Defend Public Education During Back-to-School Night

At back-to-school night this year, we need to remind our city we are still fighting for fully funded schools. This letter from a Central High School teacher has tips for how to host a "What's NOT Back to School" Night at your school:


[Photo from Central's 'What's NOT Back to School' Action last year.]

Dear fellow PFT & WE Caucus members,

As we begin yet another year of less than adequate funding for Philadelphia’s school children, it becomes imperative that we continue to tell the narrative. Class sizes are still too large, schools still lack fundamental staff such as NTAs, counselors, and nurses (now add substitute teachers into the mix), and basic supplies such as copy paper and textbooks are still lacking. 

At the same time, the Caucus is now embarking upon its listening campaign for the internal PFT elections. The one platform issue I would like to see included is that we become a PRO-ACTIVE union, not a RE-ACTIVE one. We shouldn’t simply wait for one slight after the other being to be lobbed at us by corporate reformers, Harrisburg and the SRC – only to reactively challenge them in court. We need to get in front of the train wreck and take the fight TO THEM.

It is in that spirit that we at Central High School have decided to launch our second annual “What’s NOT Back-to-School” rally this year. Central staff will be lining the sidewalk prior to Back-to-School night this Thursday evening, informing parents of these attacks on public education. 

The highlight of our rally will be a “Professional Development Textbook Resale Fundraiser” that we hope will raise over $1000 in order to buy much needed supplies for our school. Teachers are encouraged to donate their District-purchased Driven By Data books from this year (retail value $36.00) and Charlotte Danielson’s Enhancing Professional Practice (retail value $29.95) for resale through various online textbook buyback programs (click here). How DARE the district pay over $60 per teacher on corporate reform textbook garbage while our schools go without basic supplies.

When austerity has become the new norm, it’s vital to show that we’re still fighting for fully funded schools. I hope that you feel emboldened and choose to follow Central’s example by hosting your own Back-to-School rally and PD Textbook Resale Fundraiser. Feel free to use the flyers and press releases I have come up with. They are all in .doc format so that they can be easily adapted to suit your school’s needs.

In solidarity,

George Bezanis
WE Caucus member
PFT Building Representative
Central High School

P.S. Here are all the docs you need to get started:

What's NOT Back to School Night- Flyer for Parents: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Press Release: PDF / google docs

What's NOT Back to School Night- Poster Ideas & Mailbox Inserts: PDF / google docs



Community Power Survey: 3-5 Minutes to Build Grassroots Power!

There's never been a more exciting time to be a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. We've built a base of educators, parents, and community members that have taken Opt Out to the streets, fought to Reclaim our PD, and brought together almost 200 people from around the city to discuss racial justice and education for this summer's book clubs-- and that's just this summer!

But this has only happened because individuals have come together to share their knowledge, skills, and passion with one another. Jane McAlevey, who visited us in April, explained that as we build relationships with one another, we begin to recognize collective resources --personal relationships, social networks, and knowledge--which can be mobilized to build power and transform our communities.

As the next step in building power, we've created a survey that will allow us to better understand and map our collective power across the city. 

Please take 3-5 minutes to fill out this Power Survey (especially if you're in an all-day 'Driven by Data' PD!). We want all WE supporters to take this, no matter what your role or involvement so far:

Just to get you interested, here's our starting map of all Philadelphia public schools. Yellow dots are elementary schools, orange are middle schools, and blue are high schools:

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about power mapping, please email to get in touch.



An Open Letter in Defense of Art Class at Bartram H.S.

Dear Philadelphia,

I want to give you an update of conditions at Bartram. Perhaps you can spread this piece of positive news, even though it is mixed with some negative. Chris Palmer, John Bartram’s art teacher extraordinaire, has been CUT. After this year there will no longer be an art program at Bartram High School even though current Art Education Coordinator, Deborah Klose, states that all high schools should have at least two expressive art classes. There will still be CTE programs of graphic design and video production that are offered to a select group of hand-chosen students. However, the rest of the school will be left with one elective--music.

The district has predicted that Bartram’s enrollment will drop below 600 students, and thus requires less teaching staff. But, the elimination of a studio artprogram is the wrong target. Studies show that the integration of the expressive arts into school curricula has a measured positive effect in core subjects. Students need these expressive arts classes in order to aid their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Art is an essential and vital part of any high school. It breathes life into classrooms and provides yet another way for students to connect to their learning experiences. It “creates a unity of spirit and imagination,” and can help alleviate stress in an at-risk environment. Students need a chance to un-wind, express themselves, and regenerate in a district that only seems to value core subject proficiency. Studio Art, Dance, Music, and Drama are areas in which all students can express their thoughts and abilities in ways that use multiple intelligences.

