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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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.

 

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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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Our Work and What Comes Next

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On November 19, the Caucus of Working Educators brought together PFT members and a wide range of allies to ask what educators, union members, and communities could do to champion schools and justice in the shadow of a newly-elected Presidential administration: “Organizing is the Answer.” WE’s 3rd annual convention was a day of building skills and highlighting winning campaigns with workshops organized by educators and union leaders from all over the country.

What exactly did we do and learn?

Jia Lee from the MORE Caucus of the UFT of New York—along with representatives of BMORE, NJCORE, and the Korean Teachers Union (KTU)—spoke of the ongoing challenges and philosophical penetration of advancing the fight for equity and justice in unions as well as through society-at-large. This event also hosted a number of breakout sessions on organizing within school buildings and local communities, as well as plans for successful issue campaigns and developing new union leaders. These were led by regional labor and community advocates from PASNAP, 215 People’s Alliance, Parents United, Labor Notes, and unions from higher education.

What are the next steps? How can you answer the call for organizing within the PFT, the city, the important causes of the day? Where can you get involved?

Start by joining us on Tuesday, December 13, at Kensington CAPA High School (1901 N. Front St, Philadelphia, 19122) in room 209 at 4:00 p.m. for WE’s Monthly Organizing Meeting. We’ll be discussion action plans for continuing to support the PFT’s contract negotiations with the District, protesting Pat Toomey’s campaign against sanctuary cities, developing special District-wide Black Lives Matter curriculum and events for January, abolishing the School Reform Commission, and more.

 

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How To Organize a “What’s NOT Back To School Night” Rally at Your School!

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Parents and students are the most important allies that teachers’ unions must embrace to secure a strong contract and better education for children.

Families see a site for just the few years that children attend a school, and many misunderstand the gradual return of some staff over the past few years as improvement, without seeing the net loss over the longer term. We still have not returned to pre-2013 levels of funding and staffing, and we cannot allow the lingering “Doomsday Budget” to become the “new normal.”

Parents need the constant reminder that educators’ working conditions are their children’s learning conditions, and once a year we have the opportunity to build solidarity with thousands of families across the city: Back To School Night!

 

So... Get A Rally Going At Your Back To School Night!

For the past two years, staff at several schools have hit the pavement with signs, flyers, chalk, and political theater before BTSN with a great response from parents and the press. We need to take our message city-wide this year! It will look different at every school, but here are some tips:

  • Mobilize your comrades on staff to take action. Here’s a sample mailbox flyer to download and edit.
  • Stage your rally immediately before your official BTSN start time when parents are arriving.
  • Build solidarity with your parents by contacting your Home & School Association or key parent leaders in advance and ask for their support in raising awareness. Invite parents to come early and join educators outside the school before the official BTSN begins.
  • Photo by Kevin McCorry/WHYYGet the real numbers affecting your school, and don’t just include your pay and benefits. Be sure to highlight the direct impact that cuts and freezes have on kids: Larger class-sizes, lost programs, no library, fewer counselors, part-time nurse, old textbooks, broken furniture, dirty classrooms, deferred maintenance, no NTA’s, cuts in total budget, cuts in per-pupil spending. Ask your principal for some of these numbers.
  • Make a leaflet to hand out. Include those numbers, and links for families to get involved in the struggle! Here’s an example leaflet you can copy. 
  • Turn that leaflet into a press release and send it out. Example press release
  • Make signs that parents and students can relate to.
  • Sidewalk chalk your messages near the entrance.
  • Translate materials into the languages that your families speak.
  • Create theater and symbolic displays that drive home the impact of cuts. In the past, staff have brought out student desks to show what a 59-student classroom looks like, set up displays of battered old textbooks, staged a bookselling of Driven By Data books, and collected supply donations from parents.
  • Make a What’s NOT Back To School banner
  • If your principal is sympathetic, ask her to join you, and see if some staff can remain outside for a short time after the start of BTSN, and plan for some parents to stay outside to continue the message.
  • Take Photos and share your action
  • Once inside, continue the conversation as much as possible. Add a slide to your back to school night presentation about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year.


The beginning of the school year is very busy, but colleagues working together can pull together a successful rally very quickly. Central teacher KD Davenport describes how she turned an idea into a hugely successful rally in just a matter of days:

I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. People were amazing about contributing their gifts: One creative colleague suggested that we line up 59 desks to represent the number of students in an Algebra class; another put together a flier of facts and figures; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese. Once we had a flyer made up, we adapted it into a press

 release and sent out a blast via email and Twitter to the media. Word quickly spread and on Back To School Night we were joined by reporters and photographers from NBC 10, ABC 6, The Inquirer, and WHYY Newsworks.

