Labor Movement Comes Back Big After ‘Janus’

In January, Virginia teacher Nicole Loch attended a #RedForEd rally at the statehouse in Richmond. She arrived on a charter bus sponsored by the Fauquier Education Association (FEA), even though Loch had never joined the union—a decision she had resisted for 11 years.“It was a bus full of other educators from my county,” says Loch, a civics teacher at Auburn Middle School in Warrenton.

“When I got to Richmond, I saw the power of mobilization and strength in numbers,” she says. “I knew then I needed to join.”

Loch marched and chanted for a mile—from Monroe Park to the capitol steps—where the crowd numbered 4,000. Standing there—holding a sign with the words “I Teach, I Matter”—she realized that many of the 250 FEA members at the rally had been meeting for months to organize their road trip, produce T-shirts and signs, and arrange meetings in the offices of legislators to discuss education policy and funding in Fauquier County.

nicole loch

Longtime teacher Nicole Loch joined her local association the day after attending a statehouse #RedForEd rally. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

“I felt I had been left behind,” she says. “I had no idea what people in my county had been doing to prepare for the event because I wasn’t a part of FEA.”

A mere 24 hours after the rally, Loch had joined FEA and the Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union.

“Being an FEA member has emboldened me to speak out about the value of public education and demand action from local officials to do what’s best for children and educators,” says Loch, who became a building representative soon after joining FEA.

The Perfect Civics Lesson

Loch attended the rally, she says, because she wanted to show her students what it means to advocate for public schools.

“I teach them to exercise their First Amendment rights and speak out when they see injustice,” she says.

Loch had read about the massive 2018 educator walkouts in “red” conservative states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, which attracted 26,000, 45,000, and 35,000 protesters respectively. Within months, 267,000 more educators in Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina organized walkouts. She heard how educators, with the support of their unions, attracted public support and forced reluctant legislators to invest in schools and increase educator pay.

Arizona educators rally for school funding in April 2018.

The perfect civics lesson fell into Loch’s lap when Oklahoma educators took their fight to the polls last November and ceremoniously ousted 15 of 19 legislators in the state House. Why? They had voted against raising taxes to fund education. The previous spring, Oklahoma educators had organized a nine-day #RedForEd protest that ended when lawmakers approved a tax increase to pay for $6,100 average pay raises for teachers and $1,250 raises for education support professionals (ESPs).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. workers initiated work stoppages only seven times in 2017, the second-fewest since the agency started keeping records in the 1940s.

In 2018, aggrieved educators, parents, and other community members participated in 20 walkouts. That’s nearly three times the amount of the previous year. In addition to walkouts, innovative organizing strategies, social media campaigns, and town hall meetings have marked a new labor movement unseen in a generation.

Looking back, Loch says she was impressed by the solidarity of colleagues across the country but not enough to join her own union in the Commonwealth, a right-to-work state.

“I earn below what a professional with 11 years’ experience and a master’s degree should make,” she says. “I couldn’t make sense of the expenditure.”

Power in Numbers

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) decision last June. The plaintiff, Mark Janus, was an Illinois state employee who received the raises and benefits negotiated by his union. The ruling allows him and other public sector workers the right to benefit from union contracts without having to pay their fair share for that representation.

kember kane

Maryland teacher Kember Kane speaks at a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2018 during Janus deliberations. (photo: Jay Mallin)

Janus overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education—the 1977 case in which the court unanimously upheld fair share fees that support collective bargaining. Each state was left to decide whether to permit such fees. With Abood, workers who didn’t want to join a union didn’t have to. Rather, they paid a reduced “fair share fee” or “agency fee” to cover the cost of union representation and bargaining services that unions provide for the benefit of all employees. Such fees were reduced amounts charged to workers who opted out of union membership. By law, the fees could not be used for political purposes.

“There are many educators in my building—as in many schools—who don’t know how powerful they are until they organize,” says Loch. Since the Janus ruling, almost 30 new members have joined FEA, bringing total membership to 460.

Bargaining for the Common Good

NEA had projected a loss of as many as 200,000 members in addition to 90,000 agency-fee payers after the Supreme Court decision. Instead, as of March, more than 217,000 new members had joined NEA since the Janus decision, and the Association has more members today than it did last year be-fore the Court’s decision. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), with 1.7 million members, added 88,500 members by the beginning of this year, which offset the 84,000 agency-fee payers the union lost after the ruling. Even case defendant AFSCME reports that for every member opting out since Janus, the union has gained seven new members.

david jeck

Superintendent David Jeck granted educators of Fauquier County Public Schools professional leave to attend the January #RedForEd rally in Richmond. Jeck is an FEA member. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Almost 15 million Americans still pay dues to unions, according to BLS. Increasingly, those unions are supporting campaigns that benefit the entire community. Across the country, unions are helping to champion improved public transportation, healthcare, and public education.

In the nation’s new non-agency fee environment, NEA has supported grassroots #RedForEd movements by providing expertise in digital communications, logistics, member mobilization, research, and legislative strategy. In states across the nation, NEA has helped parents, students, and educators win billions of dollars in increased funding for public schools.

Since 2014, the NEA Center for Organizing has worked with local and state affiliates to develop union leaders, expand membership, and engage educators. Through Education Summer, for example, the center trains members for six to eight weeks to become education organizers who can identify local issues, recruit new members, and establish community relationships.

The center’s New Educator Campaign is another example of NEA’s efforts to recruit and retain members. Operating year-round, the campaign works with incoming teachers, ESPs, higher education members, and association leaders to build a culture of organizing in a post-Janus world of voluntary union membership.

At the state level, for example, more than 19,000 North Carolina educators with support from NEA rallied last year in downtown Raleigh to demand better pay and increased funding for public schools. The power of collective action was exhibited again in Raleigh at a second march in May with 20,000 more educators in attendance.

On a local level, the California Federation of Teachers funds the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)—an advocacy group for low-income communities of color. Before Los Angeles teachers organized a walkout in January, ACCE members and other groups—like Reclaim Our Schools LA—articulated demands for smaller class sizes, reduced random student searches, and more social services, that the union brought to the bargaining table—and won.

‘Janus’ Was Personal

Nationwide, educators are publicly and audaciously voicing their opinions about how to recruit, support and retain teachers, ESPs and higher education members.

Officials with NEA-Rhode Island (NEARI) had predicted a 20 to 30 percent membership loss in the first year after Janus. Instead, NEARI had gained about 275 members by March.

Sarah Markey is a NEARI UniServ director, and co-presenter of a workshop titled, “Engaging ESPs After Janus.”

“After the Janus decision, we were heartbroken,” says Markey. “It felt very personal, intended to hurt the people we care about most: educators and students.”

Markey’s co-presenter, Kristin Chase, is president of the 160-member East Providence Teachers Assistants (EPTA). Statewide, she says members were prepared for a worst-case scenario after Janus.

“I’m happy to say that a vast majority of our locals remained steady,” says Chase, who is the NEARI vice president for ESPs. “We saw no noticeable difference in any membership category.”

Kristin Chase (left) and Sarah Markey of Rhode Island conducted a workshop at the
NEA ESP conference in March involving the ‘Janus’ ruling.

Chase and Markey say this positive result is due primarily to one-on-one member engagement, which they stress in their presentation.

“Getting more members to step into leader-ship roles is a huge component in sustaining active participation for the long term,” says Chase, who helped EPTA achieve 100 percent membership.

Anti-union organizations, think tanks, and right-wing activists backed by corporate donors, including ultra-conservative billionaire David Koch and his brother Charles; U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family; and the Bradley Foundation, had long been preparing for a case like Janus as part of a larger campaign to undermine the power of unions.

On the heels of the Janus decision, these anti-union forces have funded dozens of lawsuits across the country designed to weaken the labor movement. And with an increasingly partisan judiciary, unions cannot rely on the courts to do justice.

“It is the continued activism of educators that will lead to a better future for public schools and students,” says Markey.

Stay Ready

“It’s clear that corporate interests want to get educator associations out of their way,” says Brian Nelson, who is president of NEA-South Kingstown (NEASK), and a math teacher at Curtis Corner Middle School in South Kingstown. “Their goal is to privatize the education system and turn it into a profit bearing institution.”

In the months before the Janus ruling, Nelson attended educator meetings and union gatherings at schools across the district to discuss the ramifications of the case.

“I explained that if collective bargaining is weakened or eliminated, it would impact their salaries, health care quality, retirement benefits and workplace environment,” he says. “We didn’t lose members after the Janus decision. No one opted out.”

To increase their community presence, and to enhance their own team spirit, many of the 310 members of NEA-SK bowl together and organize other social outings. “At times, I felt each school was on its own island,” Nelson says. “Bowling nights help to bring us together and provide community members with the opportunity to approach us and discuss our work with students.

Brian Nelson welcomes the new post-‘Janus’ era.

“While building a more public profile, NEA-SK members have already won a formidable victory. During the summer and fall of 2018, they worked with other community groups to prevent the closure of a beloved elementary school, which was opened on time in September. And last November, four out of the five pro-education candidates endorsed by NEA-SK for town council won by large margins.

“The election was our golden opportunity to create the change that our members deserve,” Nelson says.

Approximately 865 NEARI members reside in South Kingstown—even though they work in other towns and belong to other locals. If spouses and domestic partners are included, the number jumps to 1,730 allies.

“We capitalized on that affiliation and had a strong show-ing on Election Day that flipped the council,” says Nelson. One of the council members elected was NEARI’s Sarah Markey.

NEA continues to work to support affiliates across the country as they plan collective actions on behalf of their students and schools. This work is the manifestation of New Business Item 48, passed by delegates to last year’s NEA Representative Assembly. The measure called on NEA to support a national campaign of labor action to save public services, fight for union rights, and improve NEA members’ living and working conditions. Educators in affiliates nationwide are leading the campaign. And NEA is helping them win.

“It’s been amazing to see what educators are doing for their schools, students, and communities,” says Markey.

Empowered Educators

About 250 people attended a March budget meeting of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in Warrenton, Va., many of them wearing red T-shirts with the words, “Advocates for Change.”

All but one of the 46 speakers addressed education funding, teacher and ESP pay, campus facility upgrades, and other school issues.Two days later, at a joint work session between the board of supervisors and county school board, FEA President Lauren Brill sat in the front row with FEA colleagues Carolyn Leach and Bobby Jenkins.

“Until recently, people felt like they weren’t being heard,” says Brill, a teacher at Margaret M. Pierce Elementary School in Remington. “Richmond was a spark for change.”

“However, being heard and being funded are two different things,” she adds.

Virginia is the 11th wealthiest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as Number One for business. Yet, the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 32nd in teacher pay.

“Virginia teachers are paid about $8,500 less than the national teacher’s average salary,” says Superintendent David Jeck, who granted professional leave to educators wanting to attend the rally. “With regard to state funding for schools, we are still below 2009 levels when adjusted for inflation.”

In Virginia, teacher pay scales can vary from one county to the next due to state funding, property values, and variations in local tax policies. In neighboring Loudoun County, for example, a first-year teacher with a master’s degree earns $55,941 per year, or about $1,000 more than a teacher in Fauquier County with a master’s degree and more than 10 years’ experience.

Together with a higher cost of living, four out of 10 educators are forced to live outside the area where they work, says Leach, a teacher at C. Hunter Ritchie Elementary School in Warrenton, who lives in neighboring Midland.

“The state does not give us that much funding,” she says. “This affects school conditions, pay scales, and where people can afford to live.”

FEA members Carolyn Leach (left), Bobby Jenkins, and Lauren Brill meet regularly with school administrators. (photo: Philippe Nobile)

Superintendent Jeck is a former teacher, coach, and principal, and current FEA member.

“It just made sense to join FEA,” says Jeck, who wore a red T-shirt at the Richmond rally and addressed the crowd on behalf of Fauquier County educators. “Their messaging is right.”

Jeck and Brill often meet informally to discuss education issues. They share pride in the county’s 96 percent graduation rate, close-knit community, and collaboration between educators and administrators.

“We have monthly sit-downs,” says Brill.

Jenkins is a county school bus driver and FEA’s vice president. He and other ESPs meet with FEA member and Assistant Superintendent David Graham at least once a month for breakfast.

“He (Graham) use to drive a school bus,” Jenkins says. “We understand each other.”

As in many parts of the country, Virginia educators have not been discouraged by Janus or any other anti-worker, anti-union court rulings. Instead, they took matters into their own hands, taking the battle to the steps of the statehouse and the public sphere. They signed up new union members, rallied against the underfunding of public schools, and joined a labor movement with broad public support.

“Wherever you live in this country, policy makers need to hear from us and be held accountable,” says Jenkins. “The union gives us leverage and a voice.”

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“If We Don’t Do Something, It’s Never Going to Change”

(photo: Joe Brusky)

At the panel discussion on educator walkouts at the National Education Writers Association (EWA) conference this week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was asked what was driving this unprecedented activism happening across the country, including the latest action in Oregon this week.

“A moment in West Virginia became a movement,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “It is inspiring. It’s energizing. And it’s always a little scary because no one knows how these things will turn out, but so far we’ve had 100 percent success in that every place where teachers have raised their voices and thrown on their #RedForEd t-shirts and gone to the public, they’ve won support. [It’s about ending] the absolute neglect of education funding and giving kids the programs and services they need.”

People are hearing what educators have been saying for years: There is much more that should be done to support public education. It hasn’t been enough for decades.

“Parents, the public, have all marched with their educators in support of more funding for education.” Eskelsen García said. “They’re asking, ‘What do you mean you have to pay for your own supplies? What do you mean you have 40 students in classrooms.’ ”

Panelist Kathereine Strunk, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said we know that kids who miss school on a day unexpectedly miss learning. “If you miss five days of school for a snow day you miss learning,” she said. “We expect to see studies about kids and learning loss from strikes. These are not costless to them.”

Educators walkouts have resulted in more funding for students, Eskelsen Garcia responded, but she’d never seen kids win a million dollars for their school after a snow day.

Dov Rosenberg, an educator from Durham Public Schools in North Carolina who joined his state walkouts, said they are taking action because for the students who are not getting what they deserve and that parents and teachers want the same thing for their students.

“We demonstrate because we feel nobody is listening; it’s necessary to do something we know will have an impact,” he said.

If we don’t do something, it’s never going to change. Teachers keep picking up the slack.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

To lesson the impact, Rosenberg told the panel how they had organized food distribution centers so the kids who rely on them can still receive free breakfasts and lunch.

“We can’t provide childcare, and it is a hardship, these aren’t easy,” he said. “We stay mindful of how we can serve students on days we are striking so there is less hardship.”

Many students, he added, marched with their parents alongside their educators, getting a real-life education in civics and political action.”

Shar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports more charter schools, told the audience that the unions would have the public believe that walking out is the only lever they have to pull. Jeffries said educators should exhaust every lever before leaving the school or classroom to protest.

Rosenberg responded that political action isn’t harming students when the whole point of a walkout is to improve students learning.

“It is the last lever. We tried phone banks, letters to representatives, and supporting legislation that would increase funding, and it didn’t work. We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor. We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

Madeline Will of Education Week, who moderated the panel, asked how unions are faring in the wake of the Supreme Court Janus decision.

“Our membership is up all over the country when we were supposed to be plummeting,” said Eskelsen García . “We are energized. This is about the Koch brothers and their ilk trying to get rid of our membership. We know the only power we have is a collective voice…. And we have three million professionals who love their students and stand ready to put their boots on the ground.”

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Say Thanks on Teacher Appreciation Day

It’s that time of year again: Teacher Appreciation Week, and National Teacher Day is May 7!

Over the past year, more than ever before, teacher voices have been heard  – and not just in classrooms. These educators are making a difference across the country and in their own communities.

The #RedForEd camapign  has united educators, parents and students in a powerful movement to advocate for and protect the nation’s public schools. After years in which funding for public schools has stagnated or even fallen, teachers are demanding the support and learning environments that students in every neighborhood deserve. The campaign has been waged on the streets, on social media, in the legislatures, and at the voting booth.

Supported by the National Education Association’s 3 million members, National Teacher Day 2019 has two main goals: thanking teachers for their commitment to students, and encouraging talented and committed individuals to consider becoming teachers.

On Wednesday, May 8, NEA is encouraging the public to support #RedForEd and show appreciation for the educators who are advocating for better learning conditions for their students and pay and benefits commensurate with the demands and responsibilities of teaching.

The campaign is asking people to show solidarity and wear red, and to share their reasons for supporting the campaign on social media.

·       #ThankATeacher with NEA’s help using our Thank a Teacher Toolkit.

·       You can show your appreciation for the teachers in your life and teachers across the country by sending a card through social media or download the cards for print here.

·       You can print a Certificate of Appreciation for your favorite teacher here.

So thank you to all educators. Whether it’s your first year or fourth decade in a classroom, we know the job is enormously challenging. Still, you connect with students, inspire them, unlock their potential. Thank you for your dedication, creativity and passion! 

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Virginia’s Rodney Robinson Named 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

Rodney Robinson, a social studies teacher in Richmond, Virginia, was named the 2019 National Teacher of the Year on Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Robinson, a 19-year veteran of Richmond Public Schools, teaches at Virgie Binford Education Center, a school inside the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center. CCSSO commended Robinson for creating “a positive school culture by empowering his students – many of whom have experienced trauma – to become civically-minded social advocates who use their skills and voices to affect physical and policy changes at their school and in their communities.”

