For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.
But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.
“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.
All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.
Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them
Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.
NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.
The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.
NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”
Accountability to Come Through New Indicators
The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”
The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.
“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.
Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.
Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.
Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.
“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.
Audrey Murph Brown (Murph), a school social worker of 26 years and a member of the Springfield Education Association (SEA) in Massachusetts, describes the events that occurred in the 2017 – 2018 school year as “a perfect storm at the perfect time.”
This storm was heavy with institutional biases, nepotism, and favoritism. Institutional biases kept many highly qualified educators of color from becoming lead teachers or being offered lateral promotions. “Rarely were those opportunities given to educators of color,” says Murph, “but what they would get was the unspoken bias that only educators of color can deal with difficult children, and as a result don’t get to show their academic skillset and abilities in classrooms.”
And when there were opportunities for advancement, explains Murph, administrators would often bypass the hiring process by burying job postings, not interviewing qualified candidates of color, and handpicking their friends. “This was nothing new,” she says. “It’s always happened, but it’s never been addressed.”
The Teacher-Student Racial Gap
In Springfield, 80 percent of public school students are of color while educators of color make up only 15 percent. The gap between the percentage of students of color and the percentage of teachers of color nationwide is large. Approximately 42 percent of PK-12 public school students today are students of color, and this number is expected to rise through 2024. Yet, about 80 percent of public school teachers are white, 9 percent are Hispanic, 7 percent are black, and 2 percent are Asian, according to the National Center on Education Statistics.
The Initiative was an outgrowth of the Next Generation Leadership Program, which ALANA leaders and allies had previously attended. Next Generation was designed to create a safe space to talk about the issues educators face and it helps to identify, recruit, and train members to be active at the work site level, resulting in local affiliates becoming powerful and effective organizations. The program is unique in that it works with educators with three years or less of leadership experience, and that it’s mostly conversation. There’s no agenda other than the topics participants bring up. There’s no PowerPoint. No flipcharts.
“It’s all based on the lived experiences of educators, which helps to create the kind of space where people can build confidence in that change can happen through collective action, and learn the skills to bring people together and overcome their fears of taking action,” says George Luse, who, at the time, was an MTA organizer before his retirement.
He explains that the blueprint of the training does what it’s supposed to do: give people skills, encourage them to act, and build collective member power. “Nothing works without members who are excited about the union and understand the union as a tool to improve their working conditions and the environment around them,” says Luse, who has 30 years of organizing experience…
Shiny apples, carrot bags, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, full containers of applesauce, sealed cartons of raisons, and unopened milk cartons. That’s what paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess would see students tossing into the trash every day as she supervised lunch at Davies Middle School in the Hamilton Township of Atlantic County, N.J.
A shocking amount of food meandered from lunch line, to tray, to trash. It was nearly enough to fill several 50-gallon cans, the educator says. In a county struggling with food insecurity, Von Ness refused to stand idly by. She began to investigate ways to fix a system that she says was clearly broken.
“I was appalled by the food waste at school,” Von Hess says. “We have two food pantries in our town overwhelmed with people in need.”
Showing Community Spirit
Seeing an abundance of food in one corner of her life and a severe need for food in another, Von Hess knew what to do.
First, she contacted the cafeteria food services manager who informed her that all food was funded by a state grant which required by law that students receive an item from each food group. Once food hit the tray, it could not return to the kitchen. The obvious destination for unwanted food? The cafeteria’s large gray trash cans.
Von Hess continued to search for information. She found no rule that said the unconsumed food couldn’t be earmarked for a destination beyond the cafeteria.
Pointing to the