WE Welcomes Caravana 43 of Ayotzinapa Families

"As we learned that these idealistic and dedicated young people were teachers they became part of our family as well." 

This Friday, parents of the 43 teaching students who were forcibly disappeared in Mexico last year will be visiting Philadelphia for an event hosted by La Casa Latina @ UPenn.

Working Educators is proud to welcome these brave parents to our city, and founding WE member Tatiana Olmedo explains why this event will be important and powerful:

In late September 2014 we learned that 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa had disappeared in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. These student teachers clashed with local authorities and were taken into custody and never heard from again.  These student teachers came from the communities in rural Mexico that endure extreme poverty and where people live in precarious conditions. The Teachers Schools they attend were established to give the young people of these areas an opportunity to create a better society and continue to give back to their communities. Their teachers’ training is rooted in social justice and working to educate people about their rights and demanding a true democracy in Mexico.

As the world learned of this tragedy we grieved with the families. As we learned that these idealistic and dedicated young people were teachers they became part of our family as well.  Their struggle for justice and democracy is similar to our struggle for our public schools, our communities and our own democracy. Meeting parents of these young heroes and listening to their accounts of their fight with the Mexican government for justice is a great opportunity and a chance to connect the dots in relation to the neoliberal reform movement and its place within public education. 

Please join us on Friday, 4/10 at 4:30pm at Penn's Towne Heilmeier Hall Room 100 (220 South 33rd St.). Click here for more info and to RSVP.

The Caravana 43 families will be speaking at a number of other events in Philly, which you can find out about here.

644451_10206042285041470_3985077235022562007_n.jpg (Translation: "They tried to bury us, but they didn't know that we were seeds")

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What do Philly Principals know about Opt Out? Read the District's Official Opt Out Protocol.

Earlier this month, this official Opt Out protocol was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment.

The Notebook has also covered the district's new distribution of Opt Out info.

If you encounter school administrators who are are NOT following this protocol, immediately send an email to optoutphilly@gmail.com, so that we can work to resolve the issue. No one should feel bullied or intimidated for exercising their legal right to review and opt out of these assessments on religious grounds.

(Want to see who else is opting out in your area? Over 350 families have already put themselves on the Opt Outs in PA Map!)

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Parental Request to View the PSSA/Keystone Assessments – District Protocol

Online Testing Sites

Schools testing online ONLY, must call DRC (1-800-451-7849) to request a paper copy of the tests to be used ONLY for parental review, if necessary.

Paper & Pencil Testing Sites

1. If a parent contacts the school with a request to view the PSSA/Keystone test.

     b. Provide this opportunity at a mutually convenient date/time no earlier than two weeks prior to the start of the testing window.

          ii. PSSA review start: Wednesday, March 25

          iii. Keystone review start: Wednesday, April 29

     c. Also, notify the parent of the location inside the school where this will take place

2. Make a copy of the Parent Confidentiality Agreement (Appendix of F of the Assessment Handbook)

     d. The parent MUST sign this before viewing the test

     e. Translations of this document also are available in the 8 dominant languages. Non-English speaking parents are allowed to bring an interpreter with them while viewing the test

     f. BOTH the parent and the interpreter MUST sign the Confidentiality Agreement prior to viewing the test/s

     g. The Test Coordinator or designee must collect all Confidentiality Agreements and keep them on file at the school.

3. The Test Coordinator or designee can break the shrink wrap and pull out any one formof the test booklet for the subject and provide it to the parent

4. The Test coordinator or designee MUST be present in the room throughout the time the parent is viewing the test booklet

     b. The test booklets should not be in the possession of the parent without the presence of a designated/responsible school staff

     a. Parents cannot take notes or communicate with others during the viewing and should not possess their cell phones during this time

     b. Test booklets for more than one subject can be viewed in one session. Many parents can view the test booklets in one viewing session

     c. The Test Coordinator or designee will collect the test booklet/s back from the parent/s after they have viewed it/them and lock the booklets back in the secure storage area

5. After viewing the test booklet/s, if a parent finds anything against his/her religious beliefs in the test content and decides to opt his/her child out of testing, he/she must write a letter (or send an e-mail) to the superintendent (hite@philasd.org) requesting that his/her child opt-out of the PSSA/Keystone testing. It is recommended that the principal be copied on the e-mail

6. On the day/s of testing, the school must provide alternative instructional activities for students who opted out

Download a PDF version of this Opt Out Protocol here.

