Across the country, excitement is growing as parents, educators, students, faith leaders, community activists and others finalize plans for the Dec. 9 National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education. These plans range from rallies and press conferences, to town hall meetings and teach-ins, to free book distributions and even a bus tour. Other events include candlelight vigils at the headquarters of corporations that push failed education reform schemes, and presentations at school boards on "The Principles that Unite Us." Close to 90 events are scheduled, as well as a substantial ad campaign leading up to the Day of Action.
In Brevard County, Fla., the Rev. Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church in Titusville, Fla., is looking forward to being a part of the Dec. 9 town hall meeting in his hometown. He believes it's important for his church to get involved in the fight to save schools in his community because "better schools mean better students—better students and better parishioners." The town hall that Dames is attending will address school closures, school funding and the transparency of the school board in Brevard County. Dames' church has a robust program for students, and this event goes hand in hand with the church's yearlong effort to reclaim the promise of public education. "We want people to know that we are here, we care, and we are serious about improving public education," Dames says.
Many of the Day of Action events are aimed at strengthening the collective voices of parents, students and others in the community. Daniel del Pielago (pictured at right), an education organizer for Empower DC in Washington, D.C., has high hopes for the Day of Action activity that his group is organizing in conjunction with the Washington Teachers Union. "I think we have to change the narrative and mindset that parents and community members are consumers of public education, when in fact we are the owners. Our voices need to be heard at all levels, and I think the Day of Action is the springboard for us to begin working together in a more deliberate way and to say to those who would divide us that this is a new day and that we're going to take back and improve our schools."
Katelyn Johnson, a community organizer in Chicago, says that reclaiming the promise in her city begins with accountability. For too long, Chicago has seen important school decisions left in the hands of those who are "unelected, unaccountable and completely out-of-touch" with the needs of school communities, she says. "Parents have a right to voice their opinions, but right now their voice is silent." She'll be rallying with friends and neighbors on Dec. 9 to put democracy back in education and to demand equitable funding for schools. "All we want for Christmas is fully funded schools."
Parent power is one of the keys to reclaiming the promise of public education, Raquel Roybal (pictured at left) of Albuquerque, N.M., believes. The mother of four children, ages 4 to 14, Roybal will be attending National Day of Action activities in Albuquerque. She says education must be treated as a seamless, lifelong proposition—one that begins at birth, extends into adulthood and keeps parents involved every step of the way. "If we get parents more engaged in what's going on in their children's schooling, we can be really successful," she says. "Teachers need that backup."
Those who know best what schools and students need are those closest to the classroom, such as students like Boston high school senior Alex Roman. He says he'll be speaking out for rich, engaging courses—and the resources needed to support them—when Bostonians gather on Dec. 9 for a town hall meeting to discuss ways to reclaim the promise of public education. "Students need hands-on learning," says the Snowden International School student. That "means more resources—textbooks, technology, art and school supplies," he says. It also means more art and physical education classes, and more access to computers. "If students are able to get those resources, they are more likely to thrive" in their studies, Roman asserts. He says students deserve to be heard in the conversation around reclaiming the promise of public education. "We are the ones who are most affected."
In Pittsburgh, the Rev. John Welch (pictured at right) will join those concerned about Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's cuts in education funding. The cuts, Welch says, "clearly convey the governor's misguided priorities. In a state that already uses the flawed funding formula of property tax-based financing, the cuts exacerbated the inequities in resources." He says those hurt the most by the cuts will be the state's children. "What I hope will be accomplished on the Day of Action on Dec. 9 is that people in Pittsburgh will see there is a need for a community agenda for public education and not a corporate agenda, and that the candidates for governor of Pennsylvania will see that the pathway to Harrisburg runs through the organized collaborative of parents, teachers, unions and clergy."
A wide variety of activities will be on the agenda on the National Day of Action, as the AFT and its community partners come together to fight against those trying to tear public education apart, and to fight forward for our vision for great public schools.
[Roger Glass, Mike Rose, Adrienne Coles]
Dec. 6, 2013