Over 150 parent, student, teacher and community groups from more than 15 cities participated in the National Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve in late November. Staging school walk-ins, holding rallies and packing school board meetings, organizers across the country pushed for sustainable community schools in their cities. All students deserve the kinds of resources and opportunities that will help them succeed, from rigorous academics and adequate school funding to wraparound health supports and out-of-school learning programs.
Check out pictures from the events and summaries from each location below. (And click here for a full list of events, demands and participating organizations.)
Austin, TX – November 20, 2014
Almost 100 students, parents, teachers and community members rallied with Education Austin at Travis High School in Austin as part of the Alliance to Save Our Schools National Week of Action. A press conference kicked-off the event with Education Austin President Ken Zarifis demanding greater charter school accountability and an end to state-mandated reconstitution plans. In their place he called on state, city and school district leaders to support sustainable community schools and to allocate financial resources for them. Austin Voices Executive Director Allen Weeks excited the crowd with the chant, “Whose schools? Our Schools! Whose Schools? Our Schools!” and Travis student Kiyara Freeman spoke about the school's strong community family and that “even though people see us as an underdog, we don’t care because we love our school and will continue to fight. It is a great place to be.” Teachers and parents spoke to the misconceptions some have of Travis High School, and Principal Ty Davidson told the crowd that, despite its challenges, the school's graduation rates and other school measures are improving. Belem Paredon, a Travis parent, assured the media and attending crowd that the teachers and administrators at Travis work hard every day on behalf of the students. A Travis teacher expressed his commitment to his students and challenged the politicians in attendance to find the supports needed to ensure success for all of the Travis students.
A number of state and city politicians joined the press conference, including State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who committed to carrying a community schools bill in the coming legislative session. Newly elected city councilperson Ann Kitchen emphasized the need for the city to find ways to work with the district and the county to support Austin students and fund sustainable community schools. Austin ISD at-large trustee Gina Hinojosa cited the history of parent involvement at Travis and that it is a prime candidate for the community schools model. Trustee Lori Moya, who represents Travis High School and is a ’75 graduate of the school, reiterated the need for leaders from every level to think differently about struggling schools and to make investments to build up our schools and their communities rather than tear them down.
After the rally, the crowd walked into the school where Rep. Rodriguez, councilperson Kitchen and trustees Hinojosa and Moya spent the next hour in classrooms as guest teacher assistants while 20 parents met in the library to talk with Education Austin and Austin Voices about how they thought Travis could be improved. While the politicians were learning about student needs, the parents shared freely about their desire to have health services like vision and dental available at the campus. After the class was over, the “teacher assistants” returned to the library to share their classroom experience and listen to the parents' feedback.
Boston, MA – November 20, 2014
A crowd of close to 50 people gathered on the steps of Dearborn Middle School as part of a nationally coordinated day of action for sustainable community schools. Several months ago parents, teachers and community activists successfully prevented a charter management company from taking over the school. For the November event, parents, community members, faith leaders and politicians organized a rally in support of the Dearborn becoming a STEM community school. After rallying as the students entered school in the morning, the principal invited the community to tour the school. Students were invited to an achievement awards celebration next week to honor their hard work. The action was organized by the Boston Education Justice Alliance, a coalition of students, parents, educators and labor. They were joined by representatives from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and city councilmember Tito Jackson. Carlos Rojas of Youth on Board emceed the event and Richard Stuntman, President of the Boston Teacher’s Union, spoke on behalf of the union's 11,000 members who are standing with the Dearborn community.