Want to learn more about how to Opt Out in PA?: Check our our Guide to Opting Out in PA and Frequently Asked Questions for more info. 

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Opting Out of the PSSA: Frequently Asked Questions

If you'd like more information about how to opt out of the PSSA, or would like to see which schools in your area have families opting out already, take a look at our guide to Opting Out in PA.

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1.  Do I need to explain my religious beliefs with specific questions from the PSSA test on my opt out letter?

No.  A parent simply states "because of religious beliefs."  Once a parent reviews the PSSA, this is all that needs to be included in the letter:
On [Date] I had the opportunity to review the PSSA test and pursuant to Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4 (d)(4) I am hereby exercising my right as a parent to have my child, [Name] excused from PSSA testing because of religious beliefs.  
Parents must sign a confidentiality agreement. If they state anything specific from the PSSA test, THEY WILL BREACH THE CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT. Parents cannot, by nature of the confidentiality agreement, write specifically what they oppose for religious reasons on the PSSA test.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education explains this, see page 4, question 10 at Chapter 4 FAQ:
So, as long as a parent or guardian reviews the state assessment and provides a written statement providing his/her written objection for religious purposes (however vague that objection may be), the child must be excused from the assessment. PDE will not provide an opinion as to what is a proper religious objection.  
However, this false statement, and other similar false statements have been given to parents from their school districts:
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has made it clear that any objection to the testing materials for religious reasons must be specific in nature, must note the specific question or questions that are objectionable and the specific, religious reason for your objection. Please note a general statement of religious objection does not meet the intention of this review and will not be considered for possible exemption.
 
2.  My child is opted out of the PSSA testing, what will they do while their classmates are taking the PSSA's?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on page 9 of the PSSA Handbook:
If the student is excused from the assessment due to parental or guardian request, school personnel must provide an alternative learning environment for the student during the assessment and select “Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment."     

 

3.  When can I schedule to review the PSSA?  My school district has offered limited hours which makes it difficult for me to schedule a time to review.  

From page 9 of the 2015 PSSA Handbook for Assessment Coordinators:
Districts must provide a convenient time for the review. This may include an evening review time, if requested.

 

4. For more information about the Opt-Out Protocol: Parental request to view the PSSA and Keystone Exams-District Protocol

This document describes the process of opting out of PSSAs and Keystone exams. It was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment. If you encounter school administrators who are are NOT following this protocol, immediately send an email to optoutphilly@gmail.com, so that we can work to resolve the issue. No one should feel bullied or intimidated for exercising their legal right to review and opt out of these assessments on religious grounds. 

 

What other questions do you have about Opting Out? Let us know on facebooktwitter or at contact@workingeducators.org!  

 

Reposted from Opt Out Pennsylvania Blog.

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Opting Out in PA

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Update 3/26: Over 350 families have submitted their information to our Opt Outs in PA map!

Update 3/16: Almost 250 families have submitted their plans to opt out to our state-wide map! Check out which schools near you are opting out. If your family plans to opt out this PSSA season, make sure to submit your own info below.

-Would you like to opt your child out of PSSA's? Complete this simple form and give it to your child's principal to start the process. Feel free to share with other parents.

-Not sure of the Opt Out process? This document describes the process of opting out of PSSAs and Keystone exams, and was provided to ALL principals in the Philadelphia School District by the Office of Curriculum and Assessment. 

-Opting out can be a scary process- make sure to check out our frequently asked questions page.

-Want to see if anyone else in your area is opting out? Click here to view the map of planned Opt Outs in PA, or take a look below!

Do you plan to opt out? Complete this form and add your child's school to the map!