Robinson says he looking forward to helping lead a conversation about the students he calls “the most vulnerable in society” and how the nation can address the school-to-prison-pipeline that has pushed too many kids out of school.

“This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America,” Robinson said.

At the Virgie Binford Education Center, which serves youth ages 10-18, Robinson uses a social studies curriculum that centers on juvenile justice and the prison system. Robinson collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Forman Jr at Yale University in developing the unit. The curriculum allows “students to step outside of themselves and examine the system and the circumstances that have led to their incarceration and a better understanding of how to avoid future incarceration,” Robinson wrote in the introduction.

Robinson, who previously taught at Armstrong High, Wythe High, and Brown Middle School, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in administration and supervision from Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to being published three times by Yale, Robinson has received numerous awards for his accomplishments in and out of the classroom, most notably the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence.

A proud member of the Richmond Education Association, the Virginia Education Association, and the National Education Association, Robinson is a vocal and dedicated union activist, and was a featured speaker at the VEA Fund our Future rally in Richmond.

Robinson is standing up for students who “feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated, and undervalued in America,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  “He is not only a beacon of light but also a mentor, a leader and a role model in the fight for racial and social justice in education….Every student in every public school in this country deserves a teacher like Mr. Robinson no matter their ZIP code or their circumstances.”

Robinson has focused great deal of his efforts on the need for mental health services in schools and singles out the stigma surrounding treatment. As teacher of the year, Robinson will have a heightened platform to advocate for the students who are being left behind by budget cuts and a system that emphasizes punitive discipline over preventative and rehabilitative measures.

“I want school counselors, I want conflict mediators, I want restorative justice, I want people to come in and actually work with the kids and not just put a kid in handcuffs whenever there is a minor disagreement,” Robinson told WCVE Radio in Richmond.

Robinson says the positive influence black educators can have on the lives of vulnerable students cannot be overstated. When he was a student at King William County High School in the 1990s, Robinson admits he struggled “to find his place” and looked up to his band director Mr. Calvin Sorrell, who at that time was the only male, black teacher in the district. Today, only 15 percent of licensed teachers in Virginia are people of color.

“It’s important to have role models of all races and ethnicity — especially for students of color,” says Robinson.

After graduating high school, Robinson set his sights on becoming the kind of educator many students who have made mistakes desperately need.

“Most are in survival mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week… but they still persevere and strive for success. They are my inspiration, and I will fight to my last heartbeat for them,” Robinson says

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For ESPs, Being the Best for Students Requires Continuous Learning

Andrea Beeman (left), Matthew Powell, and Kimberly Scott-Hayden have helped implement the ESP Professional Growth Continuum.
(PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

It’s common knowledge amongst educators that professional development for education support professionals (ESPs) is largely non-existent or irrelevant, if offered at all. Whether five or 20 years on the job, ESPs receive limited access to career learning opportunities unless they provide it themselves.

“Everyone thinks professional development is for teachers only,” says Matthew Powell, custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. “But ESPs also need the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers.”

After working for 12 years as a special education paraeducator, Powell returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in educational studies. To meet expenses during this time, he worked as a school custodian on the night shift.

As a member of NEA’s ESP Careers Committee, Powell is working alongside ESPs and teachers from across the country to increase professional learning opportunities for school support professionals. Already, the committee has led to the development of new universal standards that provide a pathway for professional growth for ESPs throughout their careers.

These universal standards are outlined in the ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC).

“At the end of the day, if ESPs increase their skills and knowledge, it’s students who ultimately win,” says Powell, recently named the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year.

The PGC provides the first ever career continuum for ESPs grounded in eight universal standards within three levels of practice: Foundational, Proficient, and Advanced/Mastery. This landmark resource describes applicable standards and levels of practice across all NEA ESP job categories.

Participants can choose to work independently or join a group, known as a professional learning community. Several NEA affiliates across the country are working with members and other education leaders to develop student-centered learning opportunities aligned with the PGC to support ESPs in their professional practice.

“It goes back to wanting to be the best we can be for our students,” says Powell, who helps implement PGC standards for custodian and maintenance service workers at Grave County Schools. “The PGC gives us that opportunity.”

Local Successes

In New Jersey, Kimberly Scott-Hayden led the development of trainings for East Orange Maintenance Association (EOMA) members using PGC standards. The program started after Scott-Hayden approached Dr. Kevin West, East Orange School District Superintendent.

“Before anything, you need to effectively communicate a message, a perception, or a theory,” says Scott-Hayden, who first enticed Dr. West with an idea about training ESPs to communicate more effectively at work.

In East Orange, EOMA’s original 32 members were the first to join the training sessions. Scott-Hayden and Dr. West decided to begin with this question: How can I grow professionally to become more culturally aware and effective in communicating with students and colleagues?

Scott-Hayden and the team found that discussing culturally sensitive issues can be difficult. Still, they asked participants how they collaborate with members from culturally diverse groups, how they evaluate their ability to recognize reactions in individuals different from themselves, and how they address the consequences of inequities based on identity or group membership.

“Understanding the culture of your community gives you a better sense of your students,” says Andrea Beeman, a paraeducator who serves with Powell and Scott-Hayden on the NEA board and ESP Careers Committee.

Once educators saw the passion of Scott-Hayden and her team, the New Jersey program quickly expanded across East Orange. The team was awarded one of NEA’s Great Public Schools Fund Grants for $90,000 over three years starting in the 2018-2019 school year. She says she could not have predicted the spike in membership after the grant was issued, which reached 370 members to now include teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, and security guards along with the original maintenance workers.

Members of the ESP Careers Committee met in March at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.                 (PHOTO: Andrea Kane)

“Just based on the work they are seeing, people have said, ‘I’m buying into this.’ It builds capacity,” says Scott-Hayden. “It gives you an opportunity to show your district that you are an important stakeholder in your career development. You can use PGC to bargain, as leverage to increase your salary, or for career advancement. It will cultivate leaders.”

In Ohio, Beeman says trainings aligned to the PGC will help close the achievement gap.

“In order to do my job effectively, I have to know a student’s strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations, hopes and dreams,” says Beeman, who works at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights.

Along with opportunities for professional growth offered by PGC is the chance to better connect with students, Beeman explains. She says students want to know a few things, such as: Will you help me, do you care about me, and do you see me as an individual.

“Responding to that begins with gaining a clear understanding of a student’s racial and cultural background,” Beeman says. “My focus is to meet my students where they are and on their terms.”

How the PGC Works

While the continuum provides a career path toward personal and professional growth, it is not meant to be linear or hierarchical. The model is fluid so ESPs can build their professional capacity in one or more standards. Participants might be “proficient” in one standard and “advanced” in another based on how skills compliment on-the-job experiences and training.

NEA offers an opportunity for members to conduct a PGC self-assessment and strengthen their knowledge and skills through NEA micro-credentials, which are short, competency-based recognitions that allow educators to demonstrate mastery in a particular area. Micro-credentials are available for each of the eight universal standards outlined in the PGC. By completing micro-credentials, ESPs can learn how to use the standards to reflect on current levels of skills and knowledge and map out opportunities to grow in their professional practice.

“As educators progress through the levels of practice, increased knowledge and skill levels are going to help them when they engage in difficult cultural conversations with students,” Beeman adds.

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‘A Deal is a Deal’: Sacramento Educators Go on Strike

The #RedForEd wave hits Sacramento. Today, April 11, more than 2,800 Sacramento educators are on strike to protest the Sacramento City Unified School District’s (SCUSD) bad faith bargaining and to support a fair settlement that includes additional resources, such as art and music, smaller class sizes, more school nurses, and psychologists. The contract also includes an 11 percent increase in teacher salaries.

“[The strike] grows out of frustration of the failure of the superintendent to honor a contract that he signed more than a year ago, and the continued treatment of our contract [as] optional, [instead of] something that’s binding on both parties,” David Fisher, a second-grade teacher and president of the  Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA), said in an interview.

The superintendent is Jorge Aguilar, whose refusal to honor the contract has led to the city’s first strike in nearly 30 years. SCTA members voted by 92.3 percent to protest the unlawful, unfair labor practices by superintendent and the school board.

In November 2017, after more than a year of bargaining, SCTA and the district settled and signed a bargaining contract with a commitment to reprioritize resources toward students and classrooms. Since then, the district has committed 31 unfair labor practices. Now, the district is back tracking on the mutually agreed upon contract that meets the needs of students.

Thousands of educators, students, and parents will hit the picket lines to demand that SCUSD keep its promise to lower class sizes and increase student services—and to act lawfully and remedy its illegal actions that are hurting nearly 50,000 Sacramento public school students.

Sacramento’s Kara Synhorst, an English teacher of nearly 20 years, captured the sentiments of many educators in a video posted to Facebook: “I’m offended and insulted at the way teachers are being portrayed…My union has offered ways for the district to save money…If anyone is refusing to come to the table, it’s Mr. Aguilar and the district. We have a contract. Don’t ask us to negotiate a new one when you won’t even implement the last one—because [as] my students already know: A deal is a deal.” Synhorst was speaking directly to Aguilar.

The local argues that instead of honoring the contract, the district mismanaged funds and is now $35 million in the red. A state takeover threat looms over the district, too. But this wasn’t always the case.

The district was in the best financial position in its history up until 2017, when the contract was being bargained. Discussions centered on how the reduced costs in the district’s healthcare plan would generate more money. The plan was to negotiate further down the road and apply those savings toward schools.

Instead, the district went on a “spending spree, adding more than $6 million in vacation buyouts for top administrators,” explains David Fisher. This resulted in deficit spending for the first time in years.

In an interview with Education Week, Fisher said, “This really feels like a betrayal…If a district can just throw up their hands and say, ‘Yeah, we know we agreed, but now our budget situation has changed, so we’re not going to do it anymore,’ that sets a terrible precedent for what districts can do when they sign agreements.”

The strike is currently scheduled to last for one day.

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Congress Approves National Award Program for ESPs

After the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act (H.R. 276) by a vote of 387-19 in February, the Senate quickly followed suit with its own unanimous approval in March.

“This recognition is way overdue,” said Debby Chandler, president of the National Council for Education Support Professionals (NCESP), which works within the National Education Association (NEA) to represent the interests and issues of education support professionals (ESP).

It has taken more than a decade of seemingly endless meetings between elected officials in Washington, political appointees from two different presidential administrations, and numerous NEA staff, board members, lobbyists, ESPs and other activists for the bill to get this close to becoming law.

“The voices of our board members and activists who contacted Congressional members in the first few months of this year made the difference,” said Marc Egan, NEA director of government relations. “We had worked behind the scenes and knew we had a moment to try to capitalize on.”

Popularly known as the RISE Act, the bill has been sent to the president for review.

“Lobbying for a bill like this is one of those moments where you realize how fortunate you are to work on behalf of educators nationwide,” Egan said. “Over the many years we fought for this bill, I would say to members of Congress, ‘This is as much of a mom-and-apple-pie bill that you can find.’”

“After many years by educators of advocating for such a national award, Congress is right to recognize the unsung and often unseen heroes of the education professions – education support professionals and classified school employees.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

The legislation provides recognition by the federal government for the outstanding contributions of ESPs to the nation’s public schools and the students they serve. If signed by the president, the legislation will direct the Secretary of Education to establish a national award program recognizing the excellence exhibited by these public school educators in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Similar to the National Teacher of the Year award program, governors from each state will work with educators, associations, and other stakeholders on identifying nominees for final selection by the education secretary.

“Schools simply cannot run without us,” said Chandler, who is an NEA board member and a secretary at John R. Rogers High School in Spokane, Wash. “We ignite the love of learning while providing essential services to the whole student.”

There are almost 3 million school support professionals in our nation’s public schools, colleges, and universities. They comprise one-third of the public education workforce.

“Although they seldom seek the spotlight, this national award will increase awareness of the important roles we play,” said Matthew Powell, the 2019 NEA ESP of the Year, and a custodial supervisor at Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky. Since 1992, NEA has recognized these educators annually with its ESP of the Year award. The award program will continue for NEA members even if the RISE Act is enacted.

Alfonso Salais teaches Spanish in the International Baccalaureate Program at Lansing Eastern High School in Lansing, Mich. He is a member of the NEA ESP Careers Committee and son of an ESP.

“My mom has been in the food and child nutrition service for over 35 years,” he said. “The level of expertise, dedication, and skills that she brings to her school district is second to none.”

Salais acknowledges that when most people think about educators, they have teachers in mind.

“This paradigm needs to change and broaden while highlighting all the important people at a school who play a critical role in the growth and development of children,” he said. “A bill like this will highlight the work of education’s unsung heroes — ESPs.”

Like his mother and family, Salais notes that ESPs “live in the same communities where they work, attend the same places of worship, and shop in the same grocery stores as their students and their families. They are an invaluable resource even outside of school.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career groups:

  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trade services
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“In all these capacities and services, we give hope, build bridges, heal and mend broken hearts, build self-esteem and nurture students,” said Chandler. “Passage of the RISE Act will spotlight the important work ESPs do to make a difference in the lives of students.”

For more information about ESPs, visit:

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2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell Does It All

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia introduces 2019 Education Support Professional of the Year Matthew Powell to the annual NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 23, 2019.

When he is not managing the custodial team at Graves County Central Elementary School in Mayfield, Ky., Matthew Powell can be found serving as the safety officer for the crisis management team of Grave County Schools. When the need arises, he also fills in as a special events bus driver.

Even more, in 2016, Powell established residency on school grounds as a nighttime security guard to boost student safety, and for legal reasons. By claiming residence in a small housing unit located near the Graves County middle and high schools, Powell has been able to keep the city of Mayfield from annexing school property. According to Powell, the annexation would result in revenue loss for schools and a payroll tax hike for education support professionals (ESP), teachers, and other school employees. Standing his ground, Powell has self-financed a lawsuit against Mayfield which is currently pending with the Kentucky Supreme Court.

For his undying dedication and hard work on behalf of students, colleagues, and his community, Powell was named the 2019 National Education Association (NEA) ESP of the Year during the ESP of the Year Award Dinner at the NEA ESP Conference in Las Vegas, Nev. The annual award is NEA’s highest for an ESP.

“Matthew thinks in terms of possibilities rather than impossibilities, solutions rather than problems, do’s rather than don’ts,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Most of all, he believes that students should be at the center of every decision we make in our schools.”

Powell received a standing ovation from the more than 900 ESPs, school administrators, and other educators from across the country who are participating in the 28th annual conference.

“I will always fight for all of our students and ESPs, and public education together, said Powell. “Coming from Kentucky I know what it’s like to fight, especially when you have a senator who won’t listen. And I will continue that fight along with elevating ESPs.”

Eskelsen Garcia presented Powell with a commemorative trophy, bouquet of roses, and $10,000 check. Powell also received a coveted ESP of the Year Hall of Fame plaque.

“He not only cleans school facilities and looks out for students, but he catches potential members wherever he can and convinces them to join KEA,” said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), in her nomination letter to the ESP of the Year Selection Committee. “He is one of the most kind, tenacious, and hard-working individuals I have ever met.”

Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in the nation’s public school systems, with more than 75 percent living, shopping, worshipping, and voting in the school communities in which they work.

2019 ESP of the Year Matthew Powell

The conference theme, Education Support Professionals: Uniting Our Members and the Nation for Strong Communities, Empowered Educators, and Successful Students, set the tone for the 47 workshops, discussion sessions, and keynote speeches.

“Everyone knows that teaching is important, but even the greatest teachers need support from the professionals who transport students to school, keep the building safe and clean, prepare nutritious meals, offer support in the classroom and manage the front office,” Powell said to the West Kentucky Star.

Powell, a member of the Graves County Education Support Professionals and NEA board of directors. A graduate of Graves County High School, Powell has been employed with the school district since August 2007 and has worked at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. He is a graduate of the KEA Fellows program and NEA Leaders for Tomorrow, Class of 2016.

While working for Graves County Schools, he earned a bachelor’s degree in educational studies from Western Governors University in 2012. He has also served as a district softball coach and team bus driver for the past three seasons.

“I am a strong advocate for meeting the needs of the whole student,” Powell told the Star. “This approach can only succeed when parents, teachers, administrators and support staff all work together.”

School support professionals comprise more than one-third of all public school employees. Within NEA, ESPs are categorized in nine career groups:

  • Paraeducators
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Security services
  • Transportation services
  • Food services
  • Health and student services.

Also included in NEA’s school support job category are Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP), which includes speech-language pathologists, audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologist-counselors, nurses, social workers and others.

“ESPs are the backbone of our schools,” Powell has stated. “We do make a difference and deserve to tell our stories.”

At the conference, ESPs attended workshops which allowed them to earn credits to further their professional goals in the NEA ESP Professional Growth Continuum (PGC) and NEA Leadership Competency Framework (LCF).

Participants enrolled in the PGC could easily identify the workshops that align to one or more of the program’s eight universal standards: communication, cultural competence, organization, reporting, ethics, health and safety, technology and professionalism. Workshops were labeled with the PGC universal standard(s) with which it aligned. Newcomers to the PGC were advised to sign up by visiting the NEA Certification Bank.

Similarly, workshops indicated in the conference program their alignment with the six LCF domains – advocacy, communication, fiscal health, governance and leadership, leading our professions, organizing and strategy. These competencies are designed to prepare NEA members as community leaders particularly with regard to education associations.

As an NEA board member, Powell helped to develop and implement the PGC. He has stated that he was inspired to help establish the program so he could “advocate for ESPs so they can be champions like the support staff who championed for me.”

