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Why advocate?

Because Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk educates your children, employs your neighbors, is funded by your tax dollars, and influences your property values and help attract property owners to your community.

Without your help, RCS will face more reductions to programs and services for students. Becoming an advocate for education is not as hard as you might think. The only prerequisite is a strong desire to stand up for our students and for RCS.

RCS, like school districts throughout New York, is facing a fiscal crisis. The downturn of the national economy, coupled with new mandates and the state’s tax levy limit, has challenged public schools to continue to provide a high-quality education to all students with significantly fewer resources.

District leaders at RCS have been working with staff and community members to find creative ways to weather the economic storm without sacrificing the integrity of our program. Yet without meaningful and timely relief from our legislative leaders, district residents may risk losing the high level of public education that they have come to know and value throughout the years. The time for change is now. The voices of school leaders and lobbyists for state-level education groups simply are not enough, as recent legislative sessions have shown.

They need to hear from the people that are most directly impacted by their decisions (or indecisions) year after year—the students, parents, employees, residents, community groups and business owners of RCS.

Advocacy takes many forms

Becoming an advocate for education is not as hard as you might think. Anyone can become involved, at any level they choose. The only prerequisite necessary is a desire to fight for our students and our community schools. Effective advocates do their homework. They know the issues and plan their communication. Most of all, they give their time to advance their cause.

Below you will find several tools to help you become an advocate for education and for RCS. Thank you for taking the time to advocate on behalf of the children of RCS and for helping to ensure that they continue to receive the high-quality education they deserve.

What does effective advocacy look like?

Personal contact with legislators helps build relationships and establish lines of communication that ensure the district’s story is being heard. Whether you choose to contact your representatives by phone, e-mail or in-person, please keep in mind the following tips to help you convey your message in the most effective way possible:

  • Be brief – Stick to your key points and be mindful that legislators are often very busy and face a variety of special interest groups that compete for their time and attention.
  • Be respectful – Even if you disagree on a position, be respectful in your dialogue and stick to the facts. When appropriate be passionate, not emotional.
  • Be clear and specific – Let legislators know exactly what you want them to do (i.e., vote in favor of a bill, pass legislation) in a way that requires a “yes” or “no” response. Ask them how they will vote, follow-up on your conversation, and hold them accountable.
  • Be a reliable source of information – Research your issue and know the facts so that you can provide information to legislators and answer their questions. Do not assume that legislators know specifics about the school district or education issues in general.
  • Be prepared to follow-up with answers to any questions you may not know on the spot.
  • Be honest about your concerns – Paint the real picture of your situation, even if it is scary. Share the ramifications of an action/inaction for your community’s schools and children. Use personal or compelling stories coupled with facts and data.
  • Be timely and persistent – If an issue has a deadline, such as the passage of the state budget, make sure you give legislators enough time to respond to the issue.
  • Frequent, regular reminders about the importance of the issue, particularly from multiple advocates, can increase the likelihood that legislators will pay attention to the cause.

Tips for effective letter writing

Some forms of written communication are more effective than others. While emails and form letters are fine, personal letters (perhaps even hand-written) convey a stronger message. They demonstrate the importance of your concerns by showing you went out of your way to make them known. Writing a letter and making a follow-up phone call takes a few minutes, but those steps ensure that your legislator knows just how you want to be represented.

When writing a letter, you should:

  • Keep your letter short; a single page is best.
  • Be concise and specific, but add personal touches on how your selected issue impacts you and your family.
  • The letter should include the following parts:
  • Introduction
  • Problem statement
  • Proposed solution
  • Conclusion and call to action
  • Be sure to include all of your contact information (e.g., home address, phone number, e-mail address), so your legislator can reply to you.

Tips for effective in-person meetings

A face-to-face meeting with your legislator is a great way to personalize an issue, and to make sure that your feedback is heard. It is also a great opportunity to educate your representatives about a particular issue and to answer any questions they may have on the topic. Community members can choose to meet with legislators on an individual basis, or go in as a small group (no more than two to three people).

Before the meeting:

  • Make an appointment
  • Prepare for the meeting
  • Define your goals
  • Gather the facts
  • Gather data
  • Practice your talking points
  • Reconfirm the meeting by phone a few days before the meeting

During the meeting:

  • Be on time
  • Introduce yourself
  • Be polite and gracious
  • Stay on topic
  • Tell the legislator why you are there
  • Give background on your issue
  • Tell your story and explain the impact of any action/inaction
  • Make your recommendation or request for action
  • Get a commitment
  • Allow time for questions
  • Respect the legislator’s schedule and end on time
  • Leave your contact information and any supporting materials

After the meeting:

  • Send a thank you note
  • Follow-up on action items
  • Sustain the relationship