Monday, January 31, 2011

Speak Out and advocating sometimes helps

A local group in Rochester, NY, defended their rights In a battle for community schools. Sometimes a little effort can go a long way and we can win victories.

"Community organizing and protest [1, 2] proved to be successful at last Thursday's school board meeting, where commissioners decided against voting to close Schools 2 and 6. "They didn't even bring that to a vote because they knew it would be voted down. That's a victory for 2 school and 6 school together with parents, students, community, organizing that was put in to push back on that issue." said Mark Friedman of the Community Education Task Force.

Before the meeting, School board president Malik Evans, announced on YNN that neither schools would close, but interestingly many people I talked with still seemed tense. People discussed not feeling like they could trust either the current decision makers or the media. In addition they stressed how critical the schools were to their surrounding communities and the importance of continuity in education.

I heard it, but I need to hear it tonight face-to-face to be sure. I need to find out directly what's going on because I want to have the facts. That's a big problem that's been going on: we've been getting mislead about the facts.

[School 6 is] not just a school it's a community. Children eat at some of the programs we offer after school, and we don't know if kids are eating at home. This is the reality that we're dealing with. It's our job to, as supporters of our community, to make sure that happens. We offer things at our schools — washing machines, irons, coats and hats — a lot of our students don't got that. Not only do we provide education, but we provide life to a lot of our students.
-Rashad Smith, School 6 parent

[12 school is] my home, I've been there 19 years as a parent and a teaching. I just couldn't imagine going out to another school. This is home because I've had so many families, entire families, come through my room. It means a lot when you can get involved with a family, more than just one year and you're gone. Over the years, I get to see them grow.
-Patricia Crane, School 2 teacher

Another common theme was importance of the organizing work that had gone into keeping the schools open and the need for it to continue.

We had great support from our school community. Our Parent Teacher organization worked right from the initial announcement saying what can we do? What do we need to do? The union helped with buses to get parents back and forth. Basically, we called on our relationships that we had. We have a good relationship with parents and teachers at our school and we reached out and told what could possibly happen and they came with great force. I'm very touched.

I think if nobody said anything, they would have just gone through with it.
-Mat Lavonas, School 2 teacher

I was so happy to see the teachers who were honored for credentialing last night with their prominent solidarity buttons. When nurses tried to unionize at Strong about 15 years ago, one of the divide strategies was to make those of us with "special" credentials or titles feel more connected to the administration than to our fellow nurses. When I saw Mr. Petronio's press release about honoring these four teachers for newly earned credentials, I thought of that. When I saw the teachers' union buttons one after another, I felt compelled to show that not only is there solidarity among teachers, but we parents are with you all too!

We chanted "Sol Sol Sol… Solidarity," three in a row as they were returning to their seats from the stage.
-Mary Adams, Community Education Task Force

[In response to: "will the people who fought to keep the schools open, continue to organize?"] It's absolutely crucial that they do and I'm confident that people will. We've made some strong connections with teachers, with leadership, with students and families in those schools and we intend to build on those connections.
-Mark Friedman, Community Education Task Force

So what's next for Rochester Schools? The impetus for closing the schools came from a need to create "swing space" for the 1.5 billion dollar facilities modernization project (background on facilities modernization and more). What happens now seems very much unclear. Much of the discussion revolved around a resolution passed by the Rochester Joint Schools Construction Board.

[…]they wouldn't read that resolution out-loud at first, but then we demanded the resolution to be read out. They were talking about this, but it wasn't in anyone's hands, it wasn't public. When they read that out loud, it became clear that it said it's preferable, but not necessary to have a stated swing space. I found that very interesting because I've payed close attention to this and that was never stated in any of these other facilities modernization meetings when they were bringing up swing space and closing schools.

Then in came forth that the board has not even reviewed that document. Allan Williams said, "we the board have never seen that, we've never read that, it's never been handed to us."
-Mark Friedman, Community Education Task Force

Clearly, last night represents a win for community organizers, but there is still a larger fight ahead for control of Rochester Schools."

The Insurgent stands in solidarity with communities seeking self-determination!

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