Our PFT building committee was incredibly supportive and publicized the event to the entire staff. Our administration was also on board. Our principal came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!

Go and do it!

 Photo by David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer



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WE Summer Kick-Off! Thursday, June 2nd

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Put aside your lesson plans and paperwork for the afternoon, and please join fellow educators, parents, and allies to celebrate the end of another school year, and share your skills and ideas to keep fighting for our schools, students, and profession. PLUS, sign up for a summer book club to get informed and learn together!

Happy hour food and drink specials! // Free street parking! // Children's area!

-Meet like-minded educators and public education supporters.
-Celebrate the end of a challenging school year.
-Reflect together on how to keep growing in our schools and classrooms.
-Share ideas to strengthen our union and keep fighting for the schools Philly deserves.
-Learn about the books for our 3rd Annual Education Summer Book Clubs, meet the facilitators, and sign up for one!

Thursday, June 2nd
4:00-7:00pm
Frankford Hall
1210 Frankford Ave (just above Girard)
Philadelphia, PA 19125

RSVP on our website or on facebook

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How To Turn Around The "Turnaround" Plan

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The packed house at Munoz-Marin school on Thursday night.

Last Friday, four district schools got word that they were targeted to become “turnaround” schools, and that all staff would be laid off from the building, with no more than 50% allowed to return.

Yesterday, in a major reversal, Superintendent Hite made a statement to the press that the staffing requirements for these turnarounds are “flexible.”

So how did this turnaround language get turned around?

It’s simple: 

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"Before 2011 We Were Able to Get Our Jobs Done": Two Philly Nurses Explain the Impact of Budget Cuts

"Long before the draconian budget cuts we nurses commiserated about the responsibility we felt in adequately addressing the mandated professional duties enumerated by my colleague earlier today. We had professional meetings several times a year in which we shared best practices, honed our skills, and supported one another in our difficult but rewarding jobs serving Philadelphia's children. Our passion for this work is unmatched.

But, let me be abundantly clear here. Before 2011 we were able to get our job done.

Before 2011 our quality, Philadelphia's school health program was nationally recognized. In fact, prior to the 2011 budget cuts school nurses were rarely in the news precisely because adequate, well functioning school nurse services did not constitute a newsworthy topic." -Eileen Duffey

This past Thusday, February 18th, two of Philadelphia's Certified School Nurses testified at City Council's first State-of-the-Schools Hearing on the impact of budget cuts on Philly's children. Their testimony can be found below. They were joined by inspiring testimony from Philly's counselors, as well as many other education leaders

Peg Devine and Eileen Duffey are both running on the Caucus of Working Educators Slate for PFT Leadership

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Thinking Hard about Community Schools

In recent months, people in Philadelphia have been hearing a lot about “community schools.” Both Jim Kenney and Darrell Clarke have made public commitments to this reform, which would potentially transform public schools into neighborhood hubs by expanding community partnerships and bringing in external providers for services important to students and families. Creating community schools has become a growing strategy nationwide, with major recent commitments to these schools in cities like New York and Baltimore.

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While the pledges of our next Mayor and our City Council Speaker have garnered big news, they come in the context of years of advocacy by the organizing coalition PCAPS, which has pushed to bring community schools to Philadelphia, beginning with a pilot in at least 25 schools. Community schools have also been in the news recently as PCAPS and school community members have campaigned to have Huey, Cooke, and Wister elementary schools become community schools, as an alternative to the School District’s proposed charterization plan.

With this rapidly developing movement towards a new school model, the Caucus of Working Educators has a few questions for students, families, and PFT members to consider:

  • How will new services provided at a community school be funded and supported? Many previous initiatives organized by the school district have been lauded as “the solution,” only to fall to pieces when the funding or political support dried up. Moreover, we must make sure that any new funding will come free from special interest strings.

  • Who will be responsible for oversight of community schools? Community schools are a strategy for connecting resources and services to student needs -- they are not a one-size-fits-all model that can be applied in the same way to every school. Decisionmaking for these schools should reflect that. In the field of education, we always have to be mindful of the ways that powerful interests can hijack “reform” models to advance their own interests (be they cost-saving politicians or curriculum-peddling corporations). Individual schools must have their own decisionmaking abilities, and power should be wielded by the stakeholders at that particular school. 

