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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Why Black Lives STILL Matter... Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action 2019

by Tamara Anderson

In 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin a hashtag erupted into a movement. Alica Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tomati created #BlackLivesMatter. A way for local organizers to pull together and continue the fight for Black lives. Because let's face it, we our under attack. And this attack has not ceased since we were kidnapped and brought by force to this country. In fact, the attack on brown and black bodies has been a global issue since ever. It is for this reason that we must continue to unearth the truth and share it without making it clean or easier to digest.

Philadelphia and many cities around the country are planning the National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. And I sit here and wonder if it is enough. Have we fully actualized the 13 guiding principles of this movement? Principles like Diversity, Loving Engagement, Collective Value, Queer and Trans Affirming, Black Families, Black Women and more? Have we? The answer is a resounding NO.

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Organizing Wins! How can Philly be #UTLAStrong?

This past week, 35,000 members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles made history as they went on strike for the first time in 30 years. How did they make it happen?

This strike has been years in the making. Our allies from the Union Power Caucus in Los Angeles lead UTLA with a vision of organizing, building rank and file power and social justice.  In organizing for this strike, the UTLA rank and file, through the support of their leadership, have built deep structures for communication and connection with each other that have made this strike so powerful.  They have garnered the support of families and students across the city and the support of school-based support staff in SEIU Education Workers United Local 99.

UTLA have developed a strike platform for a fair contract that is about fighting for the future of our public schools.  They are unwilling to settle for working and learning conditions that continue to do a disservice to their students and educators.  As President Alex-Caputo Pearl stated in their press conference given on Sunday evening, UTLA “will be on strike for as long as necessary."

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Working Educators Neighborhood Meetings

Working Educators members host regional meeting monthly in every neighborhood of the city! All educators, parents, and students are welcome to join a meeting in the neighborhood where they work/live.

For up-to-date meeting dates, please see our calendar of meetings and events. If you have any questions or need more info, please contact us at contact@workingeducators.org. 

Regions:

-West and Southwest Philly (meets 4th Wednesdays from 4-5pm)

-South Philly (meets 2nd Tuesdays from 4-5pm)

-North Philly (meetings tbd)

-Center City (meetings tbd)

-Northeast Philly (meetings tbd)

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