December 09, 2013

DAY OF ACTION Going blue in Rochester, Syracuse, NYC and Binghamton

Author: Kara Smith, Ned Hoskin and NYSUT United Staff
Source: NYSUT Communications
percival, ahern and lyons in syracuse
Caption: Pamela Percival, of Parents for Public Schools and Kevin Ahern, Syracuse TA President listen to Michael Lyon of UUP during the Day Of Action event at the Dr. Weeks Elementary School. Photo by Steve Jacobs.

NYSUT members in every part of New York state - flanked by parents, elected officials and community activists and usually donned in blue - put the "action" in Monday's National Day of Action. Some examples:

Rochester

Scores of educators, parents and community supporters sang the "standardized testing blues" at an afternoon press event at NYSUT's Rochester Regional Office. Against a backdrop of blues instrumentals played by John Gabrille and Doug Stone, teachers at Rochester's School of the Arts, participants heard from students, parents, educators in K-12 and higher education and local union leaders about the need to protect public education.

Imani Monroe and Shay-On Ross, participants in Rochester's East High School's Teaching and Learning Institute, a program for students planning careers in education, attributed their success to "teachers - not the Common Core or standardized testing."

Parents Liz Hallmark and Candice Lucas discussed the importance of "putting the breaks" on Common Core implementation and said too-much testing takes away from teaching and learning time for students.

All voiced their support for increased funding for public schools and colleges, a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing consequences and a renewed focus on teaching and learning, not testing.

Syracuse

It's not strange to see a wall of blue behind speakers at a podium but, in Syracuse, the wall was made up of the speakers themselves, standing in solidarity, all clad in blue.
Television, radio, print and online media showed up at Weeks Elementary School to hear the united local message as part of the National Day of Action to reclaim the promise of public education.

In Central New York, as across the state, speakers called for fair funding for schools and colleges, a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences of state standardized test, and a focus on teaching and learning, not testing.

Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern spoke about poverty in schools and the funding inequity that plagues urban and rural schools.

Meanwhile, Michael Lyon, United University Professions chapter president at SUNY Upstate Medical Center, drew a nexus between funding for public education and public access to health care through support for the public hospital in Syracuse. They are equally critical to a healthy community.

Lyon emphasized the value of opportunities for students of all ages at SUNY campuses and community colleges, but noted that state funding for SUNY has been cut by millions in recent years, and the number of students seeking access has exploded.

Pam Percival, a clinical psychologist and activist with Parents for Public Schools, shared the message that parents are also advocating for fair and equitable funding.

Shelly Chizonite, a school counselor and member of East Syracuse Minoa United Teachers, talked about the stress experienced by students subjected to excessive testing and of the lack of joy in learning that results.

And Regional VOTE-COPE Coordinator Bill Spreter seized the opportunity to plug NYSUT's legislative initiative to ban testing in grades K-2, saying, "youngsters should be blowing bubbles, not filling them in on standardized tests."

Ann Marie Taliercio, president of the Central New York Area Labor Federation, said fair and equitable funding for public schools is a critical pillar supporting the middle class in the state. Regional NYSUT Political Action Coordinator Phil Cleary of the North Syracuse EA noted every single person in his school building wore blue Monday and "we had a really great day."

New York City

The United Federation of Teachers hosted parents, students, activists and elected officials at its lower Manhattan headquarters for what best could be described as a pep rally to reclaim the promise shattered by 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's policies.

"Here in New York City, we think we've had it the worst," UFT President Michael Mulgrew told a packed house in the local's Shanker Hall. "But, unlike many cities, we've had each other. It's been rough. Damage has been done. But a new day is coming."

Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education - one of the sponsors of the National Day of Action - served as emcee for the New York City event and denounced the corporate environment that dominated the education policies of the Bloomberg administration. "It's a corporate environment that was on steroids," she said.

Student performance such as one by the marching band from PS 257 in Brooklyn, highlighted the work taking place in public schools and served to fire up the crowd. 

"The system of public education was hijacked by business interests," said City Councilmember Letitia James, the city's public advocate-elect. "But today is the day we take it back!"

Binghamton

In Binghamton, entire classrooms of students wore blue to school Monday to symbolize the Day of Action, and educators stood side by side with administrators to publicize the damage inflicted on children by years of funding cuts. Among those who turned out for a news conference: Jamie Dangler, UUP's statewide vice president for academics; Tonia Thompson, the district's assistant superintent for curriculum and instruction; and NYSUT member Dona Murray. Thompson described how a year of staff development for a new initiative can cost amost $1 million - money that is neither provided up front nor specifically reimbursed by the state, even when it involves a state-mandated initiative.

Linda Oryhon, president of the Binghamton TA, said she thought students, teachers and parents found the day energizing. She was moved and surprised to see so many students wearing blue, a result she attributed to parents paying attention to the local's plans for the day.

"It was really a good showing," Oryhon said.