More than 5,000 parents and educators jammed community forums across upstate New York Thursday night, forming a sea of stormy opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 'test-and-punish' agenda and his failure to adequately invest in public schools and what all kids need.
The packed forums did not escape the notice of a bi-partisan array of legislators, who took to the stage and, in many instances, loudly and firmly denounced Cuomo's attempts to scapegoat teachers, give more weight to standardized tests and privatize public education. Many noted the governor's failure, despite numerous invitations, to visit public schools and listen to the concerns of teachers, support staff, parents and community members.
At West Seneca West High School, some 2,000 teachers and community members packed an auditorium and two overflow rooms to make clear that they value local control and sound educational policies that nurture creativity and learning, not subject students to mind-numbing 'test prep.' Educators also stressed that New York's failure to invest equitably in all its schools is hurting those students with the greatest needs and who often are furthest from meeting state standards.
Ashli Skura Dreher, a Lewiston-Porter special education teacher and 2014 state Teacher of the Year, said: "The real problem is, along with the achievement gap, there comes a family gap, a housing gap, a health care gap, an income gap. If we want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues the governor must address."
At Minerva Deland School in the Rochester suburb of Fairport, another 2,000 educators and community members marched in the biting February night as part of a boisterous rally designed to turn up the heat on Cuomo. Earlier, speaker after speaker excoriated the governor's proposals, saying they want fewer high-stakes tests, more funding and greater local control.
Fairport Superintendent William Cala praised the work of educators throughout Monroe County and exhorted parents to speak up. "The power lies in the parents," he said. "When parents say, 'No, we will not put up with this any longer,' (educators) have an important ally … Silence no more."
At Colonie High School, in the Capital District, about 1,000 teachers and parents listened intently at a Save Our Schools rally as a panel of nine legislators (or their top aides) demonstrated solidarity with teachers and parents against Cuomo's agenda. Over two hours, parents, a school board member, a superintendent and teachers laid out why Cuomo's proposals would hurt students and school districts.
James Duffy, a parent and math teacher in the South Colonie Central School District, noted he has followed rock icon Bruce Springsteen his entire career. He pulled out one of the Boss' most famous lyrics to inspire the crowd. In Badlands, Duffy said, Bruce Springsteen sings, "We'll keep pushin' until it's understood. And these badlands start treating us good."
"Let's keep pushing," Duffy exhorted the crowd. "Let's keep pushing until the state starts treating our kids good."
Meanwhile, hundreds more turned out for forums this week in other parts of the state, including in Oneonta and Kingston.
Once again, Cuomo did not appear.
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