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.Read more
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:Read more
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll help you figure out where you fit in the work.
It’s really that easy.
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.
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.
- Get 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!
As summer gets going, mark your calendars now to celebrate Philadelphia's union family at the annual Labor Day Parade and Picnic this year!
We will begin gathering at 9:30am at the Sheetmetal Workers Union Hall (1301 S. Columbus Blvd, near Washington Ave), with the parade to Penn's Landing kicking off at 10am.
Bring your whole family to celebrate after the march, at the AFL-CIO family celebration and picnic from 11-2pm at Penn's Landing! Click here to download the flyer to print or share on social media.
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
1210 Frankford Ave (just above Girard)
Philadelphia, PA 19125
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:Read more
"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.