NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi starts it off and the crowd runs with it, roaring the words over and over again: "GET IT RIGHT! GET IT RIGHT! GET IT RIGHT!"
He is talking about the fight for public education and the over-testing and underfunding that is hurting students, and the crowd agrees: "GET IT RIGHT! GET IT RIGHT! GET IT RIGHT!"
Thousands of parents, teachers, students, union members and community members -- as far as the eye can see, from one end of the Empire State Plaza to the other – roar their support as Iannuzzi makes it clear the mammoth Albany rally is not the culmination but "the beginning of a fight and a journey to move public education in the right direction."
"We won't shy away from offering solutions - that's what we do," the NYSUT president declares, vowing to continue to "engage every stakeholder in the struggle" with a firm commitment "to the values and principles we stand for."
To those who would over-test and underfund, Iannuzzi has a clear message that referenced legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan: "Let's remind the powers-that-be: Get out of the way if you can't lend a hand!"
He stresses that today is not "against anyone - today is FOR children." It is a day for re-examining how we look at testing and the achievement gap; poverty and the wealth gap; and equity and fairness."
Iannuzzi delivers welcome news that elicits a sustained cheer on behalf of science educators across the state: "Because of the hard work of the NYSUT Board of Directors and local presidents," Iannuzzi said, the State Education Department has reversed its "absurd" guidance assigning teachers a zero for students who had not completed enough lab hours to sit for a Regents exam.
After seeing public education come under siege across the country, Iannuzzi says the need to create "a New York state moment where we come together to speak with one voice about the future of public education – celebrating educators, not demonizing them; supporting quality in higher education, not gimmicks; and sideshows and pathways that lead to no place." He offers support for Dreamers and talks of the need to fix a broken and undemocratic tax cap.
Iannuzzi is referring to remarks made by SED Commissioner John King last week claiming that NYSUT is "trying to create a more tense environment around testing."
"We don't have any concerns about accountability if you do it right and it's fair!" Iannuzzi said. "Mr. Commissioner, how much more tense can it get?"
There wouldn't be tension, he added, "if you didn't put tests before instruction. Or test obsessively... or ignore the voice of parents and teachers!"
"We all know there is a place for assessment and accountability done in the right time and right way," Iannuzzi said. "We are joining with AFT in calling for a moratorium on high stakes for students and teachers."
Looking out at the thousands waving signs and banners, Iannuzzi said: "I don't see tension; I see people who care about students! I don't see tension; I see advocacy. I see people speaking with one voice: 'Get it right!'"
Later, the state AFL-CIO and NAACP add their powerful voices to Iannuzzi's call.
Mario Cilento (pictured above), president of the New York State AFL-CIO, tells the crowd of thousands: "You are not in this fight alone! Your union brothers and sisters across New York state are here with you. Your fight for the future of public education in this state is everybody's fight!"
He stresses the importance public education has to the future of New York state. Every single night, Cilento says, his children "start off with their teachers, talking about what their teachers taught them."
He says policymakers need to see education "through the eyes of children … With the reverence, love and respect our children show for their teachers. "We are with you every step of the way. We are stronger together, and when we raise our voices together we win, our children win and the schools win!"
Cornelius Clark (pictured above), president of the Troy NAACP, representing state NAACP President Hazel Dukes, tells the crowd: "We come to lend our voice to those who are fighting for children to have all the resources they need." "We are here to say: Let's make sure every school has all the resources required to provide the kind of education our children need to succeed in life. As Dick [Iannuzzi] says, 'Let's get it right!'"