Educators Deliver Petition to End Our Toxic Schools

On Thursday, March 28, the Caucus delivered a petition signed by nearly one quarter of the entire Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, demanding that the School District of Philadelphia abate the toxic building conditions in our schools.

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(Click to see high resolution version)

The demands are:

  • Make a plan to remediate all lead, mold, and asbestos - in all of our schools - NOW
  • Make a plan to treat all rodent infestations in all of our schools - no
  • Make a plan to overhaul all heating and cooling systems in our schools - now
  • Fund this repair with an end to the 10-year tax abatements on large property owners in Philadelphia and collecting Payments in Lieu of Taxes from universities like UPenn.

The petition was signed by over 3,300 educators, parents, students and community members, the majority of whom were PFT members. The petition has signatures from over 100 schools in the District -- representing nearly half of the schools in the District. This is a huge victory for our rank and file, in our fight for racial and economic justice, and in the fight against dispossession of public education in Philadelphia.

One hundred educators were present at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. The petition was delivered via email after the Board of Education went into recess after student protests on the vote for mandatory metal detectors.

WE will deliver the petition to City Council members on Monday, April 15th at 4:30PM on the 4th floor of City Hall -- RSVP HERE! WE will also present the petition in person at the April Board of Education meeting.

 

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Racial Justice Statement

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Educators Fight Back Against Teacher Bullying

At the School Board Meeting this Thursday, WE members took a stand against top down policies that interfere with educator autonomy and the retaliation that takes place when they questions these unreasonable policies. 

When educators in one area of the city started receiving demands to complete overly extensive and uncontractual lesson plans and reports, they worked together to ask questions and fight back. They wrote a public letter signed by over 150 educators from more than 10 different schools. They set up meetings with administrators. And when one of the educators was bullied by an administrator with unfair retaliation, they spoke out about these issues at the school board.

Instead of giving in to these fear tactics, their testimony was so well received by the board that Dr. Hite immediately approached them and asked to speak further on the matter.  He stated to the room that, "this is policing and it will end now!".  Additionally, a few board members along with Dr. Hite asked follow up questions to testimonies, asking about the extent of administration retaliation and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned. Dr. Hite was observed a few times shaking his head in disgust, hearing about the unnecessary obstacles we are facing. 

When we work together to fight for our schools and students, we can overcome fear and win! Watch their testimony below, along with the community letter.

Read more about other victories against new charter schools and criminalization of students from the February School Board Meeting here.

(Photo: Victorious educators from the affected network after the school board meeting!)

 

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Students and Educators Are Fighting Back - And Winning

On Thursday night, PFT members and leaders in the Caucus of Working Educators were fighting for our students and schools at the February meeting of the Board of Education.  For several years, Caucus members in coalition with Our City Our Schools, organized to abolish the School Reform Commission and fight for local control. Last night’s testimonies from WE members took place alongside students and community members across multiple campaigns that are fighting for the schools Philly deserves.  The presence of this school board and ways that we continue to collectively hold the district accountable are a continued testament to the work, leadership, and local power of students, families, and rank and file educators.

Kait McCann, Jessica Way, and Honey Polis-Bodine testified against increased busy work, top-down lesson plan policies that interfere with educator autonomy, and retaliation against PFT members who are pushing back.  Board members asked follow up questions to testimonies and wanted to know what the extent of district-level administrative retaliation includes and to be put in touch with the specific teachers mentioned in their statements.  Hite named publicly that this policing of PFT members and must end immediately. Read the open letter, read Kait McCann’s testimony, and watch videos from the video here.

These testimonies connected increased teacher bullying to increased attrition in our district.  Proposed language in Policy 111, to be voted on by the Board in March, did NOT reflect the PFT contract.  PFT members have been organizing against these top down policies all year, including circulating an open letter signed by 150 PFT members.  When rank and file educators organize collectively, we can debunk fear and fight back.

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Black Lives Matter Week Reflection: Brian Gallagher

Brian Gallagher is a second year teacher.  Brian teaches 8th grade English at McDaniel Elementary in South Philadelphia.  He is also on the Building Committee.

When I was invited to write this blog post, I hesitated to accept. I realize the irony of a cisgender, heterosexual, white man talking about Black Lives Matter. This is also just my second year teaching, so I really don’t feel confident in anything I do in the classroom. But, this blog, this week, and this work are not about me. I am not a savior. I am just one person trying to play my part. Having said that…

If you have experienced public education in this city, or pay attention at all, you know that far too often, education is not what it should be. Education SHOULD NOT be about working alone in order to fill one correct bubble on a standardized test.

Education SHOULD be about teaching young people the skills and strategies to look at their world through a critical lens. It SHOULD be about affirming their identities while building self-esteem and social skills. It SHOULD be about learning to work collaboratively and creatively to solve problems without predetermined answers. It SHOULD be about helping them to develop the tools to be engaged citizens and agents of change.

The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action is a perfect example of what education SHOULD be. It is about allowing our students, who are predominantly people of color, to see themselves as strong and capable, despite inequitable treatment at every level of our society.

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Black Lives Matter Week Reflection: Dana Carter

Dana Carter, a middle school teacher in Philadelphia, reflects on the impact of teaching with a focus on Black lives had on her teaching and her students.

I started back teaching in the District in February of the 2015-16 school year.  My new school had a number of issues, and one major issue was student behavior. In my first three weeks at that school, I held three different positions. I ended up having to take over a K-8 Literacy prep class that looked like a miniature version of East Side High School in 1982.