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During Lockdowns, Collaboration Among Staff Key to Student Safety

Shielding her students against a storm of gunfire is something Andrea Beeman hopes she will never experience. It is gut-wrenching to even ponder, says Beeman, a paraeducator at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Contemplating such a deadly scenario is tempered, she says, by knowing her school’s crisis response team includes administrators, teachers, and education support professionals (ESP) who participate in active shooter drills and have specific roles and responsibilities.

“The more collaboration among school staff during a drill, the better prepared we are to keep students safe,” says Beeman, who also serves as a building monitor. “My students will need to listen to my directions and trust me in an emergency.”

In today’s school climate, active shooter drills are as common as fire drills. Nine out of ten public schools currently conduct active shooter drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To prepare for an armed assailant on school grounds, it is advised that schools create a safety team that includes an administrator, mental health professional, nurse, security officials, educators, and even parents, according to the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers, who jointly published a guide book titled, “Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.”

Andrea Beeman

Planning for an active shooter situation should include the adult experience, personal skills, and professional knowledge of food service workers, custodians, and other ESP, says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA).

“Trainings and drills must be all-inclusive,” says Kivett, an NEA board member. “For example, if bus drivers are parked on campus during an emergency, do they stay or go?”

Whether mandatory or not, Beeman advocates for staging an active shooter drill within a month of starting school while communicating policies and procedures with parents.

“The start of the school year is when everyone in the education community is reviewing rules and procedures,” she says. “Parents attend open house events and meet with staff. Conducting a drill early on will show our emergency preparedness.”

With ESP located in all areas of a school campus, even during non-working hours, it is vital that they be included in school crisis plans, Kivett adds.


The NEA 2018 School Crisis Guide includes cafeteria, transportation, maintenance, and health and student service professionals among staff who are vital to a comprehensive approach in preventing unnecessary violence during an emergency, though this is not the case at some schools.

“Unfortunately, some ESP may not know what to do because they aren’t trained or fully involved in drills,” says Kivett. “It’s a safety issue that concerns me.”

Kivett trains security officers and helps to conduct emergency operations planning for the Redlands United School District. He’s particularly concerned about playground supervisors and building monitors who may not have been prepared for responding to a range of emergencies, whether caused by humans or by a natural disaster.

“People may reactively know what to do in a crisis, but do they know what to do when they’re responsible for dozens of children,” he says. “With a shooter or earthquake or chemical spill, for example, every second lost can be the difference between living and dying.”

Any School, Any Time

The Educator’s School Safety Network estimates that threats or actual violence happen about 10 times a day in U.S. schools. The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado heightened the need for schools to be better prepared to respond to armed assailants and other forms of violence, such as bomb threats. About 16 campuses lock down daily, with nine of those incidents related to gun violence or the threat of it, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. More than 6,200 lockdowns occurred during the 2017-2018 school year.

Dan Kivett

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Department of Education recommended expanding the lockdown-only approach for schools, which confined students and staff to their rooms. Instead, the department now recommends an options-based approach that allows school staff to make more independent decisions about how to protect their students depending on evolving circumstances, such as to evacuate a building rather than stay locked in a classroom.

These approaches include adapting the “run, hide, fight” model that was originally developed for adults in response to workplace violence. This expansion has spurred an increase in the number of school districts conducting drills.

“Drills really help staff consider the “what if” scenarios,” says Kivett. “If it’s a hurricane or fire, what do you do? If it’s a shooter, where do you go?”

Student Stress

While lockdowns may save lives during a real crisis, the drill itself can inflict “immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger,” according to the Post study. More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year.

A report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence indicates that some drills “foster fear and anxiety” and “can intensify the fear of gun violence children already suffer.”

“We encourage immediate access to a counselor in a safe space to ease any stress or anxiety caused by a drill,” says Beeman,  who works with high school students with developmental disabilities.

Should the need arise, NEA encourages schools to work with local hospitals and mental health agencies to aid students experiencing trauma.

Beeman faithfully meets students in the morning as they exit buses and stays with many of them until they are picked up after last bell and head home.

“I escort them to breakfast, lunch, electives, and help them develop soft skills needed to maintain a job after they graduate,” says Beeman, an NEA board member. “I can sense when they are experiencing undue stress. We are there for them.”

Says Kivett: “The point is not to scare students but to do all that is humanly possible to keep them safe in this era of violence.”

‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts

A skewed focus on target hardening neglects the time and resources needed to spend on professional development training, planning, behavioral and mental health intervention supports for students, and other best practices.
But research and experience consistently shows that a comprehensive approach is needed for school safety programs.

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DeVos Won’t Give Up on Vouchers

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

In her two years as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has seized on every opportunity to undermine public education. She has called for deep cuts to federal funding, rolled back protections for our most vulnerable students, and shilled for the for-profit college industry that has defrauded countless students.

DeVos has floundered, however, in advancing her pet cause: the federal expansion of school vouchers. Even with GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the strong backing of President Trump, Congress in 2017 and 2018 rejected DeVos’ efforts to create federal vouchers to attend private schools.

Despite this setback and the recent 2018 elections that sent a pro-public education majority to the House of Representatives, DeVos’ enthusiasm for school vouchers hasn’t dampened. This was evident last week with the introduction of  something called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

In a USA Today op-ed touting the proposal, DeVos, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Bradley Byrne, the bills’ sponsors in Congress, called it “a historic investment in America’s students.”

The majority of Americans who reject vouchers know better. DeVos’ proposal, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is just the “latest attempt to push an agenda that is academically ineffective, fiscally irresponsible and that funds discrimination at the expense of student opportunity.”

The good news is that Congress – who soundly rejected a similar proposal during the 2017 tax debate – isn’t likely to give this reboot a serious look. Still, the corporate interests who have doggedly pursued school privatization for more than a decade are nothing if not persistent, which is why public education activists aren’t about to let down their guard.

What is an Education Freedom Scholarship?

Quite simply, it’s a federal school voucher.  For years now, proponents, acknowledging that “vouchers” are unpopular, have worked tirelessly to reconfigure the scheme to 1) sidestep constitutional obstacles and 2) reintroduce them to a public that has consistently been in opposition, using friendly-sounding euphemisms to make them more politically appealing.

Whether they’re called “Education Saving Accounts,” “Tuition Tax Credits” or “Opportunity Scholarships,” the result is always the same: directly or indirectly, less money for public schools and more for private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarship is a tax credit program, similar to what 17 states already have on their books.

Under such a plan, individuals and companies earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students then can use the funds to attend private schools, including religious schools.

Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, calls the DeVos proposal a “supersized” version, because it offers a  dollar-for-dollar credit, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.

“The contributors to these programs wouldn’t have to put up a dime of their own money because the federal government would reimburse them in full,” he adds.

So what DeVos wants is the federal government to reimburse wealthy taxpayers with tax credits in return for providing funding to private schools on the states’ behalf.

“It’s a brazen effort to distort the tax code into a tool for funding private and religious schools with public dollars,” Davis said.

The Cost to Public Schools

In their USA Today column, DeVos and Cruz claim that “this program won’t take a single cent from local public school teachers or public school students.”

That is simply false. Tax credit vouchers will drain public funding from public schools. Under these plans, potential taxes are never paid, which in turn decreases the overall amount in the coffers. This makes less money available for public schools.

“This bill sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go. They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”- Carl Davis, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

“The voucher proposal peddled by Betsy DeVos will divert already scarce funding away from neighborhood public schools – where 90 percent of children go – and give it away to private schools, which are not accountable to taxpayers,” said Eskelsen García.

In a 2017 analysis, ITEP took a look at how these programs had impacted the budgets of the 17 states where they had been put into effect.  Taken together, these states were diverting more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via tax credits.

“Allowing certain taxpayers to opt out of funding an institution as fundamentally important as the nation’s public school system erodes the public’s level of investment in that institution–both literally and figuratively,” the report states.

Furthermore, “expanding these programs at the federal level would lead to a loss of federal and state revenue directed at public schools that would weaken the ability of public schools to serve increasing numbers of students in poverty as well as students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

 The Bill is Likely Going Nowhere But…

Soon after DeVos unveiled her proposal, U.S. Senator Patty Murray immediately declared it “dead on arrival.”

“Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts and she should expect nothing less here.”

With DeVos’ push to expand vouchers stymied (so far), the shift in momentum away from privatization may be modest but it’s unmistakable.

Educators across the nation have been calling attention to the dangers of school privatization as part of the #RedforEd Movement. In November, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program.

Still, by attempting to pry open the federal tax code to enable school voucher expansion, privatization advocates are demonstrating how relentless they are and will continue to be.

“While this bill isn’t likely to be enacted during this Congress, it sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go,” Davis warns. “They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”

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Oakland Teachers Strike For Class Sizes and Student Supports

Fed up with unequal resources that starve their students of the schools they deserve, the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) went on strike on Thursday to demand smaller class sizes and increased access for students to counselors, school nurses, librarians, and school psychologists.

“You can’t feed the minds of our students by starving their schools,” OEA President Keith Brown has said.

On Thursday, educators, parents, and other supporters walked picket lines at all 86 Oakland schools, and thousands rallied at noon in Oakland City Hall, including NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “Oakland, you are in the fight of your lives to make sure that not one, not some, but every single child can explore their imagination and live their brilliance!” Pringle told the crowd.

You are not alone, she reminded them. “Tens of thousands of teachers and support staff all over this country from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Colorado to Arizona to Los Angeles have risen up,” said Pringle. “They have risen up, and they have said, enough! Enough of taking advantage of our teachers who love our students and don’t have the money to live or take care of their families. Enough of the politicians with their cozy billionaire buddies stripping our schools of their resources and trying to shut them down.”

Video: NEA Vice-President Becky Pringle at Oakland Rally


Just this week, West Virginia educators settled a two-day walk out over planned legislation that would have spent the state’s scant resources on private school vouchers and charter schools. Earlier this month, Denver teachers also went on strike, seeking more stability in their system. And, in January, United Teachers of Los Angeles members ended a six-day strike with a historic agreement that includes smaller class sizes, limits on testing, and increased student access to nurses, counselors and librarians. (To learn more about the national Red for Ed movement, visit

In Oakland, educators are focused on what students need to succeed. And it’s much more than the current one counselor for every 600 students, or one nurse per 1,750 students. “This strike is as much about the structure of our school system and services for our students as it about a living wage for educators,” Brown said.

Instead of investing in public school improvements, the Oakland school board has diverted $57 million to charter schools and proposed closing 24 neighborhood schools that serve mostly students of color. But the strike is a little bit about a living wage, too. Oakland teachers currently are the lowest paid in the San Francisco Bay area. According to the union’s estimates, rent for a basic one-bedroom apartment in Oakland would eat 60 percent of a starting teacher’s salary.

On Friday, which will be the second day of the strike, union and district negotiators are scheduled to meet.

Amanda Menas contributed to this story.

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School Custodian/Darts Champion Helps Raise $175,000 for Children

Participants in a recent Darts for Kids tournament. (Photo courtesy of Bob Hudzik)

As a world champion dart player, Bob Hudzik is known for winning tournaments by hitting the smallest inner bullseye of a dartboard, which counts for 50 points. The outer bull is difficult enough to score but is worth only 25 points.

People say Hudzik likes a challenge.

When his wife Tammy Hudzik saw photos of 6-month-old Hailey Moore in need of a heart transplant cross her Facebook feed again and again, she was deeply touched.

She too enjoys a challenge. Tammy didn’t know how, but was certain that she and her husband could help the Moore family meet Hailey’s increasing medical expenses.

“What do you think about giving back,” she asked Bob, a custodian at Mt. Olive High School in Mt. Olive, Ill.

“I’m all in,” Hudzik recalls telling his wife in 2010. “We can do it, I just want to do it for children.”

Without hesitation, the Hudziks decided to organize a dart tournament by inviting players and teams from their long list of contacts in the dart world. The blind draw dart tournament was christened Darts for Kids.

At the inaugural tournament in 2013, Darts for Kids raised $10,000 through entry fees, a dinner, auction items, bake sale, raffle, T-shirt sales, and donations. The profits from the event were split between two families: the Moores and the family of a child living with cystic fibrosis the Hudziks knew in Mt. Olive. Since then, the yearly event has raised almost $175,000 and assisted over 90 families.

“We’re trying to take the burden of everyday living off the parents,” Hudzik says.

Helping families meet unforeseen medical costs was personal to the Hudziks, who had both suffered the loss of a child. At the tournaments, Bob and Tammy invite children such as Noah Blair, 15, whose life expectancy has been limited since birth.

The tournaments allow participants to see where their money is going, says Hudzik, a former member of the Cosmo Darts Fit Flight team out of Japan.

“You get a real personal connection with everyone at the tournament,” he says. “Most of the kids are terminal or are so far in that you just don’t know.”

The Hudziks will host the 8th annual event in September. Hailey Moore, 8, now has a near-clean bill of health and attends the tournaments in strong support of her godparents, Bob and Tammy.

Always a Problem Solver

As a custodian for more than 30 years at his alma mater (Class of ‘85), Hudzik’s commitment to serving children has allowed for increased connections to students and their families outside of work.

“It (volunteering) opened my eyes to local families who need help,” says Hudzik, a former chief negotiator and former president of the Mt. Olive Educational Support Personnel Staff.

“I worked with Bob for many years when he was president of his local,” says Marcus Albrecht, a UniServ director with the Illinois Education Association (IEA). “He was always a problem solver.”

The support Hudzik has received from IEA and school district colleagues seems to increase every year, Hudzik says.

“Whether certified or non-certified, pay attention to what your peers are doing because they only see one side of you during the work day, especially in bigger districts,” he says. “We’re all just trying to make a difference.”

While no longer an officer with his local, “he is always in the background, eager and willing to provide advice and assistance to current local leaders,” Albrecht says.

Orchestrating the events and working with the people surrounding Darts for Kids has boosted his confidence and negotiating skills, explains Hudzik.

“I was very timid at one point,” he admits.

How to Host a Dart Tournament for Charity

First, “be committed,” Hudzik says.

During the first two years of the organization, the Hudziks funded the entire event. Since, they have created a not-for-profit and established a board to assist in fundraising, advertising, and finding in-kind donations.

Second, says Hudzik: “Have a strong support staff with you.”

You do not need a large team, but finding a group of dedicated people will lead to a successful event, according to Hudzik. He continued: “Don’t try to save the world by yourself. You’re going to need a lot of people in your corner.”

Third, set a goal.

Hudzik says it is important to determine your goal, specialty, and sustainability early on. When the first event ended in September 2010, the Hudziks began their tradition of organizing an annual philanthropic event: a haunted house. But at the same time, their newly-formed “dart family” were anxious to start planning the 2011 dart tournament, which was originally going to be a “one and done.”

Dart family members persisted. In 2013, the event raised $25,000. Darts for Kids organizers now have their sights set on raising $100,000 for the 10th annual tournament.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Hudzik says.

One year, when Bob’s sister-in-law passed away weeks prior to a tournament, he worried about staying on schedule.

“You’re going to have hiccups,” Hudzik says. “Things are going to come up. You have to persevere.”

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Black Lives Matter at School Spotlights Racial Justice in Education

(photo: Kristopher Radder-Brattleboro Reformer)

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle and a member of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)/Washington Education Association (WEA). As co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, he helped organize Black Lives Matter at School (BLM at School), a national coalition of educators organizing for racial justice in education. Coalition leaders have encouraged educators, students, parents, union members, community leaders and others to join their annual “week of action,” this year set for February 4-8.

Hagopian explains the beginnings, objectives, and ever-widening scope of BLM at School.

Tell us how Black Lives Matter at School started as a grassroots movement.

JH: October 19, 2016, marked our formal beginning when thousands of educators arrived at John Muir Elementary School here in Seattle wearing shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter: We Stand Together.” Hundreds of families and students too. Many of the shirts also included the message “#SayHerName,” a campaign to raise awareness about the state of violence and assault against women in the U.S.

What role did educators play during the movement’s early stages?

JH:  Teachers, education support professionals (ESP), and community members came together in solidarity. It was educators at the school, along with a group called Black Men United to Change the Narrative, who expressed an interest in organizing an event to celebrate black students early that school year. An art teacher, Julie Trout, designed a beautiful shirt that said “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together.” When white nationalists found out about these activities, they sent hate mail to the school. One hateful person made a bomb threat on the school.

How did you and SEA respond to the October 19 event?

JH:  Way before our day of action, several members of SEA’s social justice caucus, which we call social equity educators, met with educators at John Muir about the event. At SEA, we passed a resolution in support of this day of action, but we weren’t sure if people would really follow through and take action on October 19. Then the T-shirt orders started coming in, first by the hundreds and then the thousands. We ended up with somewhere around 3,000 educators in Seattle out of 5,000 who went to their schools wearing shirts that said “Black Lives Matter.” Many educators taught lessons about institutional racism that day. What’s incredible is that educators in Rochester, N.Y., and Philadelphia saw what we had done and organized their own BLM at School actions independent of us. Philly educators were the first to expand the day of action to a whole week of action.

That must have made you very proud.

JH:  Yes. We began coordinating with them in 2017 to have a national Black Lives Matter at School Week. Word got around. Last year, thousands of teachers in 20 cities across the country participated in the week of action.

How do leaders and activists in different states coordinate events related to BLM at Schools?

