Coming Off The Sidelines For Black Lives Matter Week

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During undergrad, I was taught that teachers should be blank slates when it came to any political issue. I was taught teachers should never attempt to influence students or touch on what some would consider sensitive issues. For the first few years of my teaching, I went along with this philosophy. When students asked me questions, I would say, “develop your own thoughts.” I would tell them it wasn’t my place to share my opinion. 

Then, I began teaching at a school in Dekalb County, right outside of Atlanta.

The student population at this school is about 60% African-American and 40% immigrant and refugee. When I started teaching there, I realized for my students, much like myself, everything was political. When your body is at risk, everything from the way we fund and teach in schools to who we elect as president is political. I couldn’t and wouldn’t stand in front of my students and refuse to take a stance on issues that mattered to their bodies. When one student’s mother was deported, she rightfully went into a tailspin. Had I stood in the front of the room and said I didn’t have an opinion on immigration, I could have lost her forever.

I still agree students should develop their own opinions, but I no longer believe I should keep my own a secret.

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Community Orgs, Academics Support Black Lives Matter Week

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The Black Lives Matter Week of Action (#BLMPhlED #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool) - this year, taking hold at the national level - is grounded in a larger movement for social change. This work does not only happen in schools -- it relies on organizations and individuals of all kinds to build and sustain grassroots power as we work for racial and economic justice.

Who else can get involved? 

Community Organizations

For the second year in a row, organizations are signing a statement of support of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in our schools.

In addition, many are signing on to co-organize and cosponsor work and events before, during, and beyond the week.  These include an opening panel with LGBTQ youth of color at the Penn LGBTQ Center; an open conversation on domestic violence and sexual assault with the Philadelphia Home and School Council, Mazzoni Center, and the Philadelphia Writing Project; and a roundtable on colorism at the Community College of Philadelphia.

This is the work that truly makes a Week of Action in our schools possible!

Are you part of an organization that would like to sign on to support the week or do you have ideas about how the week can support your own organization's work? Click here to add your organization to the list, and email BLMPhlED@gmail.com with any questions.

Academics and Institutions of Higher Education

Similar to last year, scholars, faculty, and staff in institutions of higher education are circulating a letter of support for the week of action, beginning Monday, January 15. In addition to signing a statement of support, higher-education educators are also incorporating the 13 BLM guiding principles in their courses Feb 5-10 and participating in events on their campuses.

The efforts to support student leadership, expanded dialogue, and deepen community connections are highlighted during the week but intended to continue long outside of the week of action. Students, faculty, and community members are partnering to organize ways to support and strategize ongoing racial justice and equity in their local universities and schools.

Want to sign the statement of support?  Click here to add your name.

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Support The Group of 50 - Send Them to AFT National!

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Just a few of the fabulous PFT members who are a part of the Group of 50 -- support them in their journey by voting for them in February!

The AFT National Convention is happening in Pittsburgh this July -- and WE want to send you there!

In case you didn’t know, our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, has its National Convention every two years. The event is the single biggest learning opportunity in our union, jam-packed with inspiring speakers, informative panels, meetings for different bargaining units and interest groups, and floor votes on a variety of relevant topics, such as resolutions supporting political movements or changes in AFT policy.

How do you get a spot? Any PFT member can run to be a delegate to the convention! Unfortunately, very few members even know the event even exists, much less how to get there. This year, the Caucus wants to see that change.

To those ends, we are making an open call for female members of the PFT to join our "Group of 50" and run as delegates to both the AFT National Convention in 2018 and AFT-PA in 2019.

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In Its Second Year, Black Lives Matter Week of Action Goes National

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Just a few of the educators who participated in last year's BLM week -- here at Kensington CAPA High School. 

“Your silence will not protect you.” - Audre Lorde

As 2018 begins, our schools continue to manifest structural inequality created by racial injustices at all levels of the education system.  From the impact of zero tolerance policies that criminalize Black and Brown students and the exclusion of voices of people of color from curriculum, to the persistent loss of teachers of color from urban schools, the movement for Black Lives has never mattered more in the fight for the schools our students deserve.

We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise. - #BlackLivesMatter

The Racial Justice Committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, and organizations across Philadelphia, including UrbED, PhillyCAM, the Philadelphia Writing Project, the Philadelphia Home and School Association, Parents United for Public Education, and the Teacher Action Group - are organizing the second annual week highlighting the 13 guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement in order to organize for racial and economic justice required to shift the inequalities impacting the lives of students, families, and educators working in Philadelphia’s public schools.  In 2018, the week of action is nationwide, with educators and organizations participating in schools and cities across the country.

This year, we are taking our work to the next level, making national and local demands in order to end structural racism in our school systems.  

During the week and beyond, we will organize around three main local demands, which are tied to demands on a national level: ending zero tolerance policies, requiring anti-racism training for all Philadelphia educators, and hiring and retaining of teachers of color in Philadelphia’s public schools.

 

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The SRC Voted To Dissolve. What Happens Next?

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They voted to dissolve! So when does the SRC finally go away?

Their last day is June 30. This follows the requirement that the vote must happen at least 180 days before the actual dissolution. The June 30 aligns with the fiscal year -- new school board, new budget.

What will replace the commission?

A nine-member school board appointed by the Mayor, which is what oversaw the district before the SRC came into existence in 2001. There is also a planned non-voting position for a current Philadelphia student.

