Monthly Organizing: Safe Schools For Our Kids

WE convened Tuesday, September 12 in a classroom at Kensington CAPA for our monthly organizing meeting. This meeting kicked off the year with matters of deepest concern:  discussing how to fight for safer, healthier schools and maintaining the values at the heart of WE: educational justice and equality for our students.

A representative from the Philly Healthy Schools Initiative opened the meeting with frightening facts about the poor indoor air quality in specific schools throughout the district:

  • Dobbins AVT High School, Furness High School, Spring Garden School, and F. Amadee Bregy each have extensive mold remediation issues. 
  • Clementè Roberto Middle School, Hunter Elementary School, Edward T. Steel School, Luis Muños-Marín Elementary, and Furness High School all have potential issues with asbestos remediation.

These are the schools that WE are positive have these issues, yet there could be more with these conditions that are unknown.  

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Ready to Fight Back Against the "System of Great Schools" Restructuring?

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When six Philadelphia public schools were announced to be "restructured" earlier this month, we knew it was time to get organized.

Inspired by the anti-turnaround fights waged by schools like Munoz-Marin and Kensington Health Sciences, we know we can successfully defend our schools and colleagues by building deep connections between parents, school staff, and community members. 

Our System of Great Schools support campaign is about diving head first into local school organizing! We are standing in solidarity with the leadership of families, students, community members, and teachers in these six buildings (Rhoads, Gideon, Steel, Wagner, Penn Treaty, and Feltonville SAS) so that their voices, needs, and hopes for their schools are at the center of the entire process. 

Inside the buildings, educators and families are working around the clock to organize their communities. But every public education supporter is needed in this fight.

We can all support these schools by being present at the eighteen public SGS evening meetings (3 per school), to listen to and support parents and students and teachers as they organize to take their school back. Our goal is to have as many supporters as possible at each meeting.

Will you sign up to go to one of the SGS meetings and help to bring others with you? Here's the calendar:

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"The Lives of Our Students Are Not Up for Debate": Educators Respond to DACA Repeal

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The Caucus of Working Educators is outraged at last week's decision by the Trump Administration to repeal DACAWe reject the repeal of DACA, along with any policy that targets our immigrant students or any of our students for their race, nationality, immigration status, class or religion, as an attack on our most fundamental values of justice, human rights, inclusion, equality, opportunity and strength in diversity.  As educators, we stand firm in the values and obligations highlighted in the recent trainings of educators by the School District to ensure that all teachers and staff in the SDP have the knowledge and tools to support our immigrant students and their families in these dangerous times.

All of our students and their families, regardless of their immigration status, race, national origin or religion, are an intrinsic part of the fabric of our schools and communities and have a right to an education, to safety, to family, to freedom from fear, and to hope for the future. We commit to work with immigrant-led organizations in our city to support and stand with our immigrant students and their families of all backgrounds and statuses - documented, DACAmented and undocumented - to ensure these rights. We see the repeal of DACA and other policies targeting immigrants as a part of a larger program of racism and white supremacy that singles out, scapegoats, vilifies and criminalizes Black and Brown immigrants, children, youth and families.

We are determined to help create schools and school communities that are empowering for students, teachers, staff and families to participate in this and all struggles for justice, human rights, real democracy and equality as we join to confront the critical issues of our time.

WE believes that those most impacted must be in the leadership and so in this moment we continue to look to and stand with immigrant leaders and immigrant-led organizations in our city and country as we respond to this and other attacks on the immigrant community. In this spirit, as the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was made on Tuesday, WE members joined DACAmented and other immigrant leaders from JUNTOS and other immigrant-led organizations and the larger community in a rally at the Federal building and a march to the federal prison at 7th and Arch.

The lives and futures of our students and their families are not up for debate. All our students and their families belong in our schools, our community and in our country. We will be sharing information and suggestions soon on how educators can support their immigrant students and families and connect to local immigrant-led organizing.

Want to find out more? Join us for the first WE Monthly Organizing Meeting of the school year on Tuesday, September 12th from 4:30-6:30pm at Kensington CAPA High School (1901 Front St.). If you would like to join WE's Immigration Justice Committee, email us at contact@workingeducators.org.

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Why I Wear My Working Educators Shirt

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I take my loyalty to the PFT seriously.