JH:  We communicate and organize around monthly national conference calls that anyone who supports the mission and goals of the movement can join. Through elections, we identified a steering committee that helps organize various activities and agendas for other various committees that have been formed. We have a curriculum committee, and a student creative challenge committee that helps kids create art that can inspire people to join this movement. We have a media committee, an outreach committee. It’s being organized predominantly by educators and some parents around the country who are doing this for free and with no budget.

How is NEA involved?

JH:  We got NEA to vote to support BLM at School week, for example. Many different union locals are also passing resolutions and debating these issues out city by city. There’s a tremendous amount of power in bringing together social issues and anti-racist movements with the power of labor. We’re beginning to see the red state teachers’ revolt move into blue states. I think the union’s ability to bring in issues of over-policing of black and brown kids into the message about fighting for funding and teacher pay will help them be successful in winning that strike and transforming public education.

black lives matter at school

Jesse Hagopian (courtesy of Jesse Hagopian)

What’s behind the new item this year that appears on some of your materials:  Fund Counselors Not Cops?

JH:  In 2018, various groups coalesced as a national movement. We identified three demands: End zero-tolerance discipline and replace it with restorative justice; hire more black teachers and offer black history and ethnic studies in the schools. In addition, we broke down the guiding principles of the BLM Global Network into teaching points for each day of the week. This year, we added a fourth demand, which is “fund counselors not cops.”

The demand is a response to the growing movement in this country introduced by a group called, Dignity in Schools. There are numerous examples over the last couple of years of brutality that some police bring into our schools. Recently, the ACLU won a settlement for third graders in Kentucky who were handcuffed by police officers … not around the wrists because their wrists were too small but instead around the biceps. These were special needs kids, Latino and black, who were having some trouble. Instead of getting help, they were further traumatized. We are now in a situation in America where there are 1.6 million children who go to a school that doesn’t have a counselor but that does have a police officer.

NEA: What are you hoping to accomplish regarding this year’s week of action?

JH:  We hope to engage tens of thousands of students across the country in lessons that illuminate the 13 principles of the BLM movement. In addition, we hope to help transform unions so they see how much more powerful our movements can be if we challenge anti-black racism head on, and bring in black struggle and incorporate it into the union struggle. With that in mind, one of the new features this year is that we’re calling on educators, students, parents and community members to hold rallies in their cities on Wednesday, or a day that makes sense for their local, at their school board building or city hall. We are asking for support of our four demands. We hope that this direct action and rally will pressure school districts to make the reforms that are so desperately needed.

National Demands for BLM in School Week of Action

End Zero Tolerance. Focus our Schools on Restorative Justice
The over-policing, out of control suspensions, and expulsions must be brought to an immediate end. To rebuild our structures, we will focus our resources on restorative justice-the organic appointment of community leaders; mediation and processing; and equitable perspectives on rehabilitation. Ending zero tolerance and focusing our schools around restorative justice will honor an autonomous voice and vision for students, staff and faculty.

Hire More Black Teachers in our Schools
Nine U.S. cities demonstrate a rapid decline in the number of Black Teachers: Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. We must increase teacher retention and opportunities for teachers of color.

Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12
A classroom is incomplete if there is only one history taught to its students. The exclusion of Black History and Ethnic studies curriculum must end. Our students of color deserve to feel empowered in the classroom, by seeing themselves in the curriculum and reading materials. Black History and Ethnic Studies must be included in K-12 classrooms.

Fund Counselors Not Cops

This demand is simple: children need counselors not cops. Schools today spend an enormous amount of their financial resources hiring school resource officers and local police officers. These same schools often lack enough counselors for students to receive the support they need. The reality is our schools need counselors for children. The amount of racial trauma and adverse childhood experiences Black students experience continues to increase. We demand that schools provide counselors who have manageable caseloads that allow them to provide quality service to all students.

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Virginia Educators Vow to Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Funding

Roughly 4,000 Virginians, led by educators, rallied in front of the state capitol in Richmond on Monday to call out legislators for allowing education funding to suffer even as the state prospers.

English teacher Amy Brown said she was at the rally because her students deserve better than a classroom with moldy ceiling tiles and a wall full of roaches.

“We have cubicle partitions that we can’t hang bulletin board paper on because there’s nothing to staple it to—so we just keep taping in roaches,” said Brown, who works at Henderson Middle School in Richmond.

State support for schools has not been restored even to 2009 levels; in fact, education funding was cut 9 percent since the recession ended. That has resulting in ballooning class sizes, a lack of resources from textbooks to computers, and deepening inequity between schools in Virginia’s richer and poorer communities.

The rally is the latest Red for Ed action in a series of events ranging from the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, to the recently concluded L.A. teachers strike.

The Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union—and the grassroots organization Virginia Educators United coordinated to gather their members and other public school advocates today to deliver the message that the Commonwealth puts far too little of its magnificent wealth into public education.

Virginia Educators United gathered first at Monroe Park, where they were joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten. The group then marched roughly a mile to meet VEA members in front of the capitol steps.

Virginia elementary music teacher and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss riled the crowd by pointing out that Virginia is the 12th richest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as #1 for business.

In other words, the state economy is strong. Yet the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 34th in teacher pay.

“We’re going to hold legislators accountable,” Moss said, then led the crowd in a chant: “I know, you know, Virginia can do better!”

Shortly after the rally, the House of Delegates announced their intent to draft a budget that includes a pay increase of 5 percent for teachers, matching the request made by Gov. Northam.

Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston called it both a “step in the right direction” and a “down payment.”

“Virginia Education Association members from across the state rallied at the Capitol today to protest the state’s retreat from its funding responsibilities,” Livingston said. “Our members are energized, they are dedicated—and they are sick and tired of being told they’ll get the support their students need…some time later.”

That’s a change educators here would like to see.

“Policy makers need to hear from us, said Eunice Turkson, a teacher at Fairfield Court Elementary in Richmond. “They sit in their offices and look at students as charts and graphs, but we are in the classroom and we see the reality. They should listen more to teachers and give us what we need.”

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School District Looks to Teachers to Fill Bus Driver Shortage

When a school bus driver calls in sick, someone has to pick up their route in a hurry. Students can’t be left stranded. If a school district is short of backup drivers, other drivers end up running two routes, delaying pick-ups. Crowded buses and student tardiness is the result.

This is not unusual for school transportation departments across the nation. It’s the norm. At Parkside Middle School in Manassas, Va., about three of the school’s 31 drivers can be absent on any given day.

“When that happens, we have to ask some drivers to do double-runs,” says Laura Landis, a bus driver, trainer and recruiter for Prince William County Public Schools, where Parkside is located. “Sometimes, trainers will take the day’s run since we are licensed.”

With the need for more drivers to enlist at a moment’s notice, Parkside administrators and transportation service workers got together and decided to try a new approach: develop drivers from within. At a meeting last fall, they agreed to invite teachers to get licensed and start running routes. The bus gig for teachers would be voluntary and pay $18.50 an hour on top of their regular salary.

“Teachers will be assigned routes that allow them ample time to be in their classrooms before first bell,” says Landis, a member of the Prince William Education Association (PWEA).

The response by teachers was better than expected, according to Parkside Principal Mary Jane Boynton.

“The teachers I’ve spoken with see it as a win-win,” says Boynton, a member of PWEA, which includes 3,500 teachers, administrators, and education support professionals (ESP). “They get to build better relationships with their students, earn extra pay, and work closer with their colleagues in the transportation department.”

Temporary Solution

According to PWEA President Riley O’Casey, transportation service members welcomed the news about hiring, in a sense, substitute drivers to help alleviate the driver shortage, particularly when it comes to curtailing double-runs.

“Our regular drivers are not at all threatened by the new drivers,” says O’Casey. “They welcome them.”

However, O’Casey stresses that the new plan should be considered only a “Band-Aid solution.”

“The general idea is that we have a shortage of bus drivers,” she says. “We need to fix the all-around problem, which involves paying regular drivers a living wage and allowing them the respect they deserve.”

O’Casey points out that administrators do not always communicate as well as they could when it comes to informing drivers about having to drive a second route and as well as other last-minute route changes.

Bus driver/trainer Laura Landis instructs teachers (left to right) Kevin Loughery, Ryan Wicka, Shannon Parker, Yonika Powell, and Sharon Harrison on how to inspect the exterior of a bus. (Photo: Randy Litzinger,
Prince William Times)

“There is a lack of communication coming from some officials that could be improved,” she says. “Drivers having to do a double-run do not always get enough notice, which interferes with scheduled restroom breaks.”

O’Casey recalls that some principals in the past did not allow bus drivers to use school restrooms.

“We are one team and our drivers need to be respected the same as everyone else,” she says. “Now that teachers will be driving buses, they will see the level of responsibility that comes with the job.”

A National Dilemma

School districts across the nation are reporting difficulties in recruiting and retaining school bus drivers, citing low pay, difficulty in attaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL), lack of available work hours, and too few benefits, according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT).

In a 2016 NAPT survey, 37 percent of respondents indicated that the bus driver shortage in their district is either “severe” or “desperate.” More than 50 percent noted that coping with driver shortages is their number one problem or concern. About 70 percent believe bus driver shortage is a trend that is getting worse.

“The whole nation is experiencing a shortage of school bus drivers,” said Diana Gulotta, an official with Prince William County Schools (PWCS). In an article published by the Prince William Times, Gulotta said “on any given day, we (county) can have up to 100 drivers out.”

Prince William County has a fleet of more than 900 buses serving nearly 100 schools and special needs students. The county employs about 700 drivers driving 4,500 routes that make 35,000 daily bus stops. As of November, the county was short 62 drivers, according to Gulotta.

Nobody Walks

Approximately 75 teachers from Parkside and nearby public schools picked up applications soon after the new driver plan was announced last semester. About a dozen teachers ended up submitting applications.

Currently, about a half dozen Parkside teachers along with several others from neighboring schools are at different stages in their training, which includes several weeks of classroom study covering defensive driving standards, student protocols, first aid care, bus inspection, and radio communications etiquette.

At some point, each teacher will take a test at the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a CDL learner’s permit so they can get behind the wheel of the bus for a probationary period under

the supervision of a trainer. Each trainee is required to drive a route for a designated number of hours with a trainer.

“We are very serious about our training process and student safety,” says Landis, a PWEA member who helps to conduct special Saturday and evening training sessions scheduled specifically for the teachers.

“Our bus trainers have done an excellent job of preparing teachers for the road,” says Boynton. “They developed flexible training schedules and made classes fun.”

Laura Landis (left) answers question from Parkside Middle School teachers Ryan Wicka, Sharon Harrison, and Yonika Powell during a Saturday class to become Parkside bus drivers. (Photo: Randy Litzinger, Prince William Times)

While no teacher has been assigned a route yet, Boynton says PWCS officials as well as those from other districts are keeping a watchful eye on the teacher-drivers.

“We developed the program from scratch,” she says. “From now to the end of the school year we’ll be working out the kinks and listening to feedback from staff, parents, and students.”

Boynton hopes to sign up more teachers during the summer in order to have at least 10 teachers behind the wheel in September for the start of the new school year.

After Parkside administrators and ESPs approved the plan, Boynton presented it to senior staff at the county level.

“They liked the idea and even agreed to pay for the training costs,” she says. “It’s a good example of teamwork … everyone working together to serve students and parents.”

Parkside is located between the City of Manassas and Manassas Park, a precarious area crisscrossed by busy byways. All 1,420 of the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders are transported by bus. The school currently operates 31 buses with 31 routes and 31 drivers, and is considered fully staffed, says Boynton.

“On some days we have zero absenteeism among drivers,” she says. “On bad days we have two or three drivers doing double routes.”

Shortages are Everywhere

Driving a school bus is considered by most school districts as part-time work, which prevents drivers from collecting unemployment benefits if they get laid off or receiving the same employment benefits, like health insurance, of full-time workers. In addition, many districts require split morning and afternoon shifts for transportation workers, which precludes many drivers from working a second job for added income.

Although signing bonuses, increased pay and benefits, job fairs, advertising, and streamlining the hiring process have helped to retain and recruit drivers, most schools are experiencing some degree of driver shortages.

According to Associated Press (AP) reports, in Lincoln, Neb., some bus driver positions were unfilled even after a local school district offered $1,000 signing bonuses for new hires and a guaranteed six-hour day for all drivers.

In Iowa, the Southeast Polk Community School District relies on approximately 50 retirees and stay-at-home parents to transport roughly 3,400 students to and from school. According to AP, “there aren’t as many retired farmers, a group that commonly took the job for extra income. Now, even with administrators and bus mechanics filling in, the shortage has also resulted in fewer routes, more children waiting at each stop, and crowded buses.”

In Minnesota, some St. Paul students are arriving late to school because fill-in drivers aren’t familiar with the normal routes.

A school district in Ypsilanti, Mich., had to cancel a day of school last year because there weren’t enough substitute drivers to cover for sick drivers.

In Hawaii last year, a driver shortage in Maui forced state officials suspend bus rides for some students and limit rides for others. The district offered free monthly bus passes on local public transportation.

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UTLA Strike Ends With Historic Agreement

Photo: Joe Brusky

Students and educators are back in their classrooms January 23, as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ratified a Tentative Agreement (TA), ending a six-day strike. More than 30,000 members hit the picket lines on January 14 to fight for their students and the resources that the nearly 600,000 kids in Los Angeles public schools need to be successful.

“This is a historic victory for public education educators, students and parents. Class-size reduction, limits on testing, and access to nurses, counselors and librarians will change our students’ lives forever. We won this victory through our unity, our action, and our shared sacrifice,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, in a press statement.

The strike came after years of frustration. “Educators and parents reached a boiling point … about conditions in classrooms,” said Caputo-Pearl.

Some of the problems on the table were class sizes of 45 or more students, 40 percent of schools with a nurse only one day a week, inadequate funding for key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

The agreement is a paradigm shift and delivers on the defining demands of UTLA’s contract campaign. Wins include:

  • A six percent pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • Lower class sizes, including an immediate reduction of seven students in secondary math and English classes;
  • Counselor-student ratios of 1:500;
  • Commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Investment in community schools;
  • A pathway to cap charters via a resolution calling on the state to establish a charter school cap and create a Governor’s committee on charter schools; and
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing

Read the full TA here:

“I’m so proud of our members, classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists,” Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“When we fight, we win,” said @teacherinroom6 through her Instagram account. “Did we get everything we were fighting for? No. But we did get enough to keep public education headed on a path towards a healthy and concrete future. Privatization did not win today and for that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

Organizing for the Common Good

UTLA’s strategy to win was based on bargaining for the common good, which brings demands in collective bargaining that benefit the entire community, not just union members. Among the wins are plans to increase green space and the end of “random searches,” which send many students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the school district will provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families and will collaborate with UTLA for other services.

Photo: Joe Brusky

Issues like these is what prompted parents and community organizations to stand with UTLA. For example, on January 18, nearly 2,000 parents and students created a chain that stretched nearly a mile. They wore red, and stood with educators.

The role of UTLA and its members was paramount, too. Picket line captains, chapter chairs, and UTLA leaders — and others — united thousands of educators, parents, community organizations, and other union members to rally in support of students and public education. Actors, musicians, and politicians also came out in support of UTLA.

On day one of the strike, 30,000 UTLA members signed in on picket lines across Los Angeles; more than 900 school sites participated; more than 10,000 parents, students and community members joined on the picket lines; and more than 50,000 people march to LAUSD headquarter to demand action.

By day three, more than 12,000 parents and community members came out to support UTLA, including Diane Ravitch and musician/actor Steven Van Zandt.

Crowds remained strong on day five of the strike, with more than 60,000 supporters on the steps of city hall, and day six brought out 1,000 firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada, whom were in Los Angeles for the International Association of Fire Fighters.

#RedForEd is a Movement

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike was just the latest in the national #RedForEd movement that began with walkouts and work actions last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington state.

“Although the bargaining issues vary greatly from place to place, there are some issues they all share,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “The concern that public education has been chronically underfunded in state and local budgets for decades, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, too few counselors and nurses, tattered textbooks held together by duct tape, broken computers and outdated materials, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair”

She added, “What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement of and by educators who are fighting for the public schools our students deserve. We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators. That’s why educators in Los Angeles and all over this country are #RedForEd.”

While 21 months of strained negotiations led Los Angeles educators to strike for the first time in 30 years, the “strike has helped not only move to this agreement, but has helped raise the issue of public education nationally and internationally,” Caputo-Pearl said during yesterday’s news conference. “The creativity and innovation and passion and love and emotion of our members was out on the street, in the communities and in the parks for everyone to see.”

Are Oakland and Denver Next?

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators are preparing for a possible strike. Like their colleagues in Los Angeles, they want smaller classes and more support — such as more counselors, librarians, and nurses — for their students, and a living wage.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action later this month.

Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) approved to strike on January 22, after more than a year of negotiations with Denver Public Schools (DPS) have failed to produce fair, predictable, and competitive pay.

DCTA has been negotiating with the district for 14 months to bring change to a compensation system that is directly linked to Denver’s teacher turnover crisis — 31 percent of Denver teachers have only been in their school for three years or less. The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on DPS to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school.

“Denver teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students, not out on strike. But we have reached the tipping point in our negotiations with DPS where we must stand up for our profession and for our students and do what is best to keep dedicated, experienced teachers in this district,” said Henry Roman, president of DCTA.

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ESP National Award Seeks Congressional Approval

A bill introduced during the first week of the new Congress directs the Secretary of Education to establish an award that acknowledges the role education support professionals (ESP) play in promoting student achievement, ensuring student safety, and helping to establish a healthy school climate in grades preK-12.

Although the RISE (Recognizing Inspiring School Employees) Award Program bill (H.R. 276) arrives on Capitol Hill amid intense gridlock, strong support from the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, and 21 co-sponsors gives many ESPs hope they will finally receive a type of national recognition on par with teachers.

“There are almost 3 million ESPs working in our nation’s public schools and colleges who make a difference every day in the lives of their students,” says Sherry Shaw, 2018 NEA ESP of the Year. “They need to be recognized for their above-and-beyond acts of heroism.”

One of every three public school employees is an ESP with more than 75 percent ensuring student and school safety. According to NEA research, almost 50 percent of ESPs have an associate’s, bachelor’s, or more advanced college degree. In addition, more than 60 percent have taken college courses, while others (51 percent) have taken job-related classes, or have earned education-related certificates and licenses.

“ESPs choose public education as their career,” says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA). “They have to train and attend school in order to maintain a high skill and knowledge level just like those in other professions.”

Above and Beyond the Call

Kivett says many ESPs are also student mentors, athletic coaches, community volunteers and organizers. According to NEA, 35 percent of ESPs volunteer to read books to students while 70 percent assist children in their communities with clothing, food and other necessities.

“And all of this is done without much recognition,” says Kivett, a member of the NEA board of directors with 19 years of public education experience. “They are the gears that keep school operations moving.”

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“The RISE award would draw some attention to the level of our professional training, mentoring, volunteerism, and how much we love our kids,” says Shaw, a special education paraeducator, coach and mentor at Tanaina Elementary School in Wasilla, Alaska. “Some parents know that ESPs go the extra mile for their kids, but not all administrators acknowledge it for some reason.”

Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs represented in the following nine career categories:

  • Child nutrition services
  • Clerical services
  • Custodial and maintenance services
  • Health and student services
  • Paraeducators
  • Security services
  • Skilled trades
  • Technical services
  • Transportation services

“We don’t necessarily need an award for the work we do, but it would be nice to be recognized for all of the extra effort we put forth on behalf of students,” says Mary Ann Rivera, a paraeducator at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, Ill.

When Rivera goes shopping, it is a given she will buy gloves, socks, hats and other items for students in need. It is also normal operating procedure in her school district for ESPs to organize dozens of care packages for students from low-income families.

“Thanks goodness for discount stores,” says Rivera, an NEA board member.

“ESPs work just as hard as all educators, side by side with teachers,” she adds. “In classrooms, paraeducators are an extra set of eyes, trained to help students learn their lessons well. We are not volunteers as in decades past. This is our career.”

Rise and Shine

In Kentucky, Lakilia Bedeau is director of the Tornado Alley Youth Services Center at Paducah Tilghman High School. She says Congress can acknowledge the hard work and dedication of ESPs by approving the bill.

“The award is long overdue,” says Bedeau, an executive committee member of the National Council for ESPs (NCESP), which advocates for ESPs from within NEA assuring that specific ESP issues and interests are integrated in NEA programs.

Like youth services staff across the nation, Bedeau helps students with everything from medical and other referrals for social, physical and mental health services to intervening during family crisis situations and providing hygiene products, school supplies and other daily necessities.

More than 65 percent of ESPs donate money out of their own pockets to help students purchase classroom materials, field trip tickets, and materials for science and other class projects. The average ESP donation: $217 per year.

“Like the majority of ESPs, my team is on the front-line assisting students with everyday needs,” says Bedeau, who has worked in education for 10 years.

By working one-on-one with students, Bedeau says a level of trust and confidence can develop which helps keep students interested enough in school so as not to drop-out.

“We empower students by removing non-academic barriers, encouraging them to explore career opportunities and reach their full potential,” she says. “We build critical relationships that ensure students are safe and successful regardless of their socio-economic status.”

Rivera says it takes time to gain the trust of students.

“When they first meet you, they might hate you,” says Rivera, an NCESP executive committee member. “But it’s not personal. You encourage them to do well by showing and telling them that they are valued and smart, and by the end of the year they love you.”

After more than 30 years of working for public schools as a paraeducator and school bus driver, Ernest Jameel Williams is encouraged by the proposed bill despite the divisive state of national politics and past failures by Congress to pass legislation that would acknowledge ESPs as their colleagues are with the National Teacher of the Year Award.

“People have worked hard over the years advocating for an award like this,” says Williams, the 2011 NEA ESP of the Year. “Congress should once and for all pass this bill that acknowledges the hard work, dedication, skills, and expertise of ESPs.”

Williams, who is a Reach Associate at Zeb Vance Elementary School in Kittrell, N.C., says ESPs not only help to teach students but “we are in the trenches when an emotional crisis occurs involving a student or their family.”

Different Award, Same Name

In May of 2018, Sherry Shaw and four other ESPs received a national award in a ceremony at the U.S. House of Representatives. The ESP award was created by the National Coalition of Classified Education Support Employee Unions and currently goes by the same name proposed in H.R. 276: Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE).

That may change if the current bill is passed in Congress, according to NCCESEU officials.

The NCCESEU is a coalition of state and national unions that together represent a million school support employees including clerical and administrative staff, custodians, food service workers, health and student services workers, paraeducators, technology services employees, transportation workers, and security and skilled trades staff.

Along with NEA, coalition members include the California School Employees Association, Minnesota School Employees Association, SEIU 284 (Service Employees International Union), and Public School Employees of Washington/SEIU 1948.

Sign up at the NEA Legislative Action Center to support the RISE Award Program bill.

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L.A. Teachers Ready to Strike

Photo: Joe Brusky

Anyone who may have been under the impression that the #RedforEd movement was just a “2018 story” better brace themselves. Thirty-three thousand teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – the second largest district in the country –  are on the verge of striking to halt years of budget cuts. ballooning class size, and the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Six hours north in the Bay Area, Oakland educators are also gearing up for a possible walk-out.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD have been mired in negotiations since April 2017, and teachers have been working without a contract for almost one year.  Educators made a good faith effort in mediation to reach an agreement, but district officials did not do the same, failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in the city’s schools. In August, UTLA voted overwhelmingly (98% of the membership voted yes) to authorize a strike if talks continued to stall.

Unless a last-minute bargaining round produces substantial progress,  UTLA will go on strike on Monday, January 14, the first walkout since 1989.

The district has tried to present the impasse as a squabble over numbers and teacher salaries, a characterization UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says is absolutely false and a disservice to students.

“This is a standoff over the future of public education,” Caputo-Pearl explains. “We will not agree on salary only or salary and a few other things.  What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.”

Despite LAUSD’s repeated denials, the money to reinvigorate the city’s schools is in fact there – in the form of $1.8 billion (yes, billion) in unrestricted reserves. The state of California  requires only a 1% reserve, yet the district holds 26.5%, predicated on a fiscal disaster that never occurs but is nevertheless used to justify continued draconian cuts.

UTLA is demanding that these reserves be used to reduce class size (LAUSD has among the largest class sizes in the state), hire more counselors, librarians and nurses (40% of schools have a nurse only one day a week), and fund key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

Educators are also calling for a halt to the expansion of charter schools (there are currently 200 in Los Angeles) that are siphoning off $600 million every year from public school.  In addition, they demand an end to the continued toxic over-testing of students (the district spends $8.6 million on tests not required by state or federal government).

“We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” says teacher Julie Van Winkle.

A ‘Portfolio’ for Privatization

The appointment last May of Austin Beutner as district superintendent only strengthened UTLA’s resolve.

la teacher strike

(Photo: UTLA)

A billionaire former investment banker and CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Beutner has zero experience in school or district leadership. He is, however, eager to bring to LAUSD what like-minded billionaires and school privatization champions brought to New Orleans and other cities: the “portfolio model.”

Under this competition-based strategy, LAUSD would be decentralized and carved up into 32 smaller, individual “portfolios” that would be “diversified” with more options – charter and private schools mostly – for parents and students.

In other words, the “portfolio model” is just school privatization running amok.

“Getting rid of central oversight and accountability would allow the unchecked spread of the worst of the charter sector abuses: not serving all students, financial scandals, misuse of public funds, and conflict-of-interest charges,” UTLA wrote in a statement last November.

Halting this threat and protecting the city’s public schools, says Caputo-Pearl, is why Los Angeles educators “won’t be brought off with a pay raise.”

“We will not agree on salary only…. What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.” – UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

During negotiations, coalition-building has been a key tenet of UTLA’s campaign. Community organizations and parents have joined UTLA at the bargaining table. On December 15th, more than 50,000 parents, educators, students and community members took to the streets in a massive march in downtown Los Angeles to demand a reinvestment in the city’s schools.

A week earlier, hundreds gathered at the  Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice at a two-day ArtBuild event to create protest art for the march and possible strike.

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, engaging the community city-wide has helped demonstrate to the public that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“When we come together with the community, we show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda said.


#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

On January 12, Oakland educators will be joined East Bay parents and students for the March and Rally to Fund Public Education Now. One week later, on January 18-20, OEA will be hosting its own community ArtBuild.

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action next month.

A strike is always a last resort, says Caputo-Pearl, but it’s time is now turn the tables and stand up to an austerity and privatization agenda that has debased the teaching profession and starved public education.

“We have watched underfunding and the actions of privatizers undermine our schools for too long. No more. Our students and families are worth the investment, and the civic institution of public education in Los Angeles is worth saving.”

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Delaware ESPs Ready to Collaborate With State Lawmakers, Open Doors

As legislators with the Delaware General Assembly begin the new legislative season this month in Dover, Amanda Gerardi and Tameka Mays are watching and waiting.

The new co-chairs of the Delaware State Education Association’s (DSEA) Education Support Professional (ESP) Task Force are also meeting in January with DSEA staff and other ESPs to discuss training programs, pay scales, workplace and policy issues affecting ESPs statewide.

“They are going to look at education policies and make recommendations to the DSEA executive board on how to move forward with state legislators,” says Mike Hoffman, a DSEA UniServ director and former paraeducator. “As part of their research, task force members will have the opportunity to meet personally with legislators about specific ESP policies and other education issues.”

A Defining Moment
The task force was established just last spring by a new business item voted in at the DSEA Representative Assembly. As such, a temporary group of ESPs and DSEA officials quickly went to work collaborating with state legislators on education policy shifts, including passage of a bill which created the Delaware Education Support Professional of the Year award, which is the same as the state’s long-standing teacher of the year award. The makeshift group at the time also worked on statewide legislation laws involving student loan forgiveness and maternity leave.

The business item was sponsored by Tammy Eitner, a former paraeducator who is now a kindergarten teacher at North Laurel Elementary School in Laurel. She got the idea for establishing the task force after attending the NEA ESP national conference in 2017.

“I learned that ESP members from Washington state had a similar work group and had been instrumental in passing a bill that opened many doors for ESPs,” says Eitner, who started her teaching position last September. “I wanted to mimic their success in Delaware.”

New Start in the New Year
At a December ESP meeting, it was decided that a more permanent work group would be established in 2019 with Gerardi and Mays at the helm. Their objective: Pinpoint priorities such as defining accurate ESP job descriptions, establishing a career job ladder and higher education opportunities for ESPs, and designating professional developments days for trainings that correlate with specific ESP job duties.

“Now that we have this work group, we intend to highlight ESP problems and identify solutions for implementation in school districts across the state,” says Gerardi, a financial secretary based at the Delaware Early Childhood Center in Harrington. “We’ll do the research and collaborate with DSEA and other stakeholders.”

In Delaware, 70 percent of education funding comes from state coffers. The remaining 30 percent is contributed at the district level.

“This is one reason we need to lobby state legislators,” says Gerardi, a member of the Lake Forest Education Association. “They need to be aware of ESP contributions toward student achievement and safety, and compensate us accordingly.”

A Systematic Approach to Policy Change
The task force will be comprised of ESPs from at least five job categories, including Gerardi and Mays, a special education paraeducator at George Read Middle School in New Castle. Child nutrition specialists, secretaries, transportation workers, paraeducators, and custodians will comprise the DSEA task force and possible subgroups or committees.

“The Colonial School District where I work has been doing some incredible things around ESP professional development and relationship-building with students, teachers, and parents,” says Mays, a member of the Colonial Paraprofessional Association. “I’m hoping that the improvements and positive school climate within our local district can start to happen across our state where it doesn’t already exist.”

Of DSEA’s 12,000 members, approximately 3,700 are ESPs. According to Julie DeHaas, DSEA ESP state coordinator, the task force will also focus on raising awareness and support among local and state policymakers about the critical roles that ESPs play in student achievement, school operations, and community partnerships.

“The task force is a way for ESPs to voice their opinion on issues that impact them every day,” says DeHaas, who is the group’s liaison with NEA, DSEA and other state affiliates. “The group will also empower ESPs to stand up for their rights so that they can better serve students.”

With January and February meetings already set for locations in Dover and New Castle, DeHaas hopes to see more ESPs involved as the group prepares for the full legislative season ahead.

“It will be up to task force members to decide what the goals should be for 2019,” she says, “however, I am hoping they can form some productive committees that take on ESP issues and execute solutions in support of ESPs personally and professionally.”

While highlighting ESP issues at the statehouse is not unusual for DSEA lobbyists, according to Hoffman, “it is nice that we (DSEA) now have this formal commitment to the task force. And in Dover, legislators see DSEA as a partner.”

Grassroots Organizing
In the coming months, Mays and Gerardi say they look forward to meeting policymakers in their offices at the statehouse.

“I love going to school board meetings and talking with board members about our issues and concerns,” says Gerardi, who is a building representative at the childhood center. “So, I’m just as delighted to sit and speak with state officials.”

After 15 years in education, Mays wants to lobby for, among other things, training aimed at teachers and administrators so they can learn more about how to employ the skills, talents, and expertise of ESPs.

“We also want to design a pathway for ESPs who want to continue their education, including those who want to become teachers,” she says. “There are grants and other ways for ESPs to attend higher education classes, particularly if they want to pursue a teaching or other degree of their choice.”

As task force members unveil their platform and objectives, Gerardi says one goal is to establish a vehicle for ESP voices to be heard from the streets to the statehouse on a permanent basis.

“We want this work group to be an ongoing entity which not only highlights ESP issues but nurtures local leaders and advocates,” she says.

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Community Support Helps Schools Recover from Disaster

Jones Middle School students march in their town’s Christmas Parade with donated instruments.

From east coast to west coast, the U.S. has endured several devastating natural disasters in 2018. It’s been a hard year for many people, and if the seemingly endless negative news cycle has you feeling grinchy this holiday season, read on. Though they suffered enormous loss, disaster-hit communities are still feeling hopeful.

When Hurricane Florence swamped Jones Middle School in eastern North Carolina, it wiped out everything, including all of the band equipment and music library, which had taken years to collect and curate. But even though the massive storm destroyed their instruments, it didn’t stop the music.

The middle schoolers found a new home in the neighboring high school, and band teacher Alexander Williams was determined to keep his music program alive.

The students drummed on buckets, clapped rhythms with their hands, and struck notes on the few xylophones that could be salvaged.

“We made it work and the kids hung in there and kept good attitudes,” Williams said, though he admits he was stressed about how to keep them engaged without the musical instruments he’d relied on for his 30-year teaching career.

Then, a holiday miracle. All of the band equipment was replaced, each and every instrument, along with the music the students had been rehearsing.

After hearing about the school’s loss, the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children sent a call out to the community, and the community answered. People dusted off their trumpets and trombones and donated them. Others pooled their money together to buy new clarinets and cymbals, flutes and French horns, whatever was needed.

And just when they thought they’d have to skip it this year, the Jones Middle School band marched in the Christmas parade, proudly wearing school band t-shirts and jeans because they haven’t replaced the band’s uniforms yet.

“When the instruments came in the kids were so excited they wanted to start playing right away, but we hadn’t even put them together yet,” Williams says.

‘People Actually Do Care’

He was thrilled to have new instruments for the students and that they were able to play in the annual Christmas parade, but the best part, Williams says, was the generosity of the community.

“People actually do care. We hear so much bad news, we don’t hear about the good stuff often enough,” he says. “We are very grateful that so many people who don’t even know us still wanted to help us be successful. I’m hoping our students will remember this and pay it, and play it, forward.”

Williams said that though their community will be rebuilding for many years to come, “at least they had something to come back to.”

“In Northern California, there are no schools, no homes, no structures at all to come back to,” he says. “We’ve suffered a loss, but there are others who need our help.”

Hope in Paradise

In Paradise, California, all but one of its nine schools burned to ashes after the massive Camp Fire raged for more than two weeks across northern California. Like in North Carolina, the community stepped up to help. On Giving Tuesday when a California business man and restaurant owner hand delivered $1000.00 checks to each and every student and staff member in the Paradise district — most of them homeless, with the clothes on their backs.

“I felt terrible for them,” Bob Wilson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘How can I help?’”

What the students need most is a sense of normalcy after the trauma of the fire that incinerated their town. Recognizing that need, educators are finding ways to provide it. They’re holding classes at their kitchen tables, in hotels where many students are now living, in libraries in neighboring towns, even in shopping malls.

Virginia Partain has taught English at Paradise High School for more than 20 years. Now she’s holding classes in a former LensCrafters at the mall in nearby Chico.

“We just want to bring a sense of healing back to our community,” Partain, who fled the campfire taking nothing but her cats and her students’ college essays because, as she told CBS News, “there’s some part of us where we’re always the teacher and they had to get their essays done to get into college.”

Third-grade teacher Robin is sharing one room at a school in Oroville with four other teachers but they’re remaining optimistic.

“We’re going to color, have PE, talk to each other…” she said. “It’s not about the academics for us. It’s about loving each other and building the kids up…The kids need to see we all made it. We are safe. We’re just going to move on.”

To find out how you can help visit the California Teachers Association Disaster Relief Fund for information.

NEA-Alaska Launches Online Fundraiser for Schools Hit By Earthquake

A few weeks after the Camp Fire disaster, Alaska was rocked by an earthquake, and once again the community stepped up to help.

NEA-Alaska in coordination with the Anchorage Education Association (AEA), the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA), and Mat-Su Classified Employees Association (CEA) launched an online fundraiser to help defer some of the costs associated with replacing classroom materials that were damaged or destroyed in the November 30th earthquake. Fundraising information is available

“I want to thank every single teacher, classroom aide, and public school employee, for helping to keep our students safe during this traumatic event,” said Tim Parker, NEA-Alaska President. “The outpouring of support from parents, community groups, and educators is remarkable.”

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Educators Reinvigorate Organizing and Activism With Art Build

Photo: Joe Brusky

On a typically warm and sunny Saturday last week in Venice, California, Kristie Mitchell sat outside at a table surrounded by Sharpies and a pile of posters. Each one featured the same basic illustration – an outline of an African-American woman and three school-age children with the words “I Stand For” across the top. It was up to Mitchell and the other public school parents and children around the table to decorate the poster with whatever color or flourishes they preferred, but also to include what they believe their school needs the most.

Mitchell had already created two posters – one declared “I Stand For School Nurses Five Days a Week,” the second, “I Stand for Smaller Classes” – and was busy working on a third.

“We need to give teachers a stronger voice,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have the resources to teach our kids. Everybody in the community should help give them more power. When we get together like we are today, that’s what we are doing.”

Mitchell was just one of the many parents who joined hundreds of educators, students, artists, activists and who converged on a three-day community Art Build hosted by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) to create protest art supporting public education. The event was held at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), a popular community arts center housed in an old art deco building that until the mid-1970s was the Venice Police Station.

A few feet in front of Mitchell at a longer table, a row of educators, parents and students were dipping into tins of black and orange paint to decorate a large banner adorned with the proclamation “Fight For the Schools LA Students Deserve.”

A little further away, a few students had begun applying the first layers of color to four 24-foot parachute banners that cloaked the  outdoor parking lot. At the studio inside, artists were churning out silk screen picket signs with messages denouncing school privatization and corporate greed and championing smaller class sizes and solidarity with educators.

Parents, teachers and students at UTLA’s community Art Build for public education.

“Anyone here is reminded of how much kids love art,” said teacher Julie Van Winkle, “and why we need it in our schools.”

By the time the event wrapped up on Sunday night, participants had produced 8 parachute banners, 1,600 picket signs, 1000 posters, and 30 banners. Every last piece will be carried at a the March for Public Education in downtown Los Angeles on December 15, and a possible UTLA strike in January.

Events like Art Build, said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, are a demonstration of the power of art in social movements and how passionate the people are about public schools  “and the fight we are in.”

“We should take confidence from this. The community is with us.”

Art in Action

Art Build is a “transformative experience” for educators and their allies, says Nate Gunderson, an organizer with the National Education Association. Gunderson, who organized the UTLA event, witnessed the first Art Build in Milwaukee in 2017, and helped coordinate subsequent events in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gunderson believes Art Builds, regardless of the location, inspire educators and communities and open up new paths for advocacy and union organizing.

“It’s the creativity, the collaboration, the inherent power of art, and the democratization of images and messages,” says Gunderson.

Joe Brusky, a fourth grade teacher in Milwaukee and member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, was instrumental in organizing that city’s Art Build and was onhand in Los Angeles documenting UTLA’s event on social media. He recalls how Art Build became “entry point” into the union for many educators.

“The event energized them,” Brusky says. “Afterwards, people were getting involved for the first time. I remember seeing them at Art Build and then suddenly they were at school board meetings.”

UTLA Art Build 2018


Where there is grassroots support for public eduction, there is potential for an Art Build. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) will be hosting its own event on January 18-20. OEA President Keith Brown visited UTLA’s Art Build to lend his support and preview some of the logistics.

The Social and Public Art Resource Center was an ideal partner. SPARC not only provides studios for silk screen and digital printing and the necessary outdoor space to unfurl 24-foot parachute banners, but offers invaluable guidance to organizations looking to create public art for social change.

Last November, Gunderson put out a call for educators, artists and activists to submit images and slogans promoting public education. The Art Build Committee reviewed the submissions and selected those that would go on to form the basis of the posters, banners, picket signs and parachute banners that were delivered to SPARC in December.

Gloria Martinez, UTLA Elementary Vice President, was struck not only by the creativity of students and parents in bringing these objects to life, but by the conversations they were having.

“You ask students what they wanted for their schools, and they came up with these long lists,” Martinez recalled. “Smaller class sizes, more art, or just more money for schools in general. And their parents are listening to them. It’s great to hear them and their children talk about our issues and then use those discussions creatively.”

A LAUSD student gets a silkscreening lesson at Art Build. (Photo: Joe Brusky)

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, it was important that everyone understood that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“Projects like this, when we come together with the community, show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda explained.

There’s something else about Art Build, said Cecily Myart-Cruz, UTLA/NEA Vice-President, that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“Yes, it takes our activism and our visibility to the next level. But you know what? This is a also stress-reliever for our members. They need this. It’s fun and will build resiliency. It’s been a difficult time and we may have a lot more work to do in January.”

“We All Want the Same Thing”

Myart-Cruz is referring to a possible strike early in 2019. In August, UTLA’s 33,000 members voted overwhelmingly (98%!) to authorize such an action if an agreement between teachers and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cannot be reached.

After two years of negotiations, educators are refusing to retreat from their demand that LAUSD end an era of austerity and privatization that has starved public education across the city.

The situation was exacerbated in May when the Los Angeles school board selected  Austin Beutner as district superintendent. Beutner is the quintessential corporate “reformer”: a billionaire investment banker with zero experience in school or district leadership and a tireless appetite for school privatization. He has dismissed calls to slow down the expansion of charter schools (which currently cost the district more than $600 million annually) and refuses to tap into the district’s $1.6 billion reserves to properly fund the city’s schools.

“We are in a battle between Austin Beutner’s vision to downsize the public school district and our vision to reinvest in the public school district,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl wrote to the membership in November.

Unless UTLA stays strong, he warned, Beutner will be back for “another pound pound of flesh every year in a downsizing plan that includes layoffs, school closures, cuts to services, and healthcare cuts.”

From the start, the successful forging of partnerships – a tenet of “bargaining for the common good – has strengthened UTLA’s resolve and its position. The bond between parents, their children and educators at Art Build is striking, said Julie Van Winkle.

“We’re all on the same side. We want the same thing. We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” Van Winkle said as she motioned to a group of students hard at work on a banner that read “Give Our Kids a Chance.”

By Sunday night, that banner would be complete, ready to be added to the abundant stockpile of strike ready art. Next stop: downtown Los Angeles for the March for Public Education.

If a massive rally of educators, students, parents and community members doesn’t push the district into an agreement with UTLA, then there will be a strike, but “it will then be a strike of the city, not just of a strike of teachers,” said Caputo-Pearl,

“And if we’re on the picket lines in January, then this art will again be right there with us.”

Posters and Banners from UTLA Art Build

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Student Gardeners Win Big at Agricultural Fair

Nancy Burke (right) and student Taylor Warren (left) in the Haverhill High School garden.

In late September, paraeducator Nancy Burke and several student-gardeners delivered more than a dozen different types of vegetables, herbs, and berries to contest judges at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts. This was the fourth year that students with special needs from Haverhill High School’s gardening program had entered the agricultural competition, which includes fruit and vegetable entries from across New England.

“My goal when I started the garden was to teach students where food comes from and encourage them to make healthy food choices,” says Burke, a member of the Haverhill Education Association (HEA). “But they really look forward to participating in the fair.”

In 2012, Burke turned an indoor school courtyard into a single-bed vegetable garden. The garden bed was raised high enough off the ground so students sitting in wheelchairs could plant seeds, smooth soil, and pluck buried vegetables with ease. Today, the garden contains three raised-beds and an outdoor orchard.

“I started out small, and got carried away,” says Burke. “It was always supposed to be a learning garden.”

At the fair, one by one, Haverhill’s sunflowers, Swiss chard, red hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes were awarded first-place ribbons in the Junior Fruits and Vegetables competition for gardeners ages 14 to 19, in the special needs category.

Emotions ran high for Burke and the 50 members of the garden club as their winning streak extended to nine second-place ribbons for their carrots, white potatoes, berries and various herbs. Plus, three of the students walked away with the fair’s top three prizes in a farm-themed poster contest.

“We had a very good fair this year,” Burke says.

While recognition at the Topsfield Fair holds deep sentimental value for Burke and her ninth-through twelfth-grade students, they have also received state recognition for being at the forefront of the farm to school movement.

On October 3, as the fair was still packing in crowds, Burke was named a 2018 Kale Blazer award recipient by Massachusetts Farm to School.

“Nancy was selected because she has stood out as a farm to school champion over a number of years,” says Simca Horwitz, co-director of the organization. “She helps ensure that all students, regardless of ability, have access to hands-on, experiential education in the garden.”

Horwitz says the Haverhill garden “did not start high up in the administration. It started with an education support professional (ESP) who worked hard and has earned tremendous respect from students and school administrators.”

The award honors Burke as an activist who promotes gardens as outdoor learning labs and teaching tools.

“I’m grateful for the award, but am particularly happy because it included a whole bunch of kale instead of flowers,” says Burke, who received the award at a statehouse ceremony in Boston surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “I used the kale to make sausage soup.”

Growing the Holiday Spirit

To Burke’s delight, garden club students not only inherited her green thumb but also her engaging community spirit. During the holidays, students volunteer at Sacred Heart Church Food Pantry to help unload delivery trucks and organize inventory.

“The students go to the church to unload cases of bananas, cabbage, apples … whatever,” says Jason Burns, a Haverhill special education teacher who works with Burke in the classroom and garden.

After unloading the wood cases, students then sort and box the food items for pick-up by needy families and others.

“The pantry is particularly busy during the holidays,” says Burns. “After the students found this out, they wanted to help.”

Just before Thanksgiving Day, students invited their parents and guardians to the school for a meal of ham, mashed potatoes, broccoli, cranberry sauce, and rolls.

“Students developed the menu, shopped for the items at the market, prepared some of the food, and cleaned up after everyone,” says Burns, who works with students through the Multi Support, AIM and REACH programs. “The kids are involved in the whole process of preparing meals from start to finish.”

Over the years, members of the football and wrestling teams, Junior ROTC squad, and Boy Scouts have helped to cultivate the garden.

“The whole high school supports the garden,” says Burke. “At lunchtime, students and staff like to sit around the garden and talk. Some teachers have class out there.”

A Garden at Every School?

“Educators do not need special training to develop school garden programs,” says Horwitz. “There are a huge number of free resources available to help people get started – from basic tips on gardening with kids, to in-depth guides on integrating gardens with the curriculum to meet established learning standards.”

Horwitz points to the National Farm to School Network for local farm to school contacts as well as a resource database.

Simca Horwitz says school gardens are excellent settings to instruct students on a variety of topics.

“School gardens provide an incredible setting for teaching students,” she says. “It is not a new subject area, rather it’s a place where learning about math, science, history, language, and art can come alive for students.”

At Haverhill, Burke was able to secure several grants in recent years from MTA and NEA to purchase lumber, tools, and other supplies. But what about schools that do not have the space or capacity for a garden?

“In these situations, even exposing students to growing food like lettuce in the classroom or cooking with students can have many of the same benefits,” Horwitz says. “Farm to school activities such as these have been shown to positively impact student eating habits – encouraging them to consume more healthy foods.”

Garden-inspired learning can impact student achievement as well as social and emotional learning, she adds.

“Some students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting may excel in a school garden environment,” says Horwitz, who acknowledges that most educators may not have sufficient time during the school day to develop and maintain a garden.

“For this reason, it’s really important to think of the school garden as a tool and a setting for teaching the material that educators are already planning to teach,” Horwitz says.

If all goes as planned, Haverhill will soon have a patio with picnic tables and a pergola for use by teachers, ESPs, and students.

“We try to make it a four-season garden,” says Burke. “Even though the growing season has ended, we go out to the garden and orchard and have hot chocolate.”

Want to Start a School Garden?

For ideas, visit Eco Literacy, Lifelab, USDA Farm to School Program, National Farm to School Network, Edible Schoolyard.

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5 Things We Learned From Election 2018

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The 2018 midterm election results gave educators much to celebrate. More than 1,000 teachers, professors, education support professionals (ESP), and administrators from both major parties won state and local legislative seats across the country. That’s about two-thirds of almost 1,800 current or former educators from K-12 and higher education who sought office this campaign season, according to NEA. About 100 other educators ran for top state or federal seats, with many more running for seats on school boards and other local offices.

In addition, many gubernatorial and other candidates at the state level made public education a centerpiece of their campaign, second perhaps only to health care or the economy depending on the state or district. Teacher-led protests that swept states last winter and spring lead to a high level of activism among educators, students and parents, and other community members.

“We had a good night,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, during a November 9 panel discussion sponsored by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

As educators look ahead to the next two years and the 2020 presidential election, here are some of the midterm’s key issues, trends, and takeaways.

An infrastructure has been established from the unprecedented level of political activism among educators

While not all educators were victorious on Nov. 6, just being on the ballot increased activism among NEA members and other educators to unprecedented levels of engagement, according to Carrie Pugh, NEA Director of Campaigns and Elections.

“NEA activism was at an all-time high,” Pugh said. “Texting, phone banking, canvassing … we drove an historic movement.”

The massive teacher walkouts, protests, and strikes that took place in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, highlighted the opposition to decades of cuts to public education budgets, teacher salaries, poor working conditions, and in some cases, changes to public pension and retirement plans. Those walkouts and demonstrations were largely organized at the grassroots level and became known as the #RedForEd movement.

The midterm elections were regarded by many as a durability test of the educator uprising after just a few short-term contract and policy gains in states like West Virginia and Arizona. In Oklahoma, for example, legislators were immediately persuaded to invoke teacher raises and make historic investments in public schools – underwritten by a tax on the oil and gas industry.

The sustainability of the #RedForEd movement was later proven in Oklahoma during primaries and runoff elections when eight Republican incumbents who voted against the tax measure that increased funds for public schools and raised teacher pay were unseated. Some were replaced by Republicans who pledged to support strong education policy in the next legislative session.

The movement’s success was further sustained as educators nationwide were inspired to run for office while others volunteered on political campaigns in unprecedented numbers.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools.”

“That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for the #RedForEd wave,” she added. “It raised public awareness of the decrepit conditions of some classrooms.”

Says Pugh: “Educators who stepped up for re-election, or for the first time, will move up and down the pipeline for years to come. A lasting infrastructure has been built.”

A new diverse generation of female, minority, and first-time candidates support strong public schools.

A record 260 female candidates and 195 people of color were on the ballot this year. Many of them were first-time candidates who were also Democrats. While they had varied backstories and a wide range of reasons for running, they emphasized in speeches, forums, and debates about the need to fund public schools and pay teachers and ESPs competitive wages.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said at the Press Club. “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

NEA officials have been encouraged by candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

The diverse freshman class will include two Native American women who won seats in the House of Representatives: Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas. Both have spoken about the need to rethink education in tribal schools. Rashida Tlaib and IIhan Omar are one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively.

Education had a good night, but still much work to do

Democrats entered Election Day needing to flip 23 House seats to retake the chamber. They exceeded that goal by winning at least 37 new seats. While Republicans lost control of the House, they picked up seats in the Senate. Many Republican House members who embraced President Trump lost, but some Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates who backed the president won. The exit polls showed a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s job as president — yet turnout was high among Republican voters.

Ultimately, proponents of building strong public schools will have to shift their focus away from school choice schemes such as vouchers and back to funding good schools for every student.

In Arizona, for example, voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked hard to promote the proposition with voters, but “we made sure they (voters) knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

In general, nearly 50 percent of voters “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance in office, compared to roughly 30 percent who approve of the job he’s doing as president, according to election night CNN exit polls. A little more than 50 percent of voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

“The bottom line is this: if you have a poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools,” Eskelsen García said. “That’s what we’re going to take on.”

Educators with actual classroom experience and training will now help shape education agendas

With more than 1,000 teachers, professors, ESPs, and other educators ready to take the oath of office in January, debates over education budgets and policies will take a different turn than in the recent past. Teachers and other educators will hold approximately 15 percent of state legislative positions nationwide as a result of the midterms, according to the National State Legislative Council.

In states like Kentucky, for example, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, 14 out of 51 teachers and educators won their elections.

“Their voice, credibility, and perspective are invaluable,” said Pugh.

Their expertise is also in dire need, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a report titled, “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” the center found that over the last 10 years, 25 states are still providing less total funding per student than they were in 2008.

In Colorado, ESP Rochelle Galindo, 28, won her state House race. Galindo, who served on the Greeley City Council, is a member of the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association and head custodian at Lafayette Elementary School.

NEA Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss (center) campaigns with Rochelle Galindo (far right). On Nov. 6, Galindo won a seat in the Colorado State House.

“Our schools continue to grow yet have to fight for a small pool of funding,” Galindo says on her campaign website. “I will fight to provide schools with the funding they need in order to establish a quality education for all Colorado students.”

At the national level, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became Connecticut’s first black representative. Rep.-elect Hayes is a former high school teacher who campaigned on strengthening the public-school system.

The new resistance insists on being heard over the voices of Trump-DeVos and incumbents like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

“The Women’s March in Washington was an answer to President Trump’s inauguration,” Pugh said. “A number of women candidates stepped up, won primaries, and are now going to Congress.”

At the time of the march, which took place one day after Trump’s inauguration, Republican officials and conservative pundits said the activism would not last. Clearly, the movement sustained its energy and mission and has translated into real political change.

“It shows the importance of ongoing commitment and infrastructure,” Pugh said. “It led to the increased turnout.”

Pugh also stressed the importance of recruiting and training good candidates, such as through programs like NEA’s See Educators Run.

At the Press Club, Eskelsen García stressed that public education issues gained momentum from mainstream voters who oppose Trump policies involving vouchers, school privatization, and the appointment of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

According to Politico, DeVos was mentioned in $3 million worth of political TV ads and dozens of Facebook ads, overwhelmingly Democratic. Her advocacy for vouchers, charter schools, dampening civil rights protections for students, and promoting loan servicing companies over student borrowers motivated voters in the opposite direction.

Says Eskelsen García: “Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our website, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public.”

Education was the No. 2 issue in campaign ads for most of the 36 gubernatorial races, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers, the current superintendent of public instruction, defeated Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, primarily on a pro-education platform. According to polling by Marquette University Law School, approximately 40 percent of voters in Wisconsin put K-12 education as one of their top two issues.

Walker took office in 2011 and soon spearheaded passage of an anti-union act that dismantled collective bargaining rights, which accounted for median educator salaries dropping by 2.6 percent and median benefits by 18.6 percent.

Governor-elect Evers proposed increasing investment in all levels of education.

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How Public Education Shaped Election 2018

Votes are still being counted in many states, but the final tally is not going to change the bottom line: Big change is on its way to Washington D.C. and state capitals across the nation.  Come January 2019, newly-minted lawmakers will have to get down to the job of governing and delivering on the promises they ran on.

This includes the many candidates, particularly at the state level, who made public education a centerpiece of their campaign. In 2019, education was a top tier issue, second perhaps only to health care. Did it really drive voters to the polls last Tuesday? What role did the  #RedforEd movement play? How will education policy in individual states actually change?

These were some of the questions before a panel of experts assembled by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club on Friday. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, and Scott Pattison, executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association joined moderator Daarel Burnette of Education Week to review the education issue’s impact in Election 2018 and look ahead to 2019.

Burnette first asked each panelist for their top takeaways from an election that saw impressive wins up and down the ballot for candidates with pro-public education track records.

The level of political engagement among educators, Eskelsen García said, was extraordinary.

“[NEA] has never see anything like it. We saw an 165% increase in folks who said they would do something more than vote. They saw this as a pivotal election.”

Eskelsen García credited the #RedforEd movement, not only for fueling educator activism across the country, but also for fundamentally changing the conversation about public schools.

The teacher-bashing rhetoric of the past was nowhere to be heard. Instead, both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García said, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools. That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for those teachers in the #RedforEd wave.”

Scott Pattison was also struck by the dominance of the education issue – along with health care and jobs – in stump speeches and campaign ads.

“Twenty years ago, every gubernatorial candidate wanted to be known as the ‘education governor.’  Then everyone was the ‘jobs governor.’ Now those two have been put together,” Pattison explained. “There’s a broader expansion in how they see education effecting these other issues, including the opioid crisis.”

Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? …We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”- NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

While Frederick Hess agreed that the 2018 election results were good for public education in that candidates were “saying nice things about schools,” he was less sure of education as a critical factor in any race. Hess questioned whether public education actually motivated many people to vote and called the success rate for educator candidates and pro-public education ballot initiatives underwhelming.

“I’m just skeptical of the political saliency of the education issue,” Hess said.

As Pattison pointed out, however, no candidate in 2018 wanted to be seen as being hostile to public schools.

“In this environment, no one wanted to face the voters as someone who wanted to  cut education,” Pattison said. “There was at least a strong desire [among incumbents] to be able to point to their record and say ‘I increased spending on education.’”

While it is true that many educators who ran for political office were defeated, the importance of getting into the race and talking about the future of public education cannot be overstated.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said.  “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

Eskelsen García also argued that the debate over the future of public education has reached far beyond educators and policy wonks. In addition to the attention over the plight of underfunded schools, the appointment of Betsy DeVos – and the intense opposition it triggered – signaled education’s standing as an urgent national issue.

“Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our web site, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public,” Eskelsen García said.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, Scott Pattison of the National Governors Association (left) and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Election 2018 and public education at the National Press Club on November 9.

Burnette asked the panelists about the challenges governors will face next year in finding the revenue to increase education funding.

Pattison replied that governors and legislatures are limited in what they can do because an anti-tax climate still exists, even in those states that elected new leaders.  “There’s not a lot of flexibility on the revenue side.  It comes down to the decision-making process, but there are a limited parameters and all kinds of competing priorities. And the economy may face a downturn in the next few years.”

Eskelsen García said the nation needs to take a hard look at those “priorities.”

“Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? It’s always called an “economic development program” but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize,” Eskelsen García said. “We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”

To be successful, however, the conversation also has to shift its focus away from “school choice” schemes that siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools. On Tuesday, voters in Arizona rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked overtime to sell the proposition to the voters, but “we made sure they knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

“We need to stop taking about these distractions,” she added. “The bottom line is this: if you have a  poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools. That’s what we’re going to take on.”

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Election 2018: Voters Deliver Big Wins for Public Education

Last Spring, educators in state after state took to the streets to demand greater investments in public schools. The protests launched the #RedforEd movement to elevate public education as a top national issue and harness the energy of educators everywhere and carry it to the ballot box in November.

On Tuesday, they delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates – many of them former or current educators – into office at every level of government.

The victories marked a major victory for students and education and serve as a mandate for real change in our public education system.

The 2018 election may prove to be a turning point for public education, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” said Eskelsen García. “Candidates across the country witnessed unprecedented activism by educators in their races. Standing up for students and supporting public education were deciding factors for voters, and educators will hold lawmakers to their promises.”

The balance of power will shift in Washington D.C. as the Democrats’ new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will serve as an important check on President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 100 women were elected to the House, the most in U.S. history.

It was the gubernatorial and state legislature contests, however, that delivered the most impressive wins for pro-public education candidates. Education policy is decided primarily by these legislatures and the bulk of money allocated to public schools comes from state and local coffers. Winning these races was critical, which is why NEA focused its mobilization efforts most sharply in individual states.

At least 290 state legislative seats and seven state chambers were flipped to pro-public education majorities, many in states that have suffered through a decade of devastating cuts to education and relentless attacks on educators and other public sector workers. Beyond that, at least seven governorships were flipped, including Tony Evers, who put an end to the Scott Walker era in Wisconsin and J.B. Pritzker defeated Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

Walker, of course, led the attacks on public sector unions with Act 10, the 2011 anti-collective bargaining law. In 2015, Rauner was chiefly responsible for pushing the Janus case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Other big wins included former high school teacher Tim Walz in Minnesota, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Janet Mills in Maine, Brad Little in Idaho, Laura Kelly in Kansas, and Michelle Lujan-Grisham in New Mexico.

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election. That’s a 165 percent increase in activism engagement this election cycle compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

There were a number of state ballot initiatives put before the voters that effected education funding. Maryland voters approved Question 1, whichwill require casino revenue to be set aside for schools, potentially raising $500 million annually for K-12 education. Montana voters approved LR-128, a $6 million levy to support the state’s public colleges and universities.

The 2018 elections also saw an unprecedented number of educators step up and run for office. According to an NEA analysis, nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats this year and more than 100 more vied for top state or federal offices. Many of these candidates hailed from states that experienced #RedForEd walkouts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators who were on the general election ballot.

While results were still being tallied on Wednesday, the message sent by these candidates is loud and clear.

“After decades of starving education funding, educators said, ‘I can do better,’” said Eskelsen García. “They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve,” said Eskelsen García.

Despite the victories in Election 2018, Eskelsen García added, educators will continue to engage with our elected officials so they stay focused on delivering for the nation’s students.

“Educators have had enough of empty promises from politicians. We told them we’d remember in November, and educators keep their promises,” Eskelsen García said. “As a result of the historic #RedForEd movement and the 2018 midterm election, educators have found their voice, and they are going to continue to hold lawmakers accountable after this election.”

For all the latest updates on Election 2018 results, visit NEA Education Votes.

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The Bittersweet Experience of Teaching Overseas

Judi Nicolay has taught in Brussels for 24 years (Photo: Leilani Hyatt)

Randy Ricks teaches at Lester Middle School located on Kadena U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a short plane flight away.

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture,” says Ricks, a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA). “The opportunities to travel are great.”

In Brussels, Judi Nicolay teaches English, history, and finance to the children of military service personnel and foreign diplomats at the annex of the U.S Army Garrison. Cities like Hamburg, Germany, Paris, and Vienna, are a drive or train ride away.

“It’s one of the advantages . . . seeing new places,” says Nicolay, who has taught in Brussels for 24 years out of her 30 as a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the civilian branch of the Department of Defense that serves more than 70,000 students of service members and civilian staff in 11 nations, seven U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For 28 years, Stacey Mease taught school in South Korea and Turkey before her current assignment at Robinson Barracks Elementary School in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The military community is really a melting pot,” says Mease, a former military dependent who attended four DoDEA schools growing up. “I enjoy working with people from all over America who have different backgrounds.”

The combination of living overseas for years, while firmly planted in U.S. military culture, helps some FEA members cope with being away from family back home, according to Rhoda Rozier Cody, who teaches at Humphreys Central Elementary School at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in the middle of the South Korean countryside.

“Day to day life is pretty normal, but when we travel it is to places that we may not be able to visit if we were working in the States,” she says. “It is a global experience working overseas.”

DoDEA’s Changing Landscape

Weekend train trips across Europe. Basking in the Middle Eastern sun. Wandering the cobblestone streets of ancient Asian cities. That’s only part of the experience of working overseas for DoDEA. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of negative aspects to the job.

“There are many reasons why I joined DoDEA that are no more,” says a veteran teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some teachers fear losing their jobs.”

Stacey Mease

Stacey Mease teaches in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Sabrina Wilson)

While DoDEA schools have adequate resources, there are many components that make the job challenging.

“DoDEA used to provide very good professional development both during the summer and school year that really met the needs of teachers,” says a teacher, who has worked with DoDEA since the 1990s. “In recent years, professional development has been one-size-fits-all.”

After more than 30 years of teaching within the DoDEA system, as well as growing up in a military family, a second educator expresses dismay about a lack of support from DoDEA officials.

“These last few years, we are having an issue getting respect from our leaders,” the teacher says. “It is a shame, because living overseas, our teachers, administrators, students and parents have always been more like a family.”

According to several accounts by FEA members who were attracted to DoDEA by the chance to work in a variety of countries, opportunities to transfer to a different location within the system have all but vanished.

An Imperfect System Getting Worse

DoDEA salaries and benefits are commensurate with those in school systems based in the U.S. As federal employees working overseas, teachers receive benefits that include health insurance, retirement contributions and allowances for housing and transportation.

Under the tax law passed this year, allowances and assistance for airfare and the shipment of vehicles, clothing, furniture and other household goods are now being considered as income and therefore taxable. DoDEA has not clearly communicated the change to new teachers entering the system, FEA says. Consequently, new teachers and retirees are being blindsided by a high tax debt.

“There is a current effort by the federal government to place an unfair tax burden on employees who receive moving assistance from the government when entering or leaving federal service,” says FEA President Chuck McCarter. “In addition, too many people are not receiving their proper pay or having their pay docked for bogus debts the government claims they owe. FEA continues to press management to resolve these issues.”

Chuck McCarter

Federal Education Association President Chuck McCarter (Photo: Courtesy of FEA)

Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken bargaining rights, union representation, and employees’ rights to due process government-wide are affecting DoDEA teachers.

“They (DoDEA officials) are also forcing bad contracts on our stateside and overseas bargaining units,” says McCarter. “They all stem from DoDEA management’s complete lack of respect for its school-level employees.”

McCarter says DoDEA senior officials possess a pervasive attitude of: “If you’re not happy, make an adult decision and leave.”

“Management simply does not care what building-level educators—the people who actually work with students on a daily basis—have to say about the learning and working environment in our schools,” says McCarter, who spends weeks at a time meeting with FEA members, who belong to eight DoDEA school districts containing 166 schools in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.

When it comes to curriculum, decisions are made by people based at DoDEA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., “who have not been in the classroom in years,” says McCarter.

A separate survey by FEA reveals the following:
– 82 percent of members say DoDEA is not heading in the right direction.
– 17 hours per week, on average, is the time members work outside the duty day.
– 19 percent of members’ workday is spent on non-essential duties assigned by management.

“Decisions are made with no input from the field and no thought to how they’ll be implemented, how to train the school-level staff to use new resources, or how these new programs and initiatives dreamed up by management will impact classroom learning and the amount of time educators have to work directly with students,” he adds. “There is also a disturbing trend toward the micromanagement of classrooms, ignoring educators’ professional judgment.”

Last spring, DoDEA management lobbied Congress—which, along with the Pentagon and White House, serve as DoDEA’s de facto school board—to create a new law governing DoDEA schools that would have gutted bargaining and due process rights.

“Fortunately, with help from NEA members who wrote to Congress on our behalf, we were able to convince lawmakers that DoDEA’s proposal was a bad idea,” says McCarter.

In a 2017 report of the best places to work in the federal government, the Partnership for Public Service ranked DoDEA in the bottom 5 percent—322 out of 339 agencies. The report is an assessment of how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, considering leadership, pay, innovation, and other issues.

Sheltering Members

“As public employees, our members are often afraid to point out problems and shortcomings of DoDEA out of fear of management targeting them for retribution or even dismissal,” says McCarter. “It’s not a healthy environment and certainly not one that would promote improvements in the system.”

The Federal Education Association is NEA’s state affiliate representing more than 8,000 faculty and staff in the DoDEA system. FEA represents two bargaining units: Stateside (including Guam) and Overseas (including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

The overseas unit is divided into two areas:
– Europe, where members are located primarily in the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.
– The Pacific (South Korea, Okinawa, and mainland Japan).

Randy Ricks

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture. The opportunities to travel are great,” says Randy Ricks (Photo: Courtesy of Randy Ricks)

FEA members worldwide include teachers, counselors, school psychologists and speech/language pathologists. Education support professionals (ESP) are part of FEA’s stateside bargaining unit but are represented by other unions overseas. FEA also has an active NEA-Retired membership.

As federal employees, FEA members have strict limitations on their actions and speech in the work place.

“The Association does its best to shelter members, but we simply can’t stop all of the blows when the whole system right now is rigged against federal employees and their unions,” says McCarter.

But there is a bright side to working for DoDEA, he says.

“The faculty and staff in our schools enjoy great respect and support from the military parents and communities we work with,” says McCarter. “And, of course, our members have the utmost respect and appreciation for those military personnel and their families, whom we are honored to serve.”

A Pacific Tale

The U.S. government regularly looks for teachers to work abroad. When Mary Anne Harris was teaching at a Catholic grade school in the early 1990s, she attended an international teachers’ recruitment fair.

“I found the international schools tended to serve the elite members of both American and local nationals near U.S. embassies,” says Harris, in her 26th year with DoDEA, based at Kadena Middle School in Okinawa. “In contrast, DoDEA schools provide educational opportunities for the children of servicemen, like my father.”

Like many FEA members, Harris grew up in a military family. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force.

“I liked the idea of serving those who serve our country,” she says. “DoDEA teachers are a unique group of individuals who left home to seek adventure overseas.”

Harris says her students experience the hardship of frequent residential moves and parent deployments, but still maintain “a resilient moxie that is totally amazing.”

“We are a highly successful school system that provides students with loving, motivational and educational learning opportunities,” she adds.

The same could be said of educators like Harris who in October lived for several days under lockdown and without electricity after Okinawa experienced a massive typhoon.

“We managed,” she says.

Salary Schedule

Educators working overseas are considered defense civilian personnel and are compensated according to a public law (86-91) created for overseas DoDEA schools.

According to figures for the 2017-2018 school year, the pay range is $44,170 (Step 1) for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree through $89,205 at the top of the scale (Step 18) for a teacher with a Ph.D. A teacher with a master’s degree would start at $48,490 (Step 1), reach $64,735 at Step 10 and top out at $78, 795.

Steps 15-18 are longevity steps payable upon completion of four years of service in Steps 14-17, respectively.

Salaries for educators overseas are set at the average pay for educators compiled from more than 250 urban school districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of at least 100,000. Figures for the current school year were still being tabulated at press time.

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How Educator Voices Help Win Fair Contracts

Last year on October 3 the Fresno Teachers Association held a strike vote. With one voice, the membership overwhelmingly supported the move with only 20 out of 3,000 voting against it. It would be their first strike since 1978.

Nobody wanted a strike but FTA was willing to take it that far if for a contract that better served the 74,000 students of their district. Ultimately, a strike was avoided, and a year later, after an historic joint labor and management meeting between the district and the union. Fresno Unified has a new agreement with an 8.5 percent salary increase and a promise to reduce class sizes.

In a news conference with the FTA last month, Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson said that the union and the district are turning “conflict and chaos” into “collaboration and cooperation” between labor groups, district leaders and community members.

“In our community, the poverty level is about 80 percent. For those students, education is beyond just knowledge, it’s life or death,” FTA President Manual Bonilla says. “That’s the way I see it. It’s that critical. We need to serve them as a system, not just as teachers or administrators. We need to work together.”

It was a journey, and Bonilla explains below how they got there and the lessons he learned along the way.

Find Common Ground

Three members of district leadership and three members of union leadership met with a conflict resolution team at Fresno Pacific University, known for strong programs in teacher education and peacemaking and conflict resolution. Through that process, we agreed we had the same goals. We want to serve our 74,000 students and our community, which has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in America. And we agreed that finding solutions together would have a better impact. So that became our foundation going forward – we have the same goals, let’s have the same solutions. We decided we’d be an example of how systems can come together to effect change.

Expand the Circle

To allow everyone to participate and share their voice, we had to expand the circle. We started with three on each side, but then district invited the union to the principals’ institute and cabinet meetings. We invited the superintendent and his staff to our Representative Council. But there were more voices to be heard. We invited all school site representatives to bargaining meetings. That way we could see that issues that come up to the leadership level are probably system-wide, not just site based.

When I was teaching over the past decade, we weren’t involved in the decision making process on how to achieve the goals of best serving students. Now we – the educators, the union — are more involved than ever. Besides the parents, teachers spend the most time with students. We know better than most what these students need in the classroom. We must be at the table to share our expertise and collaborate. When teachers realized they were being heard, more came forward to share their ideas.

We still have tough conversations and we still will disagree, but how we go about that, different way. Our leaders have emerged and showed us different ways.

Listen and Act

Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla (left) and Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson.

We set up meetings to talk to the parents, teachers, students and community at all seven high schools and each of the middle and elementary schools. We have 106 schools in our district and we wanted each of them to be involved in the process. We asked them what their issues were. What did they want to see? Lower class sizes came up time and time again, and we turned that into bargaining language for the contract. They wanted more social and emotional supports, and that was put into the language, too. Now the contract was seen in the right light – as a direct means to improve education, not just as a business transaction.

You can’t just listen. You must take action, and that won over the community. But it also got teachers more excited. Teachers hadn’t been involved with the union in the past because they didn’t see its role in the day-to-day work of the profession. Now they were seeing how the contract was interwoven into education. Now they were getting involved and we made sure all of their voices were heard.

Be Totally Transparent

We wanted to allow our members to hear everything about the process. We had a core bargaining team that worked during school hours, but we also had an evening team so teachers could listen to what was going on. At the first meeting, maybe 150 educators showed up. By the next, it grew to 400, and to 900 the next time. It just grew and grew. Everyone was invested in the process. Everyone felt like they had a voice. We shared bargaining updates on social media to communicate with members, but also with the community.

We were very, very open. We wanted them to know we have nothing to hide. We were breaking the narrative that collective bargaining is about is about partisan issues and showing them it’s about improving education.

Give Professionals the Voice they Deserve

No matter the field, professionals will be motivated and empowered if they understand the goals of the organization where they work. Beyond wanting to be treated as professionals, we heard from our educators that they need to understand the district’s vision. They want clear expectations and a full picture of where we’re going. They want more communication and they want to feel that their time and expertise is valued and taken into account.

Video: Fresno Teachers Association Strike

If you listen, you can hear a slight sigh of relief, the sound of the ice beginning to crack. I don’t think every single educator feels as if their voice is being heard, but we planted a seed of hope. Are we having great conversations at the district level and leadership level? Yes, but until it filters down all the way to the classroom, we are not done. This meeting was first step. We’ve begun the journey. Everyone feels like this is new and different. It feels different. It feels better. The question, what will show that it’s different? What will the evidence be. Hopefully we’ll see that through the actions we take over the course of this contract.

Stay Union Strong

This process didn’t start two weeks ago. It’s not lost on me that we had to take a strike vote first. Had we not done that, had we not been unified and engaged with our members, we wouldn’t be here. The district leadership need to know that the teachers are speaking with a unified voice. Until you do that, they have no real motivation to bargain seriously. The only reason I was able to be in that room to have those tough conversations was because I knew we had the power of the membership behind me. Going forward, we must keep the members engaged to keep the union strong. That’s how we serve our students and schools.

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Years of Persistence Lead to Double-Digit ESP Wage Hikes

Across Washington state, education support professionals (ESP) have negotiated record-breaking contracts that include pay raises from 21.7 percent for nutrition service workers of the Spokane Education Association (SEA) to hourly wage increases that top off at more than $24 in Touchet and $37 in Bridgeport — an 11 percent increase.

In the southern part of the state, secretaries in Woodland gained an average pay hike of 15 percent starting at $18.33 and topping off at $24.80. Office personnel located at the four schools which comprise Elma School District in Elma received an 18 percent increase.

It’s been an extraordinary bargaining year for ESP members of the Washington Education Association (WEA). While negotiators followed a familiar story line for the first half of the year — fighting in favor of pay raises and against reductions in work hours – the plot took a twist in June when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state would finally comply with the court’s 2012 McCleary Decision. Because of McCleary, state funding for K-12 basic education increased substantially.

“All of a sudden, there was a pot of money on the table,” says Mike McCloud, president of the Bainbridge Island Educational Support Professional Association (BIESPA). For example, the Bainbridge Island School District received an additional $9 million on top of its annual budget allowance.

“We bargained in good faith with school board representatives,” McCloud says. “They wanted to retain and attract skilled people and now they had the means.”

The 18 percent wage increase that BIESPA members received in September provides a starting salary of $18.88 per hour, maxing out at $51.91. Members of the Bridgeport Classified Public Employees Association (BCPEA) members received $17.94 to start while in Touchet, ESP members received an average 13.5 percent increase giving them a starting hourly salary of $14.57. The SEA nutrition service workers starting pay is set at $14.70 per hour, topping off at $30.45.

“In ordinary years, school districts don’t have this kind of money,” McCloud adds. “We were all bargaining for the common good on behalf of students and schools.”

Small Town, High Costs

“Our new wage schedule rightfully rewards those who have stuck with their positions through all the years of minimal increases and reductions in hours and hopefully will attract a new generation to the many roles classified staff fulfill,” says Marcia Millican, BIESPA vice president and a paraeducator at Wilkes Elementary School.

Millican was one of six BIESPA representatives on the bargaining team, which started meeting in February several months before the start of negotiations with the school district. The negotiating team reached a tentative agreement in late July. At a general membership meeting in August, members who were present voted almost unanimously in favor of the agreement.

“Our main objective was to honor the input our members gave us, which was overwhelmingly to obtain wage increases,” she says. “But our work is not done. We will continue to advocate for our members as the demands of our positions are ever-changing.”

Bainbridge Island is in Puget Sound, a short ferry ride from Seattle. It is a small, scenic town with good schools, quaint shops, and a high cost of living.

“Most of BIESPA’s 180 members live on or near the island,” says Jill Van Glubt, a UniServ Director who worked with the bargaining team. “They are subject to that high cost of living.”

Bainbridge teachers also received an 18 percent raise.

“We all (ESPs and teachers) received excellent support and advice from WEA,” says McCloud.

The McCleary Case

“We are proud that WEA members have been at the forefront of the fight for better school funding for decades, including the McCleary court case, which WEA has supported from the start,” says WEA President Kim Mead. “Our years of hard work and advocacy are paying off for the students of Washington.”

The organizing effort culminating in the McCleary Decision started as early as 2004 when WEA members agreed to increase their dues to pay for the expenses related to the beginnings of the lawsuit. The McCleary case was filed in 2007, and a superior court judge ruled in support in 2010. In its 2012 McCleary Decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution:

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

In McCleary, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the state’s 1.1 million students. The court also retained jurisdiction in the case and ordered the state to report back on its progress in complying with the court’s order.

In 2014, the court found the Legislature in contempt for its failure to establish a plan for fully funding K-12 public education by 2018. The Supreme Court responded to this failure by fining the state $100,000 a day. Last June, state compliance with the court’s 2012 order brought closure to the case and a windfall of dollars to school district coffers.

Due Diligence

Located in the Seattle-metropolitan area, members of the Mercer Island Classified Public Employees Association (MICPEA) benefitted from the influx of funding when they received an average increase, this school year, of 16 percent, starting at $23.18 per hour and topping off at $43.23. In another part of the state, Federal Way ESP (FWESP) members received an average increase of just under 17 percent, starting at $23.65 per hour and topping off at $30.34.

The Supreme Court order was not only thing Mercer Island and Federal Way members had in common with BIESPA members. They also had the support of legislators, parents, and school board members who recognized the need to pay ESPs, teachers and other educators a salary commensurate with their training, seniority, and education levels.

“This is a much-needed generational realignment of pay for educators—both teachers and ESP members,” says Mead.

While many WEA ESP locals successfully negotiated significant pay raises, ESP members in several other Washington districts are still at the bargaining table. In districts like North Thurston, Tumwater and Port Angeles, obstinate school boards and superintendents have so far refused to negotiate the pay raises their support employees need and deserve. With WEA’s full backing, ESP members in those districts continue to battle for pay raises.

“Every education support professional deserves fair pay,” Mead says. “WEA will continue to support our ESP members in their ongoing fight for competitive, professional salaries and the respect they deserve. We won’t back down.”

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Retired Teacher Donates Family Farm for Foster Children Housing

Judy Singleton (center) with Randall Greene and Melissa Bailey of Sunrise Children’s Services (Photo by Lashana Harney)

Judy Singleton remembers running up and down the hills on her Kentucky farm as a child. “I used to love to do that as a kid!” Hers was a childhood full of farm activity and animals—a pet lamb, a pet cow, a pet pony, pet dogs, cats, chickens…

But these days, the retired kindergarten teacher isn’t looking back. She’s looking forward to the farm’s future, when it will be transformed into Solid Rock Children’s Ranch, a foster-care home where siblings in foster care can stay together. Last year, Singleton donated her 130-acre Winchester, Ky., family farm to Sunrise Children’s Services, a 150-year-old, non-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to caring for Kentucky’s abused and neglected children, which will use the land to construct two five-bedroom foster homes.

“This was a vision that God placed in my heart,” says Singleton. In her 35-year career as a full-time teacher, plus recent years as a part-time Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher, Singleton has seen an increasing number of children in crisis, who live with grandparents or with parents who can’t capably care for them.

“As I worked with the kids, I began to see all these problems, and God placed in my heart that I could do more.

“I’ve still got some good years ahead of me, and I want to help these kids,” says Singleton, 65, who will continue to live on the farm during her lifetime. As a certified respite caregiver, Singleton can welcome the children into her home, and do crafts, cooking, Bible study, and other after-school activities with them. “I want my home to be a place where they can come and just talk, and know it’s going to be okay. Whatever they need, I want to be that for them.”

With the number of children in foster care rising across the nation, her gift couldn’t come at a better time, notes Melissa Bailey, director of marketing for Sunrise Children’s Services. “When folks like Judy, and other donors, supporters and prayer warriors, find us and contact us, it’s so important to our ministry.

“There are more and more children to help.”

An Epidemic of Need

As opioid addiction has soared across the nation, the need for foster care also has climbed. In 2016, the number of U.S. children in foster care rose for the fourth year in a row, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. By the end of 2016, they numbered about 437,500. For more than a third of those children, a parent’s drug abuse was a factor.

Making matters worse, at least half of U.S. states have seen their foster-care capacity decrease since 2012, according to a Chronicle of Social Change report. Either these states have fewer beds and more youth in foster care, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by the skyrocketing number of children who don’t have parents who can care for them.

Kentucky is no exception. The state’s painkiller and heroin epidemic parallels a 23 percent jump, between 2012 and 2017, in the number of children in foster care. State officials say 71 percent of those children came into foster care as a result of drug abuse.

“Kentucky certainly does have an epidemic on its hand,” says Bailey. “This year, we’re approaching 10,000 kids in state care. We’re at crisis level. So the work that Sunrise Children’s Services does, and other state agencies, is vital.”

Singleton knows these children—and she knows how important it is for them to stay together. “One time, I had this little boy in kindergarten who was actually taking care of his younger siblings! There were three little boys, like stair steps. And when he got to first grade, it was his job to get the kindergartner to school. Eventually they went to live with their grandparents, but it was heartbreaking to see his burden at 5 or 6 years old.”

More recently, as a part-time RTI educator who works specifically with children with challenges, Singleton has found that most of her students are living with grandparents or “in home situations that they should not be in,” she says. “A few years ago, I had a family of five—four girls, one boy—I was working with the boy the year they were removed from the home, and I was very concerned that they would be separated but they were actually placed with an older lady together.”

Sibling Power

Studies show that siblings placed together in foster care are less likely to run away, less likely to have behavioral issues, and more likely to succeed academically. They feel safer and more supported. And federal law does require states to make a reasonable effort to keep siblings together, unless there are safety reasons not to do so.

“It’s traumatic enough that they’ve been removed from their biological home and parents,” says Bailey. “Breaking them up is really detrimental to their healing.”

But keeping siblings together isn’t easy. Not many foster homes can accommodate more than one or two children, notes Bailey. “In an ideal situation, we’d have siblings working together, healing together, under one roof. But when you have a sibling group of four, five, six kids, which we see from time to time, we don’t often have one roof for them to go under together.”

Sunrise and Singleton’s vision for the Solid Rock Children’s Ranch calls for the construction of two, five-bedroom cabins where siblings can stay and heal together. The first phase will establish the necessary infrastructure—a new access road, plus water, septic and electric systems—and the first of the two cabins, and cost about $500,000.

So far, Sunrise has raised about $20,000. “We’ve got a little ways to get there,” says Bailey, “but we’re confident the Lord will provide and our friends and supporters will gather.”

“I know God didn’t bring me this far for it not to be finished and completed.”

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NEA Members Stand Ready to Help Communities Hit by Hurricane Michael

This Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Michael, center, in the Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA via AP)

The devastation to the panhandle of Florida will likely be catastrophic as Hurricane Michael, the strongest storm to hit the area in more than a century, makes landfall.  An extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, it is a life-threatening event for large portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, where residents have never experienced such a powerful storm.

After devastating coastal communities with a storm surge that could climb to 13 feet in some areas, flash flooding is also a concern. Forecasters predict the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, southeast Alabama and parts of Georgia could receive four to eight inches of rain, with some spots getting as much as a foot.

Once again, the National Education Association and its members stand ready to help.

“Hurricane Michael has swelled to a dangerous Category 4 hurricane. Forecasters have warned about a potentially devastating storm surge, along with punishing winds that could tear through the region today and tomorrow,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.  “In the spirit of solidarity and compassion, NEA is asking its members and the public, as we did last year after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and just last month after Hurricane Florence, to help educators and schools affected by Hurricane Michael. Communities in North and South Carolina are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Florence.”

NEA members, their students, and communities will need ongoing contributions to make it through the relief and recovery phase, which is often months, if not years, long.

“They need to know we are with them, that we share their sorrow and empathize with their losses. Our compassion and generous donations will help restore their hope that tomorrow will be better,” says Eskelsen García.

Donations can be made to the NEA-MB’s GoFundMe page for Hurricane Michael Relief Fund, which will go a long way to replace belongings and the many expenses educators and their families will certainly incur in the days, weeks, and months to come.

“All of us can play a role in rebuilding the lives of those impacted by these natural disasters, standing strong for our members and their families, and mending communities,” said Eskelsen García. “On behalf of affected NEA members, thank you for your prayers and generosity.”

NEA Member Benefits Assistance

NEA Member Benefits is here to support educators in tough times. For members affected by Hurricane Michael, including damage to a house, auto, or classroom as the result of the hurricanes, visit for more information about which NEA MB Partner offers might apply to you and your situation. You may also contact the Member Service Center toll-free at 1-800-637-4636.

NEA Resources

Educators know that when disasters such as Hurricane Florence strike, children are often traumatized and they need help from families and educators to cope and heal. NEA is providing resources and information to help deal with students’ fears and questions.

NEA’s School Crisis Guide (PDF)
A step-by-step outline of what to do before, during, and after any school or community crisis like a natural disaster. NEA offers best practices that address the full spectrum of crisis response from how to prevent and prepare for a crisis to how to respond and recover in the minutes, days and weeks following the event.

Resources for Educators, Students and Families

American Red Cross The American Red Cross is working around the clock to provide safe shelter and comfort for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by this disaster.

North Carolina Department of Public Safety central web site for North Carolina response.

The American School Counselor Association provides an extensive list of resources for helping kids deal with hurricanes and floods.

Colorin Colorado Colorin Colorado is a bilingual web site for educators and families has information on how to help children after a natural disaster and additional resources.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network “After the Hurricane: Helping Young Children Heal”.

Harvest Hope Food Banks are in need of donations for food banks across the Carolinas.

United Way provides basic needs such as food, shelter and medicine, as well as the long-term recovery services.

Additional Resources

Tips for Parents: Helping Kids Cope with Hurricane Harvey (Save the Children)

Remembering Hurricane Katrina: 15 Moving Books for Kids of All Ages (Brightly)

Recommended Children’s Books About Hurricanes (ThoughtCo)

Talk to Your Kids About Hurricanes (Scholastic)




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