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The WE Guide to Building Power in the 2015 Elections

Working Educators is a group of educators, parents, and communities working to take defense of public education into our own hands. We know what our schools need, and we have the power to stand up for our schools by influencing the upcoming May primary elections for Mayor, City Council, and Judicial seats.

Whether you're new to the political world or an experienced campaigner, we need you! We're hoping to have vocal educators and allies at EVERY candidate forum happening over the next few months. 

Not sure what to say? Don't worry! Below you will find a script our Political Committee has put together that will make every candidate aware of our power. And there are printable copies for all of your friends, too.

You will find a list below of all the forums. Please sign-up for which forum you plan on attending, so that we can make sure all forums are covered and be in touch about strategy.

Sign up here to let us know which forums you plan on attending.

Want to get more involved in WE's political work to stand up for public education this election? Email contact@workingeducators.org for more ways to get involved.

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(WE members pose with Council Candidates Helen Gym and Kristin Combs at a WE Happy Hour)

1) Political Script for Caucus Members

STEP #1: Look up your ward and division for both your home and your school: https://www.pavoterservices.state.pa.us/Pages/PollingPlaceInfo.aspx

And your ward leader: http://www.seventy.org/tools/ward-leaders-committeepeople/democratic-party

STEP #2: Fill out your intro script for your questions:                                  

Hi my name is _______________________ and I am a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, a rank-and-file caucus within the PFT. I am a registered voter in the  __________ Ward, _________ Division. My Ward leader is ________________________. If you are an educator: I also teach at _______________________ , which is in the ___________ Ward, ___________ Division. 

STEP #3: Ask away!

  • Did you attend public school? Do you have any children? Did/Do they attend Philadelphia public, parochial, or charter schools? (Follow up with a why or why not question.)

  • Lack of funding from Harrisburg is a perpetual issue for the district. As the mayor/councilperson, however, you have the power to raise revenues from within Philadelphia itself. How would you go about this? (Follow up with questions about the 10 year tax abatement, PILOT payments from universities, raising the Use and Occupancy tax, Comcast tax breaks, etc.)

  • As you are most likely aware, many teachers – especially younger ones – haven’t been given their contractual step raises for nearly 3 years now. How would you help solve the contract impasse between the PFT and the District? How would you help to retain talented teachers within the district? (Follow up with a personal example of how much you have already sacrificed out of your salary.)

  • The mayor has the ability to appoint members to the SRC. Do you have any specific individuals in mind who you would like to see selected for such an important position? (This question would inadvertently gauge if the candidate is aware of the local control issue while also seeing if they personally know any public education advocates within the city.)

  • City council recently passed a resolution unanimously asking for the SRC to examine its use of standardized tests. What role do you believe standardized tests have in measuring the growth of a student? In measuring the effectiveness of a teacher? (This question should be able to tell you how familiar a candidate is with the Opt Out movement. If they aren’t familiar with it, follow up!)

2) Candidate Forums Calendar & Primary Election Timeline

Click here to sign up here to attend a forum (or more than one!). We’ll send a reminder!  

  • Saturday, 3/7 - Working Families Candidate Forum // 10 AM -2 PM // Arch St. United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad Street
  • Tuesday, 3/10 - Philly ADA Mayoral Forum // 7 - 9 PM // The Friend’s Center (1501 Cherry St. - MLK Room)

March 10       Last day to circulate and file nomination petitions

March 11       First day to circulate and file nomination papers

  • Wednesday, 3/18 - PFT District City Council Candidates (Members only) // 4:15 PM // Sheet Metal Workers' Union Hall, 1301 South Columbus Blvd
  • Wednesday, 3/18  - Food Policy Mayoral Forum // 7 PM  // Free Library Skyline Room, 1901 Vine St.
  • Thursday, 3/19 - Bicycle Coalition Better Mobility Forum // 6 PM // Friends Center (1501 Cherry St)
  • Monday, 3/23 - PFT City Council At-Large Candidates Forum (Members Only) // 4:15 PM // Sheet Metal Workers' Union Hall, 1301 South Columbus Blvd
  • Tuesday, 3/24 - Mayoral Candidates Education Forum (Questions sent in advance) // 6:30 PM // G.W. Childs School, 1599 Wharton St.