How will these members be selected? 

According to the Mayor’s timeline, A nominating committee will be appointed by Mid-December. This committee will recommend 3 possible choices for each of the 9 seats on the board. The mayor will select one of these recommendations for each seat. There is also pending legislation -- which will require approval by public referendum --  that would require city council approval for all nominees.

Can anyone become a member of the school board?

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SRC’s Demise Is a Victory for Organizing

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For the first time since 2001, Philadelphia will soon control its own schools. With Mayor Kenney’s endorsement, the SRC is almost certain to vote for its own abolition, ending the failed experiment that put Harrisburg in control of the Philadelphia School District.

The return of local control is a victory for Philadelphia’s students, parents, teachers, and community members. It is a victory for those who have spent years attending SRC meetings to protest and testify for more accountable school governance. It is a victory for Mayor Kenney, for recognizing the danger that state control poses to the future of our school district, and it is a victory for the members of the SRC for recognizing that the students of Philadelphia are best served by their willingness to step aside.

It is a victory that would not have happened without strong, grassroots organizing.

After more than 15 years, why have the Mayor and SRC chosen this moment to dissolve? The Mayor has spent the last year refusing to commit to a particular timeline. As recently as a few weeks ago, he said that he expected a vote on SRC abolition to happen “sometime in 2018.” Meanwhile, members of City Council and the Mayor’s staff had told us in recent months that there was little movement towards SRC dissolution, and little likelihood this would change without outside pressure. So what changed?

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A Vision for Vibrant Philly Public Schools...and How to Get There: The WE Convention on Nov. 4th

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Every parent, student, educator, and community member has a vision for the vibrant public schools that Philly deserves. Whether your vision is of community control, culturally-relevant pedagogy, sanctuary schools, or simply sufficient staffing and resources, we believe that the only way to make our vision for Philly schools a reality is by coming together to share ideas, build our skills, and working together. 

On Saturday, November 4th we hope you will join us for our 4th annual Working Educators Convention to share YOUR vision for Philadelphia's public schools. We invite EVERY educator, education advocate, and community member to join us for a day of building our skills, learning together, and discussing key public education issues with workshops organized by leaders in education, union, and justice work from all over the country. Plus, breakfast and lunch to break bread together, and childcare will be available to make sure everyone can join us.

Can you make it? Can you invite a fellow educator, parent, or public school advocate to join us? 

4th Annual WE Convention
Saturday, November 4th // 9AM - 4PM
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N. 4th Street, Philadelphia PA 19106

We are thrilled to have a keynote address by Erica Smiley, a progressive labor leader and Jobs with Justice's National Organizing Director- and a closing address from Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) President Barbara Madeloni!

P.S. Check out Barbara Madeloni on Friday night for a free and public speech on "Pedagogy and Power: The Essential Role of Teacher's Unions in Movement Building", as part of the Critical Theories of Education Today Conference at the Friends Center!

Here's the full agenda:

Building Power through Organizing: 4th Annual Convention

Sat, Nov. 4, 2017 (9:00am-4pm), Old First Reformed UCC, 151 N. 4th Street

 

9:00-10:00am, Registration & Breakfast

 

10:00-10:45am, Keynote

“Building the 21st Century Labor Movement: Confronting White Supremacy to Build Shared Bargaining Power” by Erica Smiley (Jobs with Justice)

 

11:00am-12:00pm, Breakout Session 1

  • Worksite Mapping (Kathleen Brower):  Participants will learn how to build an effective organization and worksite structure to mobilize a super-majority of their coworkers.

  • Critically Examining Race Inside the Classroom and Beyond (Ismael Jimenez, Keziah Ridgeway, Angela Crawford):  The session will explore the multiple manifestations of racism within our society and how to purposefully address racism inside and out of the classroom.

  • Decentering Whiteness In Our Classrooms and Schools  (Charlie McGeehan & Monica Clark):  This session is intended to help educators who identify as white unpack the role their whiteness plays in their classrooms, schools, and daily interactions. Participants will leave with strategies to bring this work to peers at their schools

12:00-1:00pm, Lunch

 

1:15-2:15pm, Breakout Session 2

  • Tools to Build Power: Using Surveys to Move People to Action (Christi Clark & Zein Nakhoda): Participants will leave with an understanding of how to use WE’s new survey, skills to respond to tough questions, and a plan to engage more educators in taking action.  

  • Expanding Sanctuary Inside Schools and Out (Max Rosen-Long & Edwin Mayorga):  How can we create “sanctuary schools” that support students and families across issues of culturally relevant teaching, policing and ICE in schools, and parent-school relationships? Help develop a framework to make sure our schools are empowering for all students, educators, and families.

  • Organizing to Save Our Schools: (Tonyah Bah, Kendra Brooks, Andres Celin, & Amy Roat) Hear how students, parents and teachers are organizing together to fight against threatened school takeovers (through SGS, Turnaround, Renaissance Charter, Closure, etc.)

 

2:30-3:15pm, Closing

“Union leadership and the dismantling of white supremacy” by Barbara Madeloni (President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, EDU)

If you have any questions, please contact us at contact@workingeducators.org or post in the facebook event. We can't wait to see you!

(Pictured above: photos from last year's 3rd Annual WE Convention) 

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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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