On Saturday, November 8th, The Caucus of Working Educators will be hosting their first annual convention.
One of the many reasons to join us on that day: keynote speaker Yohuru Williams, who recently wrote about the situation in Philadelphia for the LA Progressive. Here's a taste of his analysis:
In spite of Commonwealth Foundation and various other entities efforts to paint teachers as the bad guys, a poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in September of 2013 found that 31 percent of residents placed responsibility for the crisis in the Philadelphia School District on the Republican-controlled state legislature and Governor. Another 31 percent blamed the Democratic Mayor and City Council and 21 percent blamed school administrators and the state-controlled State Reform Commission. Only 11 percent of those surveyed held the union or teachers responsible.
This is ultimately why the Commonwealth Foundation likely felt the need to hire counter protesters. The fact that they were willing to go to this extreme was of little surprise to Philadelphia teachers. They know that much of the drama in the city has been orchestrated by shadowy behind-the-scenes organizations, with popular sounding names, but funded by billionaires who have been very clear about the agenda to destroy the teachers union on their road to dismantling the public schools. Their broad reach extends through state and local politics and knows no party bounds. Both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, have received support from them — apparently in exchange for supporting the corporate education reform agenda including privatization of schools in the city of Brotherly Love.
As educators, we know that "high expectations" is more than just a slogan -- it's a necessity. If we want our students to succeed and go on to great things, we need to show them every day that we believe in them, and give them the encouragement they deserve.
For this reason, we are appalled by the actions of SRC Commissioner Sylvia Simms, who responded to nonviolent student activists with a verbal assault -- telling students that "You belong in jail," and "You must go to failing schools."
We believe that respect for students must begin at the top. We are ashamed of the actions of SRC Commissioner Simms, whose actions dishonor her role overseeing our schools.
To us, this incident reinforces our call for a publicly accountable School District. Her refusal to apologize only strengthens our call to eliminate the SRC.
Last week, Caucus of Working Educators members and their colleagues at Central H.S. organized a rally outside of back to school night, bringing attention to overcrowded classrooms, lack of custodians and counselors, and other ways that drastic education cuts affect our daily lives in schools. Placing 59 desks outside the school to demonstrate how many students 59 to a class really is, teachers and students handed out flyers (including in Spanish and Chinese) and spoke to families. Lois Weiner even gave a huge shout-out for the event.
What you probably haven't heard is that this action was put together over the course of only a few days, by full-time teachers teachers, counselors, and nurses. Here's the report from Central Biology Teacher KD Davenport:
A few weeks ago a friend shared an article on Facebook about teachers at Ridley Middle School holding a demonstration publicizing their contract situation at Back to School Night. I thought it was cool, and I thought, "wow, too bad we're not doing something like that." It wasn’t for another three days that I suddenly realized—Oh wait--we can!
With less than a week to go, I emailed a few other teachers at my school and asked if they’d be interested. “I know none of us have time to organize this,” I said, “but we will never again see as many parents as we will on Back to School Night.” On this night, I wanted parents to know about all the staff and resources that were NOT coming back to school because of the budget crisis.
I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. With every response to my email, it seemed, another staff member was copied. 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 on the first day of school; another put together a flier of facts and figures about the recent cuts; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese for parents who may not speak English. 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. President McKenna came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym from Parents United showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!
And even if you only have 5 minutes of spare time, you can do the same for your back to school night!
Here are some of the ways the WE members are speaking out about the state of education in Philadelphia --and what we can do to change it-- at their schools. Whatever the size of your school or the time you have available, these are some ideas to help you take action:
If you only have 5 minutes: Add a slide to your back to school night powerpoint about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year. See Central's flyer below for inspiration.
If you only have 15 minutes: Turn that slide into a flyer, and ask 2 of your supportive colleagues to hand them out as well!
If you only have an hour: Get a group of teachers at your school together to develop talking points and talk to families, just like Feltonville teachers did earlier this year.
If you have more than an hour: Organize an informational picket outside of your school! After a Central teacher came up with the idea, a small group put together some details, and pitched it to their colleagues at professional development.
What's your idea? Let us know! WE is here to support all educators in standing up for public education in Philadelphia.
Photo Courtesy of Jerry Roseman / City Paper
The Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH) has organized a petition that calls on the Mayor, City Council, and the SRC to require the school district to cooperate with a federal study about health hazards in Philly public school buildings. The study could greatly benefit students, teachers, and other staff, but School District has declined to participate. Unless the district reverses its decision by September 30, the study will be canceled.
Huge props to all the WE members who represented at the PFT General Membership Meeting on Tuesday night and helped spread the word about how the Caucus is working to strengthen our union!
Nat Bartels, Klint Kanopka, Amy Brown, Mark Stern, Diane Payne, Sam Mastriano, Shaw MacQueen, Tom Quinn, Sheila Myers, Eileen Duffey, Pam Roy, Chris Palmer, Tom Hladchek, Kristin Leubbert, Amy Roat, Ray Porreca, Peggy Savage, David Hensel, George Bezanis, Tatiana Olmeda, Max Rosen-Long, Lou Borda, Anissa Weinraub, Sam Reed, Bob Fournier, Mike Bernstein, Larissa Pahomov, Kelley Collings...
(Names are in no particular order. Sorry if we missed anyone!)
Wish that your colleagues participated in building meetings and other PFT events? Looking for inspiration as well as expert tips and tricks? Want to be more pro-active than reactive?
Then this boot camp is for you! RSVP now for our event.
Thursday, October 2nd / 4:30 – 6:30pm
IAFF Local 22 / 415 N. 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Parking can be found on the 400 block of Willow St.
Childcare and snacks provided!
