It’s no secret that school boards have become the next front lines of the culture wars. Well-funded, anti-public school forces are trying to disrupt and defund public education by pitting teachers and parents against each other. All over the state, divisive, anti-educator school board candidates are on the ballot.
To push back against this division, NYSUT is launching “Public Schools Unite Us,” a campaign to counter misinformation and anti-educator movements statewide.
We believe that our public schools belong to all of us.
They belong to the students who learn, the hardworking families who support them and the educators and staff who ensure that children from every background have the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives.
It’s not us versus them Pro-privatization groups backed by billionaires like Betsy DeVos and the Koch family, are pushing the divisive, teacher vs. parent narratives in an effort to stack community school boards with anti-public education candidates. “When anti-public school forces work to disrupt our students’ education, we must stand up together — educators, parents and community members — to support a public education system that meets the needs of every student,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.
The “Public Schools Unite Us” campaign highlights public schools as the center of our communities and celebrates the traditional partnership between educators and parents, which supports and strengthens public education.
One example is the nearly decade-long partnership between the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization. In 2014, with Buffalo City Schools on the verge of going into receivership or being converted into charter schools, parents and educators worked together, through the newly formed BPTO, to rally community support.
The BPTO launched “Buffalo Schools: Believe!” a campaign that highlighted the strength of Buffalo public schools and fostered collaboration between parents, educators and the community.
“I saw how important it was for average people to get more involved in the politics of public education,” said BTF Executive Committee member and BPTO Co-Chair Eve Shippens. She advocated for public schools at board meetings and spent the summer of 2015 as a community door-knocker, having face-to-face conversations with voters to rally support for Buffalo public schools.
The work paid off. In 2016, Buffalo flipped its anti-public education, pro-charter school board to one that supports public education; they gained even more seats in 2019. “We don’t always see eye-to-eye with the school board, but they are dedicated to having the best schools Buffalo can offer,” said Shippens. Under the new board, graduation rates have increased, and a policy requiring the district to consider decisions through an equity lens has been put in place.
The BPTO continues to nurture positive school-community relationships. “Our main goal is to work together to do good work for our children and see our students succeed,” said Buffalo parent Danielle Grzymala, BPTO co-chair. Monthly meetings include public forums, often with district curriculum experts who answer questions from community members and clarify what’s taught in the district. Programs like its culturally and linguistically responsive initiatives, which ensure that district teachings reflect Buffalo’s diverse population, often garner questions. “When people don’t understand, that’s when they push back — we bring both sides together to promote understanding.”
The growing network of community schools across the state exemplifies the important connection between public schools and the communities they serve. Community schools address the academic needs of students and coordinate care for students and families in need, becoming a hub for services like preventive medical, mental and dental care. They also offer food banks and provide job assistance. NYSUT is advocating for more annual state funding to expand the number of districts using community schools.
In the Albany City School District’s network of seven community schools, services range from afterschool programs, a weekend Feed and Read program, a food pantry and a community laundry. District community schools also provide workshops to help parents and guardians learn to become advocates and facilitators for their children’s education and offer extended day programs, and hands-on STEM opportunities, to empower and encourage students.
Programs like these send a valuable message to community members, explained Pallotta. It lets them know that their public schools offer resources they can tap into when they need a helping hand.
Since the Saranac Lake Central School District’s community school program began four years ago, it’s linked with 20 community partners to provide internet assistance; a weekend food program; before- and after-school childcare; and telehealth, dental and eye care. The program also offers a weekend backpack program and monthly food, shelter, utility, health care and other assistance through Community Connections of Franklin County.
Community schools show us what happens when educators and parents join together to solve problems and educate students, explained Pallotta who called on educators, parents and community members to keep up the momentum and protect what’s been years in the making.
“The ongoing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how central public schools are to our communities — strong schools build strong communities, in both good times and bad,” said Pallotta. He encouraged members to contribute to VOTE-COPE, NYSUT’s voluntary, nonpartisan advocacy fund, to support the union’s efforts to protect public education and worker rights.
“We’ve got school board elections coming up in May and it’s important that we all work together — educators, parents and community members — to protect public education from those who are trying to divide us,” said Pallotta. Electing the wrong representatives, those who are antipublic education, could reverse years of progress. “In a nation divided, our public schools are a place where unity can and should happen.”
Public schools are where parents and teachers come together to ensure that every child has the right to learn in a supportive, dignified environment.
All across New York, from the largest cities to the smallest towns, public schools are the center of our communities and they unite us.
If you have a school budget or school board election this year, remember to VOTE: Yes for pro-student, pro-educator candidates who will help unite us.
Yes for a school budget that will keep our public schools strong, well-staffed and the center of our communities.
Pledge to vote and get more info: PublicSchoolsUniteUs.org.
Make sure your fellow educators know how important it is to vote in local elections this year.
NYSUT members can make a voluntary contribution to VOTE-COPE to help support pro-education candidates.