Despite the lack of funding and lack of resources, Mr. Palmer, in his 7 years of tenure at Bartram, has created a strong art department worthy of any institution. He is an amazing artist who inspires students to create their own original pieces. I know that the students, their families, and staff have greatly appreciated his efforts. So, with art disappearing from the course selection at Bartram, I am extremely concerned about the detrimental effects this will have on the already distressed community of Bartram. I have seen students who are frustrated with their lack of academic success who thrive in art class.

In Mr. Palmer’s art class, I see English Language Learners, Special Education and regular education students working together in a collaborative classroom environment towards common goals…complete with differentiated instruction. I see “problem” students engaged and focused while working on their projects. I have also witnessed the undeniable therapeutic value ART has had on many of the troubled teens in the Southwest section of the city. Isn’t it ironic that this summer the PSD is offering PD for teachers in recognizing and dealing with victims of trauma?

As his farewell to the Bartram community, there will be an exhibition of pieces completed by his students of positive women role models titled, “Mothers, Daughters, Sisters.” The artwork is the companion show to his previous exhibition of positive male role models. You can see the positive impact of these previous exhibit on the lives of students in this video:

I do hope that you can spread this news on our efforts to maintain an art class at Bartram and retain Mr. Palmer as an exemplary art instructor.


Bartram High School Staff



Celebrate with Working Educators on May 15th!


Everyone knows that educators are the best partiers. Thanks to inspiring educators like you, it's been an incredible first year, and we're excited to party together. As a member-led organization, this year we have:

On May 15th, join us to celebrate the One-Year Anniversary of WE with:

✭Great food & drink specials!

✭Live music and a DJ!

✭Kids Fun and Crafts area!

✭Fun for the Whole Family!

✭Catering and entertainment provided by educators and supporters!

Bring your friends, colleagues, kids, significant others, neighbors, and all other friends of public education. Everyone is welcome, whether you're a longtime WE member, interested in learning more, or just want to party!

Want to help spread the word? Download the flyer to hang in your school or give to your coworkers.

RSVP online here

May 15, 2015 at 7pm - 11pm
Local 22 Union Hall & bar
415 N 5th St (right above Callowhill)
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Parking available at venue!

Free to enter, but donations highly appreciated to cover costs! Donate ahead of time here, or at the door on Friday.

Music by:
-The Jackroses (Rock/Folk)
featuring WE Member Chris from Bartram H.S.!
-Tamara Anderson (Singer/Performer)
Parent, community activist, and WE Steering Committee Member!
-Little Strike (Electronic/Alternative)
-Jason Cohn (Acoustic/Indie)
-Carter Woodz (Hip Hop)
Local Philosophy Professor and Member of the Hip-Hop ItAG!

Food by:
-Rochelle's Soul Food from Taggart Elementary 

Drink specials:
-$1 domestic draft.
-$2 well drinks and domestic bottles

Children's Area:
-Arts & Crafts
-Board Games

What's so different about Tuesday?

Most people’s eyes glaze over when they hear “meeting”-- or even worse, “membership meeting.” 

And for good reason: meetings tend to be associated with people shouting at each other, directives from disconnected leaders, buzzwords with no action, and feeling cut out of any meaningful decision-making.

So what's different about Tuesday's meeting?

For one thing, it's a place where educators, parents, and allies come together as equals to share the issues we face in public education and strategize together for how to solve them.

It's also a place where we will be having an open, transparent discussion about caucus leadership, as well as what fights to tackle next in order to strengthen and energize the rank and file of our union. Because WE ARE THE UNION.

Sound difficult? It might be.

Sound interesting? It will be!

We hope that you will join us this Tuesday to talk openly about the work we need to do to build our union, share skills and ideas for upcoming battles, and be inspired by some of the amazing work our community is already engaged in. 


Spring Membership Mobilizing Meeting: Tuesday, April 21st

Old First Reformed UCC

151 N 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

(Childcare and parking provided- see below for more info)


4-4:30: Snacks and mobilizing (plug into WE members' work)

4:30-6: Membership Meeting


Special break-out groups:

-Elections: Discuss WE endorsements for City Council, the endorsement process, and how we can win these races.