While WE would like to see this as a sign that the SDP actually recognizes educators as capable of leadership and positive transformation, several of the initiative’s features raise red flags. The initiative may be an improvement over charter takeover and Promise Academies, both of which strip teachers of their professionalism and autonomy. However, the SRI is a long way from a comprehensive, sustainable redesign, and it undervalues both the communities it serves and the educators it employs.
- If this initiative valued educators, it would turn to schools first and work with that building's staff directly. Instead, it lets any group apply for control of any school, pitting current staff against any number of outside interests. (Groups must prove they have a “connection” to the school, but what exactly that entails is unclear.) Moreover, a winning group can force out all of the current staff.
- If this initiative valued local communities, it would allow those communities to select a redesign model for themselves. (Like the families of Steel and Munoz-Marin, who overwhelmingly voted for the plan proposed by their current educators!) Instead, it hands the decision off to a "panel" with no explanation as to how the members will be selected or how the group will reach consensus.
- If the district valued collaboration between educators and community members, it would have set the first deadline a month or two into the school year. This would give stakeholders time to listen to each other, share ideas, and make plans that best serve their students before forming a team. Instead, the letter of intent is due August 19th, less than a month from the announcement of the initiative, and in the middle of summer break.
- If this initiative believed in teacher professionalism and autonomy, it would allow all schools to create "redesign" programs. Instead, the initiative will only accept between two and ten proposals. These groups will receive a relatively small grant (around $30,000) and, more importantly, a three year "grace period" where they are exempt from district assessment and closure. Of course, the grace period doesn't cost a penny -- why not award this autonomy and safety to all schools, and trust teachers to be the professionals that they are?
Most importantly, this initiative distracts from the big picture in Philadelphia schools: without adequate funding, our schools will continue to be a shadow of their former selves. Any attempt at transformation before funding is restored is overconfident at best, and purposefully misleading at worst. Educators have been asked to "do more with less" for years while their colleagues are being laid off by the thousands -- and those same educators have been putting together redesign plans for years, in response to threats of closure and charter takeover. The initiative is our city's version of "Race To The Top," where a lucky few will win a small prize while all schools continue to struggle.
The rapid timeline, lack of transparency in its development, and unveiling in the midst of a funding crisis all lead us to consider the SRI with skepticism. As always, working educators in our schools are yet again being given the message that we are targets for takeover, turnover, and removal. If your school is eligible (see pages 32-35 of the PDF), please talk with your colleagues and mobilize your school community to defend itself from outside “reform.” Proposal letters for the SRI are due August 19th.
It doesn't take that many protestors to make waves! On July 13th, the Caucus turned out a group to protest Arne Duncan's recent appearance in Philadelphia, and the press took notice.
"We are protesting the high-stakes testing that are a part of this 'Race to the Top' [grant] damaging our schools," said Academy at Palumbo nurse Eileen Duffey, who held a poster that read, "School nurse says 'no' to Arne Duncan's high-stakes test."
Caucus members learned earlier that Secretary of Education Duncan will be visiting Philly tomorrow, and Philly teachers will be there to tell him what we think of his pro-testing, anti-public education policies.
Working Educators is encouraging people to join us at the DoubleTree Hotel (Broad and Locust) to protest Duncan's policies from 12-1pm. However, if you are unable to make it, there will be Caucus members at CCP from 10-11am as well.
Duncan will be making two stops, first at CCP from 10-11am, and then from 12-1pm at the DoubleTree Hotel at Broad and Locust. These visits were just announced publicly today via a City of Philadelphia press release.
Duncan has been an avowed supporter of corporate education reform interests. At last week's national NEA Conference, the country's largest teacher union officially called for Duncan's resignation.
Bring signs, sign-making supplies, noisemakers, and most of all- your passion and vision for a robust and equitable public education system in Philadelphia.
You may have seen the City Paper report about FSAS' breakfast protest. Below is a description of how that protest went from idea to reality, courtesy of Caucus Member and FSAS Building Rep Amy Roat.
Why We Protested
In September, my principal and the Food Service manager asked the staff at our school to serve breakfast to the students in Advisory. We had no staff to keep them safe before school, and there was a promise that we would get another Food Service employee if our breakfast attendance increased. It was a lot of hard work on the part of Advisors, and there were unintended consequences – a serious mouse and cockroach infestation.
Not only were we denied another employee after increasing our breakfast attendance 77%, but rumors abound that there will be a cut in staff in the cafeteria for next year.
How we Planned the Protest
Most importantly, teachers should develop relationships across the school – food service, school police, custodial staff and safety staff. Spend some time chatting -- it is not difficult to find common ground. We were all experiencing the ill-effects cutbacks of supplies and staff. We all feel disrespected and know that 440 is totally disconnected from our reality.
When I heard that we had won a $3000 prize for improving our breakfast attendance, I congratulated our Food Service Manager and found out the rest of the story. For some reason, the district was not allowing us to keep the money, and people from 440 were showing up for a photo op. That got everyone talking at lunch time.
By the next day we had a plan. I emailed a description of what was going on and described our protest plans. More importantly, teachers at every lunch period talked it up and reminded each other to wear red. The combination of an email and face to face communication is most effective. It is common for me to receive texts during the day that say ”did you know…” We are in the habit of communicating and taking action.
The day before the protest, two of us approached the food staff and told them how much we cared for and respected them. We were upset about the situation and were planning a protest, but we would not tell them the details to protect them. We contacted a reporter and offered him an exclusive if he guaranteed a story.
The day of the protest, we gathered behind closed doors and discussed exactly what we would do. Then we walked in together. A teacher took the pictures and emailed them to the reporter.
A solid protest requires trust, knowledge, discussion, agreement, publicity and action. This one took about three days to plan.