Despite an early-winter ice storm, nearly 250 blue-clad students, parents, educators and legislators turned out at three Nyack schools before dawn to show their support for public education. "We need to reclaim the promise of public education. We need to get it right," NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi told supporters.
Iannuzzi, joined by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, were in Nyack and Yonkers this morning to mark a National Day of Action called by the AFT and National Education Association - NYSUT's national affiliates - and other groups that are fighting to reclaim the promise of public education, from pre-K through higher ed. The AFT is spending $1.2 million on radio and print ads to promote the day.
Speaking at the first of dozens of rallies and events being held across New York, Iannuzzi exhorted participants in Nyack to press for a greater state investment in public schools and colleges; a renewed focus on teaching and learning, not testing; and for the state to make course corrections in Common Core implementation, including placing a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers.
Weingarten, speaking at Lake Avenue Elementary School where her mother once taught, said, "When something is really important, you come home. Today is about telling Albany and telling Washington that students are more than a test score and teachers are more than an evaluation. It's about getting our schools back, restoring trust and helping parents, teachers and communities do what's needed to help schools thrive."
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Rockland, herself a former resource-room teacher, decried the state's obsession with standardized testing, saying, "Our students are being undermined by the number of tests they have to take."
The morning rallies were organized by Nyack Teachers Association President Donna Ramundo at Nyack high and middle schools, and the district's Liberty, Upper Nyack and Valley Cottage elementary schools. Ramundo was joined at the events by Nyack District Superintendent Jim Montesano and school board member Michael Mark.
Mark led the three assemblies in singing "One Voice United," a song he co-wrote about public education, and"Data This, Data That," a new piece sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells," that slams standardized testing and the student data collected by inBloom, a state-contracted privateer.
Nyack students were represented at each of the assemblies. "We have to have more faith in our teachers and other educators and trust them to teach us the skills that are most important for our lives ahead," said student Daniel Plaisance.
A short time later, in Yonkers, Iannuzzi and NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta jointed Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Pat Puleo to speak out against the state's obsession with standardized testing, the rushed implementation of the Common Core standards and to speak out against the city's devastating budget cuts.
With them were Yonkers Mayor Michael Spano, state Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, and other members of the Yonkers' city and state legislative delegation.
Puleo noted the broad support teachers and other education professionals have received from city and state legislators, and the solidarity they share with parents over testing, Common Core implementation and funding cuts. "We are serious and we are not going away," she said.
Spano vowed to continue supporting public education: "You have a problem here, and we will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder with you."
Latimer recalled the great public school education he received as a child, and the many rich and diverse programs his daughter benefited from. He vowed to fight for increased education funding for Yonkers and for all the children of New York state. "New York has an obligation, and a moral responsibility, to provide an equal, level playing field for all children," he said.