-Opt Out Movement: How has testing affected your students and school? How can teachers and parents work together to fight back against abusive tests?

-Reclaiming our Professional Practices: Push back against increasingly absurd evaluations and discuss empowering alternatives and pedagogies.


Some of the work you can learn about and get engaged with:

-Mayoral and Council Races

-Opt Out

-Organizing Skills Training

-Teacher Evaluations

-Pre-Service Teacher Campaign

-Parent Organizing Committee

-Monthly Discussion Group

-NEW: Charter Teachers Committee

-NEW: Monthly WE Newsletter!


Report from the SRC Meeting: "Continued Violation"

This report is from PFT Retiree and Caucus Member Diane Payne.

I went to the SRC meeting on Thursday, April 16th with my prepared speech, complete with examples on their continued violation of the Sunshine Act. No democracy anywhere evident in SRC proceedings. Kensington Urban High School was there in force to speak out against the school district's proposed closing of their school. In addition, resolution #10 was to suspend the school code which spells out a 3 month process in favor of a shortened 45 day process.

Students, parents, teachers, community members all spoke against both the closing and the suspension of the school code. However once again, the SRC locked arms and in complete disregard of the affected stakeholders voted unanimously to go right ahead and suspend the code in favor of a fast track to closing. (Not to mention their plans to move forward with privatizing substitute service and the convoluted Gallery tax deal.)

Another observation, at the beginning of the meeting, Chairwoman Neff informed the audience that they would be instituting a more transparent way of handling resolutions by posting them 3 weeks in advance instead of 24 hours in advance. Public voice is to be included, etc. etc. Funny that the Sunshine Act law suit is still outstanding. I wonder if they are just trying to save face because they still certainly aren't giving even a pretend nod to public engagement.

Finally, members of the Kensington School community became somewhat rowdy as the vote neared and even cursed -- the frustration of the continually silenced. They filed out after the vote and Commissioner Jimenez had the nerve to offer a "public apology" for their behavior. The arrogance of this out-of-touch-body is mind boggling. The SRC should be apologizing to them for a laundry list of harm.

The SRC meets the third Thursday every month at 5:30 p.m. in the auditorium of 440 N. Broad Street. Next month, they will institute their new resolution process.  So, the list of resolutions should be posted on the website May 1st for the May 21st meeting.  To register to speak, you call 215-400-4180 by 4:30 p.m. the day before the hearing.  Also, the SRC is traveling around the city to hold "community budget meetings."  That list is also posted on the district website.  The next one is April 22nd at Bartram High School.


Working Educators in the News!

WE has been featured in a number of big news stories recently! Please read and share widely, so that more educators and community members can learn about our work strengthening our union and public schools from the ground up.


-Earlier this month, The Notebook covered our First Annual Convention:

Caucus of teachers' union focused on social justice holds first conference

On Nov. 8, the Caucus of Working Educators (WE) held its first annual convention at the Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, where more than 125 teachers, counselors, and education advocates from Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey came to learn more about strategizing and organizing. 

“It’s a get-together, it’s a rally, it’s an informational setting,” said Kristin Luebbert, the communications chair of the caucus. “It’s all those things, to help expand the work we need to do for our children right now.”

The keynote speaker, Yohuru Williams, a professor of history at Fairfield University and a member of the Badass Teachers Association, compared the mission of the caucus and the goal of its first conference with Martin Luther King Jr.’s goals during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

“I want to be clear: We have the power to transform education,” said Williams. “I want to be clear, because our schools are not failing, it is our democracy that is failing. And we’re going to need to address and correct that if we’re going to be successful in endeavors to preserve public education.”

-Then, this week's edition of the Philadelphia City Paper wrote a profile of our work so far and where we're going:

Philly teachers hatch a militancy plot

WE, which boasts 141 dues-paying members, held its first convention on Nov. 8. Its quick growth could shape the larger fight to defend public education in Philadelphia, where thousands of jobs have been eliminated, charter schools have expanded rapidly with little financial oversight, dozens of schools have closed, preparation for high-stakes testing dominates much of the curriculum and now, because of the attempt to impose health-care cost-sharing, underpaid teachers face what is effectively a salary cut.

The PFT is the single most powerful force fighting for fair funding for city schools and opposing school closings and layoffs. Its weakness and inability to mobilize its members undermines the entire movement to save Philadelphia public schools.

