By now, you’ve likely seen NASSP’s calls to attend the 2017 Advocacy Conference on Capitol Hill and formed a few questions about it. Will I really be meeting with members of Congress? If so, do these people really care what I have to say? What can I expect—or will be expected of me—if I go?

I had the opportunity to attend the conference in 2016 and can tell you from firsthand experience that it was enormously worthwhile. While I’m guessing most principals would say they stay informed by viewing webinars and reading, it’s a completely different experience to listen to and ask questions of people who regularly walk the halls of Congress and sit across the table from Patty Murray, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and the U.S. secretary of education.

That first day, we were briefed on current issues and NASSP’s advocacy agenda. I’ll be honest and tell you that this Hill-Day rookie was overwhelmed with the amount of information I had been given by day’s end, but David Chodak, NASSP’s associate director of advocacy, stayed with me afterward to help me draft my talking points for the following day. I left feeling incredibly supported and prepared for my meetings on Capitol Hill.

The next day, we loaded a bus and headed to the Hill, where I had made appointments with both of my senators and two representatives (one representing the district where I work and one representing the district in which I live). In a few cases, I had the opportunity to sit down with the member of Congress face-to-face, and in other instances, my conversation was with a staffer. Either way, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share the successes and challenges of my specific school, as well as of our profession in general.

I am also grateful for the insight the conference gave me on critical issues such as ESSA implementation, Title I portability, private school vouchers, reform models, IDEA, and building leadership capacity, as well as the legislative process. The professional contacts I made from all over the United States and on Capitol Hill are also invaluable. I now know who to call or email when I have a question or concern, and that’s sometimes half the battle. I’m also better able to see the “big picture” beyond my school and understand how federal policy directly affects us.

We were there to work, and it was hard work. However, there were numerous opportunities to enjoy conversation with school administrators from around the country in a friendly and laid-back atmosphere. We shared several meals together and attended a reception just blocks from Capitol Hill after a full day of meetings with our members of Congress. I made friends with many of my fellow attendees, and we’ve kept in touch since. I learned so much from the experience—not only about educational policy, but what other administrators are doing in their schools, which I immediately began to implement in my own professional practice. So, while it was work, it was also a lot of fun.

If you’re on the fence about attending, I hope my experience will give you the push you need to register. With a new president in the White House and an incoming education secretary, I think it’s more important now than ever before that our voices are heard in Washington. We don’t know what the future will hold for public education, but we have every reason to stay alert and to make sure we are a part of the conversation. What we bring to the table is authentic experience, stories of real students and teachers with real needs, and a unique on-the-ground perspective. And frankly, if school leaders are not a part of the conversation, who will speak on our behalf? If legislators aren’t getting their information from us, they will get it from somewhere else.

I think the next four years will be critical and, as leaders in our profession and in our communities, we must arm ourselves with the understanding and the confidence to speak for those we serve. Register today.

About the Author

Sarah Longshore is in her second year as principal at Saluda High School in Saluda, SC. In her previous role as assistant principal for instruction at Dutch Fork High School—which is recognized as one of the highest-performing schools in South Carolina—she led an extensive open-enrollment AP program that produced impressive test scores and involved students from all demographic areas. Sarah takes pride in having contributed to the school’s positive climate, which saw a 56 percent decrease in discipline referrals during her tenure. She was the 2015 South Carolina Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year and a 2015 National Assistant Principal of the Year Finalist.

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