  • Will any educator positions at these schools be outsourced? Some community schools models replace longtime educators with part-time employees who provide  learning support, health and psychological services, giving students a lesser version of the expert resources they previously had access to.

  • Will positions lost to the “Doomsday Budgets” be restored? After years of cutbacks, it has become unacceptably common in Philadelphia schools to lack a full-time nurse, counselor, and librarian. Contracting with external providers must not be used to allow policymakers to avoid returning to a budget that restores certified, full-time school professionals to every school.

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If implemented well, the community school model could provide students with the comprehensive support they need for academic success, while addressing critical needs of students and families. If implemented poorly, however, the model could actually undermine the stability and sustainability of what schools currently offer Philadelphia’s children.

The PCAPS Community Schools Task Force, which includes members of the Caucus of Working Educators, will soon release a platform setting out specifics for what a community school should look like. As we approach the inauguration of Mayor Kenney, it is crucial that educators are asking the hard questions to make sure any new model for our schools does right by our city and our children.

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Shout Out Philly's Amazing Educators for #WETeach Tuesdays!

Teaching is one of the noblest professions and represents that selfless sacrifice that men and women are willing to make to provide for the betterment of America’s youth. But between punitive education 'reform' policies, the starvation of public education, and the myth of 'failing' urban schools and their 'bad teachers', teachers don't get much credit these days.

The Caucus of Working Educators feels that it's about time the many great teachers across the city are acknowledged! We are asking educators across the city to begin posting #WETeach Tuesday posts on FB and Twitter on Tuesday that highlight the powerful educators we work with every day.

The ideal post is a short (1-3 sentences) write up expressing what makes their highlighted teacher a great teacher. Don't forget to include an image as well (see example below).

This acknowledgement of educators strengthens our power as a union by focusing on the one-to-one relationships that give us strength as a union and allow us to fight for our students in our buildings, neighborhoods, and city. It also provides an opportunity to overturn the myth of the “bad teacher,” by highlighting the great work and professionalism that we all engage in everyday.

Ready to get started? Here's an example of a #WETeach post:

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Response to Superintendent Hite's Contract Renewal

The Caucus of Working Educators of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers does not support the School Reform Commission’s proposal to renew Superintendent Hite’s contract for an additional 5 years, while there are still more than two years remaining in his current one.

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The SRC should not decide to renew the superintendent’s contract without the data and observations of an appropriate evaluation. The School District of Philadelphia cannot afford another financial misstep.  Let us not forget the lesson from 2011, when the SRC extended then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s contract for one year. That very same year, the SRC fired Ackerman and bought out her contract for $905,000.

The reported reasoning for this decision includes the district’s need for stability, as opposed to evaluating Hite’s actual accomplishments. His record includes more school takeovers, privatization, layoffs, and outsourcing of union jobs that has resulted in more turmoil and instability, not less.

Philadelphia Public School students, families, and staff deserve to be a part of this decision in an actively engaged format. This decision should include actual voices, opinions, and data from the community at large, rather than another unilateral decision that looks and feels like the business as usual. The SRC should invite the community to a series of round-table discussions and actively utilize the conversations to make a more informed and shared decision in regard to Hite’s extended contract.

The SRC should use those conversations to re-evaluate the qualifications that our superintendent should possess. The School District of Philadelphia deserves a superintendent that:

  • has no affiliations with the Broad Foundation

  • is experienced with community engagement

  • demonstrated teaching and leadership experience within the School District of Philadelphia

  • demonstrates a willingness to work with all major stakeholders

  • demonstrates a commitment to public education

  • demonstrates the desire to work in conjunction with rank and file members towards a fair and equitable contract, and

  • demonstrates a passion to provide a top-notch education to all children regardless of zip code, race, ethnicity, sexuality or socioeconomic status by fighting for all of the resources lost in the last four years to be returned to each and every school.

This new proposal binds the SDP to Superintendent Hite’s leadership until August 31, 2022. Given the current situation, an early decision to renew the superintendent’s contract is not a sound decision. The district is in the midst of a budgetary crisis. The credit rating and the overall morale of the School District of Philadelphia is at its lowest. Major decisions continue to be made with zero input from the staff and families of our children. If any of these conditions cause the SRC to reconsider its decision and terminate Hite’s contract early, it could cost the district at least $300,000 per year.

If you do the math, our students simply cannot afford this decision.

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