The week the SRC tried to cancel our contract, I was at the microphone testifying against them. I have served as a Political Liaison at two schools. I’ve been a member of Building Committee. I have served on the citywide Community Schools Taskforce, whose work directly led to Mayor Kenney’s pledge to bring Community Schools to Philly. I’ve been to every membership meeting since I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve been to countless protests, rallies, and town halls pushing for public schools and their employees. I make it a point to talk about my union with my colleagues as much as possible, and to make sure that my entire outside network knows about our recent contract battle -- and our win last June.

And sometimes I do those things wearing a WE t-shirt.

And I want to be clear about something: I don’t wear it because I’m against the PFT leadership. I don’t wear it because I’m trying to win votes for anything. I don’t wear it as a statement of opposition, and I’m not wearing it to persuade people of something.

Let me try to explain why I do wear it.

 

 

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Bread & Roses "Change Ride": Bike for Justice on September 16th

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Do you care about racial and economic justice? Do you like to bike? Join the WE team raising money for the Bread & Roses Community Fund's "Change Ride" on September 16th- you can join us for the ride or contribute money to the team! 

Riders will enjoy a 10-mile ride across Philadelphia, visiting four Bread & Roses grantees: New Sanctuary Movement, Put People First! PA, Reentry Think Tank, and Youth United for Change. Organizers from these groups will share stories about their campaigns and tell us why those neighborhoods are important to them and the movements they lead. The ride kicks off at 8:30am at Rowhouse Grocery in South Philadelphia with a complimentary breakfast, and will work it's way North, ending with lunch at the Village of Art and Humanities around 1pm. 

Click here to join the ride, or to make a donation to the Working Educators Team's fundraising effortWe've raised over $500 for Bread and Roses so far! 

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Field Trip: "Dolores" Film & Talkback with Dolores Huerta on 9/16

Rebel. Organizer. Feminist. Mother. Dolores Huerta is one of the most important organizers and visionaries behind the work of the United Farm Workers and beyond- and a new documentary opening in September tells the story of her life and work in the Labor, Feminist, and Latinx movements.

On Saturday, September 16th Dolores Huerta will be in Philly for a Q&A talkback after the 7pm show at the Landmark Ritz 5 Theater! Come learn some new organizing tricks and celebrate the work of one of the most important, but little known, women in the labor movement. Members of the Working Educators Immigration Justice Committee and Organizing Book Club will be there! 

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Tickets are still available for purchase online for $10.25 per adult at this link (just make sure it's the 7pm showing on 9/16). Check out the trailer below!

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When WE fight, WE win: Our Year in Review

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With the new school year right around the corner, the Caucus of Working Educators is getting ready to move forward by looking back at our biggest, most successful year in our short history.

How did our actions turn into wins? Here’s the short version: 

#Fightfor15 

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In November, WE joined forces with the Fight for 15 campaign and stood with fast food workers, home health care workers, and allies looking to ensure that all Americans earn a living wage at their jobs. Several caucus members took arrests and wrote about why. With a $15 minimum wage already a reality in several cities and states, our participation contributed to a national movement and ongoing debate about raising the wage in Pennsylvania. 

Black Lives Matter Week

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In January, WE organized our biggest campaign ever, all designed to get schools talking about racial justice. Black Lives Matter week featured suggested curriculum for teachers, an event or panel every evening, and t-shirts to show solidarity and get the conversation started. Over 100 schools participated, and Philadelphia Eagle Malcolm Jenkins spoke at the closing panel. The week set a new standard for how we talk about race in Philadelphia schools, and thanks to our model, BLM week will be going national next year, with other cities modeling their programs after ours.

 

Immigrant Rights AirportJess.jpg

Starting last November, WE started organizing to protect our students and families who were threatened by new immigration policies. We organized several information sessions, showed up at Philadelphia International Airport when Trump tried to turn away arriving refugees, and advocated tirelessly for the district to step up in its protection of immigrant students. As a result of our efforts, the District agreed to a mandatory training about immigrant rights for all educators at the start of this school year.

 

PFT Contract Actions

WE never lost sight of the fact that district educators were in their fourth year without a contract -- and we made sure that nobody else in Philly could forget it, either.

First, we designed printed those buttons announcing how many days it had been. And when 1,000 turned into 1,100, 1,200, 1,300+ days... we sent out updated images. 

