Dr. Brenda Tanner has been speaking up for kids since she started teaching elementary school in 1976. During a 42-year career in public education, her commitment to doing what’s best for kids never wavered and she developed an appreciation for how advocacy can effect system-wide change. On June 30 she retired from her job as Orange County Public Schools superintendent, but she hasn’t retired from advocating for children.
“I may not have understood the connection between policy and education when I started out as a teacher,” Brenda said, “but I learned. As a superintendent, you have to understand the role of advocacy in your community. The decisions made in Richmond have a huge impact on the work I do in Orange.”
Brenda was superintendent of public schools in Madison County, Va., in 2014 when Voices board member Jamie Clancey invited her to a Voices fundraising event that featured a short video.
“The video was powerful,” Brenda said. “Voices’ broad-based, multi-issue advocacy appealed to me as an approach to address the complex issues facing children and families. I became an annual donor.”
One in three children living in Orange, a rural county in central Virginia, is economically disadvantaged, according to a KIDS COUNT publication. For Brenda that’s not just a statistic—she sees it play out every day in the public schools.
The Orange County Public Schools offer a free-and-reduced lunch program during the school week and a breakfast, lunch, and snack program during the summer.
“Some people think about these programs as a parents’ issue, arguing that the parents should do this or that, we shouldn’t be enabling them,” Brenda said. “But when you work with kids, you see their needs first and want to do what’s right for them. This is what drew me to Voices.
“I am vocal with my state senator and delegate whose votes will impact my work. Voices is important to my work because it actively lobbies many lawmakers on a range of issues affecting children.”
Early childhood education is one of those issues. Federal- and state-funded programs such as Head Start and the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) are critical to providing quality early childhood education to children whose parents otherwise couldn’t afford it.
“Recently one of our Head Start teachers told me about kids coming to preschool not knowing how to be in school,” Brenda said. “Over time, she sees them develop the social skills necessary to be successful in kindergarten. Many of our kids would be at such a disadvantage if they didn’t have an early start through Head Start or VPI.”
Voices, a long-time advocate for early childhood education, celebrated a win this year when the General Assembly significantly increased VPI funding to enhance instructional quality and help localities afford the true cost of high-quality preschool.
Voices’ trauma-informed and foster care advocacy also resonate with Brenda.
“We are seeing more children who have experienced trauma, including the loss of a parent, with the opioid epidemic driving much of it,” Brenda said. “We need trauma-informed classrooms. We need more foster families. How do you help kids who have seen so much at such an early age?”
Brenda donates to Voices because she understands its data-informed advocacy is effective in changing state laws and funding in ways that benefit kids. She encourages more people, including other school superintendents, to connect to Voices as donors and advocates.
“I have been an advocate for kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Brenda said. So has Voices.
Read our “2018 Legislative Agenda Highlights” blog to learn more about our advocacy for early childhood education and foster care.
Read our “Building Political Will for Trauma-Informed Policies” blog to learn more about our advocacy for trauma-informed policies and practices.Read More Blog Posts