The WE Caucus takes inspiration from Chicago's militant Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, which took over leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union in 2010. Then, in 2012, they led teachers out on a high-profile strike that grabbed national attention and, more important, received widespread support from parents and community members.

-This weekend, Philadelphia Magazine wrote a follow-up story to the City Paper article. Rather than citing that article, which you can read here, we'd like to offer the following response:

We are excited about every conversation on how to strengthen our union, and encourage everyone to read the full piece at the City Paper to get a more complete perspective.
While WE appreciate the shout-out, Mr. McQuade's focus on intra-union politics misses the main point of our caucus: to energize the rank and file membership of the PFT, build deep partnerships with parent and community groups, and fight for a vibrant and sustainably-funded public education system in Philadelphia. We want every teacher, parent, and student to feel supported and empowered to stand up proudly for the schools our students deserve. No matter who they are, where they work, or who they associate with. 


***Bonus news story: WE members Alison McDowell and Diane Payne were featured in various news outlets wearing their WE shirts at last week's City Council Hearing on Standardized Testing. Look out for more info on how WE is supporting the Opt-Out movement soon.


Corbett's out. Now on to the bigger fight.


Ghandi famously said "be the change you wish to see in the world". At this weekend's Working Educators First Annual Convention, we'll be sharing our visions for vibrant public schools and communities- and figuring out together how we can 'be the change' in our schools and communities to get there.

Please join us to share your ideas and energy to defend public education and save our schools from the ground up!


Working Educators First Annual Convention

***Newly added!: Lunchtime Tabletop Conversations. Topics will include our pre-service teacher campaign, opt-out, charter school teachers, and more.

Ready to make change in your school? To defend and transform public education in Philly and beyond? 

This convention is NOT your typical education or organizing event -- it will bring together stakeholders from across the city to help transform our public education system. 

We will be discussing issues relating to all educators and allies fighting for our communities and schools- parent and student involvement, charter schools, and organizing skills for everyone, just to name a few (see full program below).

Featuring organizers from Labor Notes, special guests from NYC's MORE Caucus, and Keynote Speaker Dr. Yohuru Williams.

Join us to build educator power in Philly through practical organizing skills, strengthening our community, and planning for the future:

Working Educators First Annual Convention
November 8th, 10am-3pm
Old First Reformed UCC
151 N 4th St (at Race)
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Childcare and lunch provided. Come for an hour or all day!
Please RSVP on our website or facebook to help us plan. But definitely show up whenever you can, even if you can't RSVP!

***Full Convention Program***

10:15-11:00: Opening Plenary: Creating the Schools our Children Deserve
Featuring Yohuru Williams

11:00-12:15: Discussion Sessions:
~More than just Health Care!
The Corporate Takeover of Public Education

~Lessons from Chicago
How to Reinvigorate Our Union from Below

~Taking Back Our City
Communities Standing Up for Democracy and Accountability

12:15-1:00: Lunch & Tabletop Discussions
-Pre-Service Teacher Campaign
-Charter School Teacher Allies
-Stories from MORE
-Opt-Out Philly
-Start your own!

1:00-2:15: Training Sessions:
~Are You a Social Justice Unionist?
Changing the Culture in Your School

~Parent Power!
Parents and Teachers Working Together

~Beating Apathy
Secrets of a Successful Organizer

2:15-3:00: Closing Plenary: What's Next? Building the Movement


Convention Preview: Social Justice Unionism

In advance of our first annual convention on Saturday, November 8th, we're previewing some of the day's sessions on our blog. This preview comes from Amy Roat, who works at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences and will be leading the session on Social Justice Unionism.

Many teachers consider themselves committed to social justice in their classrooms, but don't connect that to their Amy_Roat.jpgunion. Why do these two things go together?

Simply put, our working conditions are children's learning conditions.  I know people, especially teachers, tend to be squeamish about publicly voicing their needs and  rights because it may be perceived as selfish or self-serving.  Teachers are sensitive to public opinion because we are human, but also because we have been mocked and blamed for the last ten years from many sides.  It is humiliating, and I think good teachers fear the inevitable cat-calls and jeers of the "reformers" and their supporters. We are a tough group of teachers in Philly, but we are not immune to the onslaught of criticism. It hurts.

You've been quoted by practically every news publication in Philadelphia, and the New York Times, too. Many people are in awe of your work, but might feel intimidated by all that you do. Can you describe what the first steps are to becoming a more outspoken union member?