March 25         Last day for withdrawal by candidates who filed nomination petitions

  • Monday, 3/30 - - In Conversation with Philadelphia: Al Dia News Mayoral Forum // 5 - 8 PM // 30 S. 15th St., 15th Floor
  • Monday, 4/20 - Philly Tech Week Mayoral Forum // 6 PM // Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St.
  • Wednesday, 4/22 - Northern Liberties Mayoral Forum // 7 PM // 841 N. American St.https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

April 20       Last day for voters to REGISTER before the primary

May 19            MUNICIPAL PRIMARY!

Click here to download both of these flyers in a printable and shareable format.

 

Don't forget to sign up to attend a political forum, so that we can keep in touch! 

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(WE Political Committee members Luigi Borda and George Bezanis talk public education with Mayoral Candidate Jim Kenney at a WE Happy Hour)

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"Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC"

On Thursday, February 19th, History Teacher George Bezanis accepted an award for his work with the Central High School debate team.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC,

I appeared in front of you earlier in this meeting as a teacher, Debate Coach and Site Organizer for the entire A.S.A.P. League matches at Central High School. I posed for a photograph and accepted your award.

I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committee person in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…

Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…

Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools!”

Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district…

Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone…

Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge!

And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later.

Do you know how much my pay cut was last year? I didn’t get paid for running the Debate program, but continued to do so (free of charge) because I had to look my students in the eyes – not you. As we approach yet another September without a contract, my total lost step and degree wages are now approaching $15,000.

Meanwhile, this body votes in new charters it can’t afford, continues to hire 6-figure employees, extend contracts to Teach For America, and refuses to lobby for PILOT payments, abatement reform, or “interest rate swap” renegotiation.

Instead, you say that the PFT needs to give back. Don’t pretend to thank teachers like myself by giving them awards at the beginning of an SRC meeting, and then secretly voting to take away my contract.

If you really want to thank teachers like me, forget the cheap photo-op and
 

Get back to the negotiating table!

Give us a fair contract! 

Then, hopefully, you can 

Vote to dissolve this sham of a school board!

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Oppose Charter Expansion Tomorrow: What would you buy our schools with $273 mil?

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As Philadelphia educators, parents, and community members, we know the kind of schools every student in the city deserves.

Tomorrow the School Reform Commission will vote on the 39 applications for new Charter Schools. Working Educators will be there throughout the meeting to say "We Can't Afford More Charter Schools".

We are not alone. At the meeting tomorrow we will be joining allies from PCAPS, Action United, Parents United for Public Education, Youth United for Change, and more.

Furthermore, every Mayoral candidate has signed on to a letter saying "No New Charters" (except Anthony Williams, of course), as well as City Council President Darrel Clarke, Councilman Wilson Goode Jr., many City Council candidates, and other community organizations. 

We know what our schools need. In letter after letter written to the SRC opposing these new charters, WE members expressed the beautiful communities that exist in our public schools, despite an already dire financial situation. As one educator remarks:

For me, the Richmond School is an upbeat example of what a neighborhood school can be. It has strong roots in the community. It serves as common ground for students and staff of different racial groups, ethnic groups and cultural traditions, a building where we can come together in a calm and nurturing place. Generations of families have been welcome here. The stable, experienced staff is lively, vibrant, capable. Classrooms are focused on learning. I go every morning to the Richmond School because it makes me feel good about my city and hopeful about American democracy and American opportunity.

Please join us tomorrow to show the city of Philadelphia that educators, parents, and community members stand together in support of the public schools our students deserve. Sign up here and invite your friends on facebook

We will be distributing these flyers to fill out and make sure everyone knows that teachers and families are the real experts. Grab some from a WE member tomorrow, or print your own!