Chicago, IL – November 20, 2014
At 10:30 a.m. over 120 educational justice activists in the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) in Chicago held a press conference on the 5th floor of City Hall demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel support 50 sustainable community schools. They argued that the Mayor fight to get back the necessary resources to pay for the investment from toxic swaps that Bank of America, Loop Capital and Goldman Sachs falsely represented as good deals. Over the lifetime of the swaps, our schools stand to lose over $400 million and have already lost nearly $240 million. Activists chanted “Toxic Swaps are whack, we want our money back” and “What do we want? Community Schools. When do we want them? Now!” At the end of the press conference, Jeanette Taylor, president of her Local School Council and leader with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, demanded a meeting with the Mayor immediately on behalf of the coalition. When the Mayor refused to show up, the group went to the 1st floor of the building and staged a sit-in. A total of 14 GEM activists from multiple organizations received a ticketed arrest for “disorderly conduct” while singing civil rights songs.
Cincinnati, OH – November 17 and 20, 2014
On November 17 the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC) delivered a Proclamation to the Cincinnati Board of Education from the City of Cincinnati that recognizes the success of the Community Learning Center (CLC) model. During the board meeting members of the CEJC gave remarks on the importance of recommitting to the expansion and improvement of CLCs in the district. The Cincinnati Board of Education then voted unanimously on the resolution that contained the demands of the coalition, namely to reaffirm their support of CLCs by publically acknowledging that despite having the 2nd highest child poverty rate in the nation, the academic success of the district is attributed to the positive role of the Community Learning Center model. They also reaffimed that the educational model of CLCs offers the best hope for achieving equitable and high quality education for ALL students.
On November 20, parents and community members, including leaders of the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, attended an assembly at North Avondale Elementary, a public Montessori school in the Cincinnati Public School District. The assembly was organized by art teacher Mrs. Lillian Carter to recognize the 25th anniversary of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child. She had each child come to the podium and share one of the 10 Principles from the Convention that they had painted on a mural. Then CEJC member Pastor Enais Tait, a leader of the “Faith Community Alliance,” gave remarks that highlighted how the Community Learning Center model helps bring parents, community leaders, and the district together to best support the city's children. The assembly was closed with the student drum group performing.
Dallas, TX – November 17 and 20, 2014
At the November 17 Dallas Home Rule Commission meeting, Our Community, Our Schools (OCOS) released the executive summary of their “Community Education Report." The Commission will soon decide whether to write a home rule charter, which would effectively dismantle public schools and open the door to full public school privatization. On November 20th, the school board held a meeting to hear public input regarding their proposal to “reconstitute” over 40 low performing schools. OCOS representatives were there to discuss the findings in their “Community Education Report”.
At both meetings Our Community, Our Schools called for the following:
- Implementation of a community schools model that includes wraparound services for all students
- Rich and culturally relevant curriculum and programs
- Smaller class sizes and the elimination of over and high stakes testing
- A highly qualified and supported teacher in every classroom
- Early childhood education to include universal all day pre-k and full day kindergarten
- Development of fair and non-discriminatory policies.
Detroit, MI – November 20, 2014
Leaders from the Michigan Education Justice Coalition staged a “Walk with Me” event to highlight the injustices imposed on students and their families by Detroit’s unaccountable and mostly unregulated school governance model. They demanded strong neighborhood schools and better accountability for charters and their multiple authorizers.
Coalition leaders led a local television crew from WDIV Channel 4 through a daunting journey that a student, Marvella Gutierrez, takes each day to get to school. Marvella walks past burned out buildings, stray dogs, drug and prostitution houses, and endures constant sexual harassment on her way to school. Detroit’s unreliable public transportation makes it impossible for Marvella to plan her trip, so she often must walk. The TV crew followed Marvella as she made the 2.7 mile journey from her home in the Brightmoor neighborhood to Western International High School.
Following the walk, parents and coalition leaders held a press conference, which was covered by Fox 2 News, in a café across the street from the school. One by one, they protested the conditions endured by students and their families and demanded strong neighborhood community schools as a solution. They called for better accountability standards for Detroit’s charter operators and the patchwork of charter authorizers that have created a nightmarish education environment for the city. A highly decentralized school district with 12 different charter authorizers has raised the cost of transportation as each charter school assumes responsibility for its transportation needs. Coalition leaders complained that the lack of a coordinated system is costly and inefficient and that the money given to each charter is diverted from a pool of money that Detroit Public Schools should be spending on the transportation needs of students like Marvella. They told reporters that today’s action was part of a nationwide week of action organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.
