An education group backed by former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has tapped a community organizer from a national black advocacy group to spearhead its parent engagement efforts in Nashville.

Neonta Williams will be the new director of Nashville Rise, according to an announcement Monday by Project Renaissance, a nonprofit group formed in 2014 with the goal of increasing the number of Nashville students in high-performing schools.

Williams has worked for two years in Alabama and Tennessee as a community organizer with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, or BAEO, which promotes school choice. She moved to Nashville last February and stayed with the national group after its Tennessee chapter broke off in June to form the Memphis-based Campaign for School Equity.

Neonta Williams

In Nashville, Williams has focused on building relationships with clergy and said Monday she’s excited to reach out to families across Davidson County. “Parents should be informed and engaged about what’s going on in their child’s education,” she said. “Our goal is for parents to be the child’s first advocate.”

Project Renaissance started Nashville Rise last year and reports that its parents group now has 100 parent leaders and 500 members. As its director, Williams will help oversee parent advocacy trainings and build relationships with community partners.

Parent advocacy organizations are a growing part of the public education landscape across America, where research increasingly ties parental engagement with academic improvement. Many groups are aligned with the school-choice movement, advocating for charter schools and, in some cases, tuition vouchers to attend private schools.

Memphis has Memphis Lift, which kicked off in 2015 with the help of Natasha Kamrani, director of Tennessee’s chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and the wife of Chris Barbic, founding superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District.