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Educators Support CCP Faculty & Staff: Call-In Day for a Fair CCP Contract on Thursday and Friday!

As Philadelphia educators, we understand the struggle of faculty and staff at Community College of Philadelphia to create a high quality learning environment, one that allows young people in Philly to achieve their dreams despite the many obstacles they face. CCP Faculty and Staff are fighting for the college that their students deserve- but the CCP Administration is seeking to cut faculty, increase course loads, and reduce healthcare and benefits for employees. They have gone over 2 years without a contract, and now CCP’s President is seeking to impose a contract that we all know will harm students, faculty and staff, and the college overall.

In Philly’s public schools, we understand the struggle of constantly being asked to do more with less, over and over again (especially after going 4 years without a contract). This constant “death by a thousand cuts” leads to burnout, mental health issues, and high rates of staff turnover- issues which in turn harms the students who most need the support. CCP educators teach more students than other area community colleges, leaving them with less time to give each student. When students seek out the critical support they need from other resources -like counselors, advisors, and librarians- the administration refuses to hire sufficient support faculty.

Alongside faculty, the union at CCP represents support staff who are often on the front lines of helping students navigate many aspects of college life, including financial aid and course registration. Staff are sometimes the first people students meet when they arrive on campus, and allow students to count on safe and clean buildings at CCP. The union is demanding real raises and living wages for staff, some of whom have worked full-time at CCP for 20 years and still qualify for food stamps. We also know that all of these pressures and strains disproportionately impact faculty and staff of color, at a time when research has shown that educators of color play a key role in helping students succeed and stay in school.

Philly educators know that it’s students who lose out if faculty and staff at CCP cannot win the fair contracts that make a vibrant and meaningful education possible. For this reason, we stand in solidarity with CCP Faculty and Staff in their fight for a fair contract. The teacher uprisings and #Red4Ed movement across the country have shown that when we stand together to fight for our students, colleagues, and communities- we can win the quality public education that our city needs.

As part of CCP Faculty and Staff's "Show CCP Some Love" Campaign this week, please help us support CCP Faculty and Staff by calling College President Guy Generals and Board Chair Jeremiah White. You will find all the information and short points you can make. After calling, please fill out the quick form below so that we know how many calls were made.

Click here to the call script and form!

(Please make sure to fill out the brief form so that we can track how many calls were made.)

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Philly City Council Unanimously Passes "Black Lives Matter at School Week" Resolution

On Wednesday night, in front of over 150 Philadelphia educators, students, parents, and community members attending the Black Lives Matter at Schools National Rally, Councilwoman Helen Gym publicly announced for the first time that she would be bringing to City Council a resolution to officially endorse the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. The event was part of a week filled with events dedicated to centering the lives of black students and educators, and also included concurrent events in over 20 cities across the country.

And this morning, City Council unanimously passed this resolution to officially declare February 2-11, 2019 as “National Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action” in the City of Philadelphia! Read the full text of the resolution here.

This a victory for the grassroots organizing that has been occurring since the week started in 2017 to center students of color in schools across the city. The Caucus of Working Educators thanks Councilwoman Gym and City Council for this resolution, and all of the educators, parents, organizers, and organizations that have made the Black Lives Matter at School Week possible in Philadelphia and in over 30 cities, districts, and unions nationwide. For further inquiries, email the Caucus of Working Educators at contact@workingeducators.org.

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City and Nationwide Support Grows for BLM at School Week

According to James Baldwin, “The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.” We are living during a time where it is imperative that we all begin to practice critical thinking and reflection. Who wouldn’t want to support that? Who wouldn’t want to provide a means for every student and educator to be able to question and figure out solutions to the issues that affect Philadelphia? Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action shines a light on issues such as housing, hunger, gun violence, trauma, large class sizes, hazardous school environments, and inequity in school funding, which are worse in Black, Brown and marginalized communities.

As educators, parents, students, and community members gear up for the third annual Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action in Philadelphia, the Racial Justice Committee of WE wanted to take a minute to share our excitement and gratitude for the over 50 supporters and national endorsements.

We want to thank all of the individuals, unions, districts, and community groups who said YES to Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. Because a YES means YES to the hiring of more Black educators. YES to anti-racist training, ethnic studies, and African-American studies for ALL educators and students. YES to the end of zero-tolerance policies. And YES to Funding Counselors and Not Cops.

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WE Push for School Board Endorsement of BLM Week

On Thursday, January 17th, members of The Caucus of Working Educators made a series of public requests of Dr. Hite and the School Board to formally endorse this year’s Black Lives Matter Week of Action in schools.  

Over 30 districts and unions around the country have already thrown their full support around the BLM Week and the demands that must be met in order for Black and Brown students to have access to the schools and the education they deserve. Our hope is that Philadelphia will join the ranks of organizations who are unafraid to say that Black Lives Matter. 

After hearing these powerful statements from educators and parents, School Board President Joyce Wilkerson made the following statement to the The Philadelphia Tribune:

“We support and encourage our teachers to responsibly engage students around important issues to develop critical thinking skills and a respect for the exchange of ideas.  While Black Lives Matter in Action Week is not in the official curriculum of the district, we certainly support our teachers in this endeavor.”

We implore the School Board to take the next step and officially endorse Black Lives Matter Week at school! Check out the statements and videos of last week’s testimony below.

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