Turning a multitude of voices into one, thousands of parents, grandparents, educators, students and community activists
are swarming onto the Empire State Plaza in Albany for a rousing noontime "One Voice United" rally to fight for the future of public education.
"There are moments when you know that you are part of something huge and something explosively amazing. Today is that day," said Lori Griffin, a high school English teacher and member of the Copenhagen TA, who arrived Friday night.
More than 225 buses and countless carpools of NYSUT in-service and retiree members, their students, families and other supporters are arriving to be at the epicenter of state public education policy. With the state Capitol in front of them, and the massive doric columns of the State Education Department visible from just a block away, rally-goers say they want to send a strong and clear message: Stop the over-reliance of standardized tests and apply common sense to public education policy so students and educators can succeed.
High school social studies teacher Justin Meyer got off the first bus to arrive at the rally, holding a cup of coffee to power up for the day. Behind him are 60 other teachers, parents, grandparents, retirees and students from Ellenville.
“We’re here to voice our concern for all the changes, and the lack of respect,” said Meyer. “We deserve to be treated like professionals.”
Nick Fanelli, local president for the Ellenville Teachers and School Related Professionals Association, said morale “is the lowest I've ever seen it. And it has nothing to do with the district and administrators -- in fact, they’re more united with staff and the union than ever before.”
Unfunded mandates and the obsession with testing, Fanelli said, are hurting kids and morale.
Cuts to the district have meant the loss of an afterschool art club, no librarian at the middle school, cuts in remedial programs and extra-curriculum activities, and cuts to music programs,
Retiree Larry Rand, a former science teacher from Ellenville, said he's at the rally today “because I've seen what the union has done for us.
Toting homemade signs and donning hats and bright T-shirts that announced their hometowns or affiliations, rally-goers are saying “enough is enough. They are demanding:
- a moratorium on the use of standardized tests in high-stakes decisions for students and teachers until the new Common Core Learning Standards are properly implemented;
- fair and equitable funding of schools and greater local control of schools by fixing an undemocratic tax cap;
- greater investment in public higher education and restoration of funding for SUNY Downstate Medical Center;
- the enactment of the DREAM Act; and
- the passage of legislation to help ensure a safe, secure learning environment for every student.
“I think if we stay together we can effect change on issues that are very important to us,” said Frank DeCelie, a 25-year teaching veteran and member of the Herricks Teachers’ Association on Long Island. High-stakes testing and policies like the tax cap, he said, “are destroying education.”
DeCelie isn’t hard hard to spot. He's driving a pick-up truck with a large banner attached to the top that reads: “Take Action Long Island!” The banner represents a group of Nassau County teachers who organized two years ago in response to issues like high-stakes testing and the tax cap, DeCelie said. Today, the group boasts 1,000 members.
Mike Lillis, president of the Lakeland Federation of Teachers, is carrying a sign showing a photo of his 5-year-old daughter, Bridget. It reads: "She will not take your tests."
NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi leads an impressive lineup of speakers that includes New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Joyce Powell of New Jersey, representing the National Education Association. Sharing the stage are parents, students, superintendents and principals, community leaders and John Nichols, a firebrand author, journalist, blogger and television commentator. They will highlight topics essential to the promise of quality public education.
Performers include the award-winning folk musician Tom Chapin, a passionate advocate for keeping creativity front and center in education. Chapin is expected to perform his recording “Not on the Test,” a satirical song on the obsession with standardized tests. Teacher Jeremy Dudley, a member of the Albany Public Schools Teachers Association, is to perform his hip hop song, "Stop This Madness." Other performers include the Cohoes and Valley Central marching bands, WATTS on TAP, comprised of members of the Newark Valley Teachers' Association, and Bryan Thomas, a member of NYSUT Communications staff.
The rally, organized by NYSUT, is supported by almost two dozen organizations, including parent, student and religious groups, education professionals, public and private sector unions and good government advocates. They are: Alliance for Quality Education, American Federation of Teachers, BALCONY (Business and Labor Coalition of New York), Citizen Action, Class Size Matters, Educate NY Now, First Israel A.M.E. Church, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, National Education Association, New York Immigration Coalition, New York State AFL-CIO, New York State Labor-Religion Coalition, New York State NAACP, New York State School Counselor Association, New York Students Rising, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Occupy Albany, Save Our SUNY, Strong Economy for All and Student Assembly – State University of New York.