Defend Public Education

  • How to Arrange A Work-To-Rule Campaign: One School's Story

    This past summer, the Caucus brought a proposal to the PFT executive leadership to run a city-wide work-to-rule campaign. The purpose of such a campaign would be to have educators work to the exact letter of their contract for a limited time only, in order to highlight the great lengths that we go to every day to hold our schools together. The PFT did not adopt this as a universal campaign, but did recommend it as a possible action schools could take this fall.

    Two essential pieces are educating families in advance of the action and running the campaign for a limited time only. The purpose is to reveal to the public just how many gaps educators fill, not to use that extra work as a bargaining chip. 

    Below is the story of how Mifflin Elementary arranged their Work To Rule Campaign. Reported by Caucus Member Pamela Roy.

    I am on the building committee at Mifflin, and last week we voted to do a work to rule action October 5th-9th. The first step was for the building committee members to reach out to all other members of the building to explain what it means and why we're doing it, to get them on board. A coworker and I worked on a letter to parents explaining the same, which will go home at the end of this week.

    Link to Letter Mifflin sent out (with detailed description of their actions)

    Link to PFT template letter (with handy "how you can help" section for parents to contact SDP and the SRC)

    During the week, we plan to support our colleagues in strictly following the contract. This means we are in at 8:20 and out at 3:09. No extra help offered to students on our lunch break, or contacting parents after school hours. No clubs will be held. No helping out with monitoring the schoolyard or cafeteria before 8:20 or dismissal procedures after 3:09.

    We are also doing an extra action per day. Monday we are wearing PFT pins (such as the ones that say "Respect" or "Every child deserves a school nurse everyday"). On Tuesday we are writing and sending emails to elected officials to lobby for full, fair funding. Wednesday, we will do the same via phone. Thursday is PFT red shirt day, and on Friday, we will gather after school for happy hour off campus to debrief and talk about what went well, and what didn't.

    The purpose of the action is for our parents and community members to understand how much extra work and effort we put in above and beyond what we are contractually required to do. Remember, parents are our allies, and it is important for them to help them see the current state of our schools due to current budgetary conditions.

    If you are interested in a similar action at your school, and would like additional information about how we organized ours, feel free to contact me at [email protected] with questions. 

  • Building Rep's Corner: How can I overcome apathy in my building?

    Welcome to the Building Rep's Corner, an advice column for union leaders written by experienced PFT building representatives. If you have a question you'd like to ask, or would like to contribute a column, please email us at [email protected]!

    Dear Building Rep’s Corner: With all the other challenges in the school day, I have trouble motivating members in my building to get involved with union issues or events as well. What can I do?
    Apathetic in Philly
    ~ ~ ~
    Patrick Sommer, Autistic Support Teacher and Building Rep, Greenfield Elementary

    Dear Apathetic in Philly,

    I do not know how much of an expert I am, but I will share my experiences with you. I'm entering in my 21st year of teaching and have witnessed staff interactions towards the building rep each year. I try to participate in as many pertinent activities as I can and encourage colleagues to do the same.

    You will, most likely, face a lot of apathy. This is our biggest problem as a union. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE THE UNION?!  You will probably hear a lot of complaints, i.e.; "Why doesn't the union do this?  Why doesn't the union do that?  I wish that we could just..."  

    Some people are so fed up that they do not even want to hear any details of what is going on or what they can do.  Some people say that they just wanted to vent, when they complain and I try to offer possible solutions or tactics that could lead to a solution down the line. Many feel powerless.

    I tell people that I recognize that everyone can not partake in everything, but I find it hard to believe when people have an excuse at every turn to participate.  It's not that hard to get a good number of colleagues to do informational picketing before school starts (especially if there's coffee and donuts), but, as you've seen, it's hard to get people to canvass, phone bank, etc.

    I try to share as much information as I can with our colleagues through email and face to face connections. I would say that talking to a colleague one to one, or even in a small group, such as those with the same lunch/prep time works better than the mass emails, but the emails are still important, especially for those that you've already been able to talk to one on one.  

    One of the ways I was immediately able to build face to face connections with my colleagues was through informational picketing on Friday mornings before school in May and June 2013 and 2014.  I started out as the building rep in May 2013. This just happened to coincide with a informational picketing campaign initiated by the PFT in early around the same time. I asked colleagues at Greenfield to join me in conducting informational picketing EVERY Friday through the rest of the school year. Wendy Coleman did take note of Greenfield's extra informational picketing efforts from the onset.  Jerry Jordan even stopped by once in 2014 and 2015 (I'm sure Greenfield's proximity to the PFT office played a part in this, but, nonetheless, it was good for staff morale). In addition, some students and parents participated. 

    It's still hard.  People are frustrated and scared.  With all positions being site selected and leveling being site selected (as principals simply need to write a "compelling reason"), people are afraid to be removed from their current position and forced to interview for a job for a position they were already interviewed for years ago.  Some people state that what they do doesn't matter and that the powers that be are going to do whatever they want to do anyway.  There are other reasons too, of course.  If someone is willing to talk things through with someone who is active, then there is a chance to change that person's perspective.


  • 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 [email protected] 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
  • May Day 2015: Forming Bonds of Solidarity

    We have said that WE cannot win the struggles we are currently waging for the future of our schools without forging bonds of solidarity with unions across the city. This Friday, join caucus members to enjoy music, food, and conversation with union members and activists from across the city-- don't forget to wear your WE shirt!

    MAYDAY Rally and Festival

    Friday, May 1st, 3 to 6PM

    Clark Park: 43rd and Baltimore 

    School nurse and WE steering committee member Eileen Duffey explains why she'll be there:

    May day, the international celebration of workers is recognized here in Philadelphia in a joyous gathering including many local activists we've seen at rallies this year. It's a great opportunity to celebrate with union supporters from across the city and to honor this year's recipients of the Aggie Moran award which is given each year the May Day event. Aggie devoted her life to furthering the cause of unions and justice.

    When the school nurses rallied for 22 weeks in 2012, the May Day organizers joined our rallies in solidarity. They later publicly recognized the nurses as recipients of the Aggie Moran award. In 2013 the SRC 19, a group of teachers and citizens who exercised civil disobedience when 23 public schools were shuttered, were honored at the May Day rally.

    The May Day celebration is a great way to be supportive, see friends, make new friends and allies in our mutual struggles, and still be home in time to enjoy your weekend. Hope to see you there.



  • 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.

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


    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!




    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.