Carlina Brown, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School, is being honored at the White House on Friday for her efforts to get more parents involved in the school and enhance its funding, reputation and educational offerings.

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When the president of Rainier Beach High School’s PTSA Carlina Brown first got the good news on her cellphone, she had to read the email message several times before it sank in:

Years of working to engage parents and draw positive local attention to a struggling school — to its enhanced career-certification courses, to the fact that it’s on track for a prestigious International Baccalaureate program — were suddenly being recognized at a national level.

“I was overcome with joy — tears were flowing,” said Carlina Brown, who took a red-eye flight to Washington, D.C., Wednesday night to be recognized as a 2012 Champion of Change on Friday at the White House.

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Brown, Rainier Beach’s Parent Teacher Student Association president for the past two years, says she’s accepting the honor on behalf of the school’s entire PTSA board — a close-knit group of five other women.

“It’s a huge recognition for all the work we’ve done, battles we’ve won, and a big deal for all the parents of the South End of Seattle,” she said. “I couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the passion from all of us parents working close together.”

Located in a low-income neighborhood prone to violence, Rainier Beach High was ranked as one of Washington state’s lowest-achieving schools last year by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Brown said she started working with the school’s PTSA three years ago when the youngest of her four children transferred there as a sophomore.

Spending a little spare time researching how to help ballooned into 20 to 30 hours a week of advocacy work to improve the school’s academic offerings, funding, reputation and parent engagement.

Eleven other parent-teacher-association members from across the country will be honored along with Brown on Friday.

“The PTA Champions of Change we are honoring have collaborated with school administrators and community leaders, launched innovative advocacy campaigns, and worked tirelessly to grow their local PTAs to involve more parents in their children’s education,” Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, said in a statement.

Brown’s trip to D.C., with PTSA Vice President Rita Green and Secretary LaCretiah Claytor, won’t just be to celebrate, though.

“We’ll definitely be networking and getting our names out there even more,” Brown said. “We want to find common ground and common goals with people we can learn from.”

Green said the board members hope it all will lead to greater parent engagement at Rainier Beach. There are about 40 parents in the PTSA, Green said, and the six board members could use a lot more consistent support.

“I feel great about this honor because I feel the attention is what’s going to draw parents to say, ‘Wow — I need to step up,'” Green said.

In the next year, Green said the PTSA is going to add a position focused on parent engagement, with the goal of educating more parents about what questions to ask their child’s teachers and what their child must do to graduate.

Green and Brown said they’ll both continue fighting budget cuts to offerings like the planned IB program, set to debut at Rainier Beach in September 2013.

“We want it to be able to be financially sustainable,” Green said. “That’s one thing I worry about because it’s something we desperately need and want to have.”

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or

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