|Julie Cavanagh(GEM/CAPE) , Karen Lewis (CTU), Sam Coleman (GEM/NYCORE)|
Julie Cavanagh and Sam Coleman of GEM and NYCoRE and Edwin Mayorga of NYCORE participated in the Ford Foundation’s day on Examining School Transformations and Closings from the Ground Up which is part of The Ford Foundation Secondary Education and Racial Justice Collaborative. There were representatives from cities across the country at the event including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Boston and of course New York City. Most of the other participants were academics, organizers from community based foundations, and funders.
The theme of the day was sharing experiences of school closings and transformations across the cities and the organizing and fight-back that has grown up around them. As you’d expect, there were many similarities and common threads that ran through the stories from the various cities. During the morning Sam and Edwin presented on the New York story with a parent and youth leader from CEJ and UYC, respectively. In the afternoon, Sam, Edwin and Julie shared the GEM and NYCORE analysis and our on-the-ground experience organizing mostly teachers to fight privatization.
For Sam, Julie and Edwin one highlight of the day was hearing Juan Gonzalez speak about charter schools. Juan exposed how the lack of oversight on all levels of charter organizations will eventually lead to their self-destruction. The other highlight was the appearance of Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union's president, telling the story of Chicago and its fight against privatization. Karen shared some important innovations in the CTU structure since she’s taken over as president – one, they now have a community advisory board made up of parents and community members who advise the union; two, they established an organizing office to organize their members; and, three, a research division to do the in-depth analysis needed to fight for children and education workers. The union work in Chicago strongly contrasts with a common theme heard from every other participating city regarding the lack of quality union leadership in terms of fighting the destructive forces of the corporate reformers, specifically the devastating and misguided policy of school closings.
This day provided an opportunity for us to connect with potential allies across the country and to learn from many inspiring leaders including Juan, Karen, and Ramon, an 8th grader from Newark who laid down some wisdom about the way we are being used as pawns in "The Man’s" game.
Our thanks to Michelle Fine and Lauren Wells for putting together an inspiring and motivational day that, as one parent advocate said, '...may seem as if we are here preaching to the choir, but it is important to be reminded we are not just singing alone in the shower!'