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Some notes for attending tomorrow:

  • The full meeting will be long (probably 4 hours!), but it's essential we stay through to the vote at the end so the SRC knows educators are organized and watching. It's ok if you get there a little late.
  • Last SRC meeting, they didn't allow signs into the building at all. If you make a poster, put it on paper that you can fold up and fit in your bag.
  • WE is a member-driven union, which means our ideas come from the membership. The above posters were made by two members. What's your idea for how to make this 4 hour meeting fun and powerful? Want to use your PD to host a poster-making party? Bring balloons? Choreograph a "no new charters" dance? Do it!

For more information on the charter threat, and community-led alternatives, check out this informational flyer from PCAPS.

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Push back against Charter Schools- Write a letter TONIGHT!

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“No child should be harmed so another child can be helped.”

This is what Donna Cooper, executive director of PCCY, wrote earlier this week about the 39 Charter School applications which the SRC will be voting on this Wednesday, February 18th at 3:30pm.

The pressure is growing for the SRC to vote down these charter school applications and support public, neighborhood schools. As Philadelphia educators, parents, and community members, we can make it clear that Philadelphia supports strengthening its public schools- rather than putting scarce resources into a new round of financially and pedagogically questionable charters. 

If you haven't written a letter yet to the SRC opposing one of the charter schools threatening your school or neighborhood, the deadline to submit letters is tomorrow at noon. Take a look at our step-by-step instructions (including analysis and criticism provided by the district's own Charter School Office), and then make sure to send your letter to src@philasd.org and contact@workingeducators.org so we can keep track of how many letters were sent.

Then, please spread this action in any education and parent networks you have. We've been hearing that parent email lists around the city are blowing up with parents opposes to these new charters- let's make sure they know that we're taking action!

Want some inspiration? The letters that have already been written and submitted show a deep love for the students and communities that make our public schools so special. Take a look, and then write your own today!

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How to Protect your School and Neighborhood from Charter Takeover

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On Monday, the School District announced that it would be voting on the 39 charter applications next Wednesday, 2/18. The slots to speak at that meeting have already filled up, but the district is still accepting public comment until noon on Monday 2/16.

We think that the best chance we have to influence the outcome of the charter vote is to provide specific, detailed objections to charters that are threatening the zip codes where we live and work.

Doubtful? Check out the charter application analysis reports -- the district did NOT play nice in their critiques of the holes in the applications. If you don't feel like combing through the reports one by one, take this quiz to see some of the harsh words the evaluators had for different proposals.

Reading the reports, it's also clear that the board played close attention to how much support was given for individual schools -- and also whether that support was authentic or cookie-cutter. (Independence Charter got a note in their report that they sent 100 letters... but that they were a form letter.)


We're looking to send at least 500 individualized letters to the SRC by next Monday.

Charter Letter Instruction Kit

To participate, do two things:

1. Download the instructions and follow them.

2. Collect the letters and e-mail them to both SRC@philasd.org and contact@workingeducators.org. No number is too small (or too large)! If you can get your whole school on board by calling a letter-writing session before report card conferences on Thursday, AWESOME. If you are a parent and you can get two neighbors to write, great. If there's no school targeting your zip codes, go one zip code over or write about a neighborhood that matters to you.

Remember, this is NOT a campaign against all charter applications together -- we already published that letter. Instead, we are asking you to take a look at which school(s) are near your home and work, explore what critiques were made of their applications by the district, and then write the educated, thoughtful commentary that the district and potentially the charter appeal board in Harrisburg need to hear.

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Announcing our Opt Out Toolkit

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Solidarity from Chicago: check out the resolution above that the Chicago Teachers Union passed in support of teachers at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences! The opt out movement has strength.

What information can you send on to families who haven't been educated about their opt out rights yet? With parent-teacher conferences just around the corner, check out our brand-new...

Opt Out Organizing Toolkit

Tool Kit Includes:

  • Opt out flyers
  • Informational flyers about opt out
  • Sample press release
  • Press contact list
  • Sample PSSA & Keystone problems for Test-Ins

Remember -- all of these tools are legal, and schools are required by law to provide their families with information on how to opt out.

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