path to graduation. She began to work individually with them, as well as with their counselor and other parents. She built relationships and provided them with information to help them towards graduation. She explained to them what high school graduation would mean to them in the future, including the workplace. She worked with both the students and their parents when possible.
Of the six students at risk not to graduate in May 2009, two of them went to summer school and received diplomas at the end of the summer. Two students are on target to retake tests and try to pass in order to graduate. One student is doing a correspondence course which will finish requirements to graduate. She is working with the sixth student to try to get a GED. The investment that Parents for Public Schools made in Sharon is paying off in the lives of these students.
Sharon has extended her work now to several at-risk tenth graders and will extend the project to include students in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades. She has implemented a survey with questions about high school completion and drop-out issues. Sharon says that the reasons the students gave for potentially dropping out were not reasonable. She believes that the facts must be kept in front of these kids at all times, along with strong and constant support.
There are eighty-eight 9th graders at the school. She is now watching for failing grades, truancy, and other at-risk factors for graduation. These issues will be addressed, and the school is cooperating with her, grateful for her help.
If Sharon Upshaw has her way, all of these students will march across a stage and be handed the diploma that they have earned. Surely this is what the community should want for all of its children.