 

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Then, we dropped a banner in the middle of the Labor Day parade to remind our union brothers and sisters that we needed their solidarity.

Next, we flooded Dr. Hite's office with written requests for the district to return to the negotiating table, delivered via pony, the internal mail system. 

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And then, we printed thousands of lawn signs letting people know that their friendly neighborhood educators neighbors were feeling the squeeze of no contract -- and also letting allies announce their support.

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All of these actions moved our contract battle into the public eye -- and brought us a long way towards a fair resolution with the district!

 

May Day of Advocacy

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When it felt like we might not see a contract before the end of the school year, WE decided enough was enough. Over five hundred educators from across the district took personal days and showed up in front of 440 to demand fair treatment, and then at City Hall in solidarity with Day Without An Immigrant. We got the entire city's attention -- including the front page of the Inquirer.

This “coordinated teacher absence” was not a strike, but the district still tried to punish educators for acting within their rights by withholding pay. This attempt was successfully shut down by PFT leadership, who did not endorse the action but supported its members after the fact. We showed the district that, even with the state prohibition on strikes, Philadelphia teachers can still take action -- and that action helped get the PFT to a contract offer the next month. 

 

Contract Information

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Before the contract offer was released, we started a petition asking that the PFT leadership give the rank and file a reading period before the vote. Thanks to our efforts, we went from a same-day reading period in 2011 to a three-day reading period for the new contract. When the new terms were released, we immediately built a wage and health care cost calculator to help the rank and file figure out exactly what the contract meant for them financially., organized contract reading parties around the city, and posed questions to the leadership about contract terms we did not understand. Our work helped the rank and file make an informed decision about their vote! 

 

 ...And Cool T-Shirts!

In addition to the massively popular Black LIves Matter t-shirts, we also did a limited run of PFT Local 3 shirts, in the style of one of your favorite sports teams.

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Missed the window? Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon with a new design, this time in the spirit of a different team!

 

So, What’s Next?

Our committees are hard at work making plans for the coming school year. We’re not a top-down organization, our best ideas come from members and their experiences in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Each of the campaigns described above was dreamt up and brought to life by educators just like you.

What that means is: What do YOU think the caucus should be doing next?

That’s right, we want to work with you! Become a member today or just shoot us an email at contact@workingeducators.org. We’ll help you figure out where you fit in the work.

It’s really that easy.

 

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It's Bigger Than Charlottesville

imagejpeg_1.jpgThis past weekend, our country witnessed a white-supremacist, neo-nazi rally storm through Charlottesville VA, intimidating counter-protestors and the community at-large, beating people of color, and causing the death of three people.

Let us be clear: we should not be shocked that—in a country literally built with the blood, tears, and forced labor of a stolen people, a country that has, even after emancipation, striven in various ways to maintain the effects of slavery and centuries of racial exclusion through discriminatory institutional practices—white American terrorists work to enact their agenda upon us all. What these events should force us to do is to both reflect upon and act against the racist ideas and forces that have led us to this point.

As school workers, we have a moral obligation to confront these ideas, work with our students to navigate their lived reality, and give them the time and space in their classrooms to discuss our world.

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WE Makes Immigrant Rights Training a Reality

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The WE Immigration Justice Committee is proud to announce that all School District of Philadelphia personnel will be trained to support the needs and rights of immigrant students and families.  

PeoplesInaug.jpgThe mandatory training was a central demand made by WE committee members during our spring organizing initiative. The District has committed to offering a 90-minute immigrant rights training to all teachers, principals, and support staff. School police officers and secretaries will also be trained at District Headquarters. 

AirportBanner.jpgThe District is looking for teachers willing to conduct the training at their schools or assist at other schools. If you care about making this program successful at your school, sign up for the training by logging on to www.PhilaSD.org and going into PD planner.Scroll.png

Here's how WE advocated for this program to happen:

During the fall, the WE immigration justice committee met with students, teachers, administrators, community members, and leaders from immigrant groups and immigrant rights organizations about how schools can support and protect immigrant students and families.

AirportJess.jpgThe committee then consolidated five policy recommendations in the following areas to be made to the School District:  limiting Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to schools; protecting the confidentiality around immigration status of immigrant students and families; providing language access; teaching educators awareness of immigration induced trauma; and creating hate-free schools. 