Houston, TX – November 18, 19 and 20, 2014
Over 100 members of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools-Houston participated in a social media “Take back our schools” action. On November 18, 19 and 20, participants gathered in front of their schools and worksites taking pictures with signs to raise their concerns about over-testing, school closures, and lack of adequate school funding. They called for community schools as a solution. The pictures were tweeted and posted on Facebook and the websites of member organizations.
Earlier this year the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools-Houston successfully fought the school district's proposal to close 5 schools in low-income communities of color and the district decided to only close one of the schools. The Alliance is working on a school closure policy that considers community schools as an alternative method to supporting and improving struggling schools rather than shutting them down. The Alliance is also seeking to decrease the use of high stakes testing and improve school funding.
Los Angeles, CA – November 20, 2014
Teachers, parents and students rallied in five locations around Los Angeles, turning out a total of over 8,000 people. The rallies were in the San Fernando Valley, San Pedro, South Central, East LA and West Side. At each rally, community members, parents, students and teachers called for smaller class sizes, more counselors, librarians and nurses, a fair teacher evaluation system, a true democratic voice for parents and students, and safe and clean schools. The overall theme for the Los Angeles event was titled "The Schools LA Students Deserve, " and the rallies were held in conjunction with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools National Week of Action for sustainable community schools.
Miami, FL – November 19, 2014
Students, alumni, educators and parents represented the Dade Coalition for Education and Economic Justice at a meeting with the Miami-Dade School Board in an effort to end high-stakes testing and call for all low-performing schools to be transformed into sustainable community schools. Over 50 people joined in solidarity, with nine speakers sharing their personal stories and highlighting the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools week of action.
Last month, the superintendent and Miami-Dade School Board members adopted the greater Florida consortium of schools boards’ legislative program, which outlines several goals to suspend high-stakes testing. After continued pressure to reduce testing, the school system eliminated dozens of interim exams, increasing instructional time for students. While this was a step in the right direction, DC Clark, president of ICARE, explained that it was “a drop in the bucket and there is much more that needs to be done.”
Shi’kera Carr and Justin Granados, students from Power U Center for Social Change, brought tears to the eyes of attendees when sharing their personal stories about how testing causes anxiety and contributes to an unhealthy school climate. Superintendent Carvahlo pulled Justin to the side and publicly announced that Justin, “would not fall through the cracks.” He then asked Justin to have his chair on the dais. United Teachers of Dade members Mindy Festge-Grimes and Antonio White expressed the need to be included at the decision-making table in order to take down high-stakes testing at the local, state and federal levels.
Press: 610WiOD Radio
Milwaukee, WI - November 18, 2014
Over 100 people attended a community meeting with Chicago organizers Jitu Brown at Bethesda Baptist Church to talk about education, racial injustice and the need for community schools. The event was hosted by the Amani Neighborhood Association with support from Wisconsin Jobs Now, MTEA, Arts at Large and Auer Avenue School. Sister Patricia Rogers, Director of the Domincan Center for Women, which organized the Amani Neighborhood Association, welcomed guests and coordinated the discussion. Felice Beal, Principal of Auer Avenue School, gave an overview of what community schools are and how Auer Avenue is building toward this goal. Jitu, who leads the national Journey for Justice Alliance, provided a searing history of the systemic lack of educational opportunities afforded to students of color and, consequently, why communities must take control of the vital issues affecting their schools. Attendees at the event were galvanized by Jitu's energy and have requested that he return to Milwaukee for a holiday events for parents on December 19.