A year ago in August, PFT Communications Director George Jackson called me a few days before school. Our local Fox News was looking for a regular teacher to speak about the tragic cuts we were facing in 2014.  I was recommended by my staffer who had to listen to a lot of my views at the monthly Building Rep Meetings.  I was terrified of sounding dumb and nearly balked.  George had a PR guy call to prep me and talk me into it. after we talked for a bit he said, "Hey, you're the expert, you know what you're saying and you sound knowledgeable and sincere.  You can do it."  

After a protracted wardrobe consultation with my sister and a pep talk from my husband and brother, I was at Fox studios early in the am. You know what? They told me the same thing before I went on air. "You are the expert.  Tell us what you know. Be yourself."  The interview went well, and here I am today.  This is what I would say to teachers who want to speak out - be it at a Chapter Meeting, to a reporter, or at an SRC Meeting - "You are the expert. Tell them what your know. Be yourself. (And wear a solid color if you are going on television.)

Based on your experience, what's one change that you think people should make to improve how their union operates in their building?

The teachers in my school are friends - We go to happy hour. We eat cake when someone has a birthday. We have a shower if someone gets married or has a baby. If someone is sick, we ask after them. If someone needs a ride, we drive them. This is how we build our relationships and our school-based union. We actively include new members. They become family.

When there is discord, peace-makers step up.  It is a labor, but it is a labor of love.

Change the way you think about THE union. The union is not just the people who work on Chestnut Street. We are the union. The teachers in this school. We meet monthly, including, secretaries, counselors, paras and the nurse. We talk to the principal as a Building Committee about our mutual concerns and possible solutions. We develop our own game plan for pickets or actions. Together. No one on Chestnut Street needs to tell us what, when, why or how we do it. We are professional,  we do it all together because we are THE union!


Amy is just one of many Caucus members who will be sharing her wisdom and skills at the convention. Register now and learn more from her on November 8th!


SRC Testimony: Diane Payne

I am speaking today to Stand Up For The Truth!  This Commission took an unprecedented action in a deceitful manner and with the support of this whole body.  It was most disturbing that the newest member, Mrs. Neff, was in full cahoots with this plan since a lot of people viewed her appointment with hope.  That hope was dashed on Monday when Mrs. Neff joined Mrs. Simms as silenced speakers of truth.  Ms. Simms' audacious comment “We have to stop playing games with children”  would have been laughable except for the harm it causes. The largest players of a game are sitting right here in front of us and in Harrisburg, Mrs. Simms.

I am picking one truth to talk about today.  The truth that what the SRC did on Monday is only a piece of a bigger plan that has been in place for 13 years and is succeeding amazingly well.  That truth is close down public education and hand it over to private, corporate interests.  Accomplish that mission by asserting that public education is failing.

Doc. Hite was a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.  This Academy is funded by billionaire Eli Broad, who is a member of the 1%.  Eli Broad is one of an influential group of billionaires who believe they can control the landscape of education for their own profit, benefit and ideology.  The method they use is simple.  Control the dialogue!!  Put out the sound bites of what sounds reasonable and wrap those sound bites, slogans and messages in myths and lies.  Get mainstream media to print it, politicians to support it (because they bankroll the politicians)…then implement policy.

Dr. Hite, this commission and a large number of our politicians are implementing the policies that support the ideology of the Broad Academy.

*Slash and burn public schools and open charters in the name of choice

*Attack and attempt to weaken unions

*Strangle budgets to help the illusion of schools failing and make it easier to promote your slash and burn policy

*Implement the business model of chaos and disruption

*Introduce high stakes testing and tie it to school and teacher evaluation and high school graduation

*Force Common Core Standards onto schools, standards that are mired in controversy and debate

*Enlist TFA recruits who enter the classroom with 5 weeks of training and who rarely stay in the profession for more than a few years in place of fully accredited, qualified, dedicated teachers

Here’s the thing about all of these policies - they are built on the premise that public schools are failing....our public schools are not failing!!  Zip codes are failing.  This commission does not use evidence or research…here are just a few respected authors that refute your policies with evidence and research.  But, hey, that is not the dialogue that will allow you to pillage and plunder our schools and neighborhoods. Our urban schools are a reflection of the larger problems in our society and deserve unfailing support in every sense of the word and honest dialogue about ways to improve that are carried on with educators and community members AT THE TABLE.