ForumWide.pngThe committee decided the best way for the District to implement these recommendations would be through a series of District-wide trainings.

In collaboration with students from the Newcomer Lerner Center, along with representatives from the Education Law Center, Juntos, the African Diaspora Global Initiative, and La Puerta Abierta organization, WE members and supporters testified before the School Reform Commission on May 18, 2017 asking that all School District personnel be trained in the five identified areas before the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. 

AiportKelley.jpgAfter the testimony, WE committee members met with School District leadership from the offices of Multilingual Family Support and Family and Community Engagement to understand how the District intends to implement the trainings.

Forum.Gym.jpgThe District has decided to host four train-the-trainer sessions in the middle of August to train educators to conduct the mandatory training in their schools. With the support of PFT and School District administrators, we are committed to disseminating the information for the train-the-trainer sessions and to recruiting educators to lead these important workshops in our schools. 

Please sign up today!

Trainers Wanted: Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools for Immigrant and Refugee Students

Please sign-up for a training AND speak to your building principal or administrator to let them know that you would like to help facilitate the training at your school. All school principals are required to provide this professional development session for all school-based staff. School principals can either deliver the session by themselves, or have a trained co-facilitator who is interested, willing, and available to assist them. The session will take 1.5 hours to complete and will be offered during the mandatory August school level professional development days (August 28, 29, 30).

PFT members with teaching experience are invited to receive training on a voluntary basis, should their school or another school leader seek a co-facilitator.

We encourage PFT members to take advantage of this opportunity to learn new ways to make sure our schools are safe spaces for EVERY child. 

The 1.5-hour train-the-trainer sessions will be held at 440 North Broad Street on the following dates:

  • August 14: 1:00 - 3:00 pm - Café 440

  • August 16: 9:00 - 11:00 am - Room 1071

  • August 21: 9:00 - 11:00 am - Room 1182

  • August 25: 9:00 - 11:00 am - Room 1080

At the end of each train-the-trainer session, the District will notify principals of who has successfully completed the training, so that principals know whom is available should they need assistance with the training.

Act 48 credits will be offered. Interested members should register using PD Planner.

For more information regarding this training opportunity, please email lsoderman@philasd.org or dromero@philasd.org

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Calling for Statewide Organizing!

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Are you from outside Philadelphia County?

We need you to join the statewide movement to make sure our schools have all the money they need and to keep our local schools under our own local control.

The only way we will win full funding and local control for all of our schools is when we build a coalition of advocates across the state. As Pennsylvanians, it’s the politicians in Harrisburg who decide our children’s future. When it comes to funding, high-stakes testing, graduation requirements, teacher quality, special education, arts, music, class size, career and technical education, we are all in this together.

Working Educators will do whatever it takes to create top-notch public schools statewide, and we believe that students, families, and educators deserve far more funding, support, and opportunities than are currently provided.

 

What’s the big deal about schools in Pennsylvania?

Public schools in PA are criminally underfunded and under the control of anti-student politicians. Harrisburg’s neglect of PA public schools is a national embarrassment.

Pennsylvania is ranked 49th in the country when it comes to state funding for schools. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have denied students in all counties their basic right to fully-funded schools, and allowed outside companies to come into our districts and take over our public schools. Because the state refuses to pay its fair share for public schools, homeowners in PA pay more and more in local property taxes every year.  The state wants us to be responsible for fully funding our own local schools, but then wants to take away our say in what happens in our own local school districts.  How is that fair?

 

How can we fix PA schools?

Plain and simple: the PA legislature must pass legislation that guarantees full funding and genuine local control for every district in the state.

If we move just a fraction of the taxpayer money that currently pays for corporate taxbreaks and kickbacks to the 1%, Pennsylvania schools could be fully funded, providing all students with the education they deserve. We are ready to solve the Keystone educational crisis--and to push out any politician who stands in our way. There’s no time to lose.

 

Why should I care?

Because you love your family, your neighbors, and your public schools!

Our movement for fully funded and locally-controlled schools is non-partisan and all-policy. Strong schools help build strong economies, for everyone. A system of funded public schools is the backbone of a functional democracy that works for all. And we will win this fight--if good people like you step up and join us.

 

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