For four moms at the "One Voice United" rally, the back of their T-shirts said it all: "Peeved Pittsford Parent."
The women are not peeved at their schools or their kids' teachers. They drove from western New York to Albany because they're frustrated with the state's heavy-handed obsession with standardized testing and what that's doing to their children and their schools.
"This really needs to be a parent cause because our kids are the victims," said Pittsford parent Julie Daugherty. "We have a really strong district, but these ridiculous testing policies are going to mess everything up. We need Albany to stop fixing our schools - they weren't broken."
"Our teachers are doing the very best they can, but they can't do what they used to because of the testing craze," said Sarah Hurth, who rode from the Rochester area with Daugherty and two other parents, Kathy Serling and Jennifer Tills.
The Pittsford moms stood next to one of their district's teachers, Jolene DiBrango, who is president of the Pittsford Teachers Association. "Courageous parents like these are what we need to make Albany (policymakers) see and hear what they are doing to the kids and teachers," DiBrango said. "I'm so proud that they've joined us in speaking up and out for the children of Pittsford - and all children across the state."
The Pittsford moms were among thousands of parents and community members who joined the throngs at the Empire State Plaza to say they're tired of the tyranny of testing and year after year of painful budget cuts.
"This is the first generation where children are getting less than their parents had for education," said Vanessa Holland, one of the founders of Parents for Change in Warwick.
The Orange County district is one of many schools that have lost music, art, foreign language, business classes, after-school clubs and sports. The Warwick parents said they especially resent the fact that schools are making such drastic cuts and then have to spend money on more testing.
"This is the year to make change or everything we know is going to be gone," said Holland, whose parent group wore T-shirts saying "Enough is Enough."
Shannon Hockswender, a parent who recently became a Warwick board of education member, was also part of the group. She's the mother of a third-grader who came home in tears after taking her high-pressured state test. "I do not want her education experience to be about that," she said.
Those were just a few voices of parents in the crowd. On the podium, parent activists spoke out for continued advocacy.
"It's not only in my city of Buffalo, but across the state," said Angelica Rivera, a parent of 3-year-old twin boys and the parent leader of the Alliance for Quality Education. She said the lack of funding from the state leaves her "terrified" for the future of public education.
Rivera urged rally-goers to return in January "to fight for a fair budget ... to tell our politicians they need to fully fund our schools."
She made a special plea for more state funding for early childhood education.
Leonie Haimson, a longtime public school parent who founded the New York City-based group Class Size Matters, issued a fiery call to action:
"Parents are outraged as to how our public schools are being undermined by policymakers who do not seem to realize how their decisions are hurting New York state's children," she said.
Later that day, Haimson posted a blog item saying she was honored and excited to be part of such an inspirational day: "Let's hope it is just the beginning of a real movement to rescue public education, led by teachers, parents, administrators and students, to take back our schools."
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said she was heartened to see so many parents at the rally. NYSUT is partnering with parents and the community to advocate for the much-needed changes.
"We're natural allies," Neira said. "We all want what's best for the students."