New York City – November 20, 2014
The Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH) hosted an event called "Creating Community Schools," which featured a series of panel discussions on what it takes to create community schools, what's working and how to replicate successful strategies in light of New York City's plans to substantially increase the number of community schools over the next several years. Teachers, parents, principals, representatives from the United Federation of Teachers and non-profit partners from a half dozen community schools participated in student-led tours of CHAH and discussed the lessons learned. [See more at UFT's Storify.]
Newark, NJ – November 19, 2014
Around 75 members of the Newark Student Union led a walkout from Barringer High School to protest the learning conditions under the One Newark district reform plan that Gov. Chris Christie and his appointed superintendent for the district, Cami Anderson, have forced on the community. The plan has resulted in upheaval for students and their families across the city with some schools closed, others turned over to private charter managers, and the introduction of a school choice system that has left many families with children at different schools and limited transportation options for getting their children there. The Barringer students, who were initially prevented from leaving school building by staff and police offficers, want their school to be transformed into a community school.
New Mexico – November 20, 2014
On November 20, members of the NM Keep the Promise Coalition conducted surveys of parents and staff at schools in four cities across the state about their needs and desire for Community Schools. At Our Montessori School in Albuquerque, parents talked about how happy they were with their children's education, but lamented that they had to make so many sacrificies to pay for that education. The parents believed strongly that every child in New Mexico should be afforded the same opportunities and were frustrated that even though the state is well positioned financially to support all students, lawmakers and the governor refuse to act. A presentation conducted by the ABC Community Schools Partnership (which works with three schools in Albuquerque Public School district) had over 100 Albuquerque residents in attendence. They discussed the positive impact of community schools and how the schools, using research-based and proven methods to bring in wraparound services, have elevated both the level of learning and positive impact on the surrounding communities.
Philadelphia, PA – November 20, 2014
Over 100 people came together at Arch St. Methodist Church to kick of a campaign for sustainable community schools as a transformative alternative to both privatization in the form of unaccountable charter schools and the resource-starved, test-driven neighborhood schools that are currently in Philadelphia. This campaign brings together people who are already fighting for one or another of the elements of community schools and weaves together these strands of the education justice movement in the form of a practical demand that reflects our democratic values.
At the November 20 event, participants watch a powerful video made by the Media Mobilizing Project featuring interviews with students, parents and educators involved in the fight against budget austerity and privatization. A panel moderated by three high school students from Youth United For Change heard from Kendra Brooks, President of the Steel School Advisory Committee and a parent leader from ACTION United, talk about the successful struggle to defeat the takeover of the school by Mastery Charter and the Steel community’s vision for a community school. Sakiema Wood, a senior at South Philadelphia School, a member of the school peer mediation program and a member of the Philadelphia Student Union talked about the harmful consequences of negative, punitive discipline and why restorative practices are needed as part of the sustainable community school vision. Tom Wyatt, a parent from Passyunk Square Civic Association, spoke about the effort to draw on neighborhood resources in developing wraparound services at Jackson elementary. Tim Boyle, a teacher at Chester Arthur Elementary and a Teaching Consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project, spoke on the need for curriculum and instruction that engage students and how better integrating a school with its surrounding community could provide more relevance.
PCAPS Coordinator Ron Whitehorne outlined the strategy for getting 10% of Philadelphia Schools to be Sustainable Community Schools in four years, focusing on the demand that federal School Improvement Grant money be used exclusively for that purpose. Whitehorne promised that this issue would be a litmus test for mayoral and council candidates in the coming year.
Press: The Notebook
Pittsburgh, PA – November 20, 2014
Great Public Schools Pittsburgh held a press conference with representatives from the faith community, teachers, parents, activists, an assistant superintendent of the district and school board members Regina Holley and Carolyn Klug. The organizers rallied outside Pittsburgh Public School Headquarters in support of community schools as an alternative to the status quo of "poor education policies that destabilize our communities," said parent Pamela Harbin. "Research shows that sustainable community schools work because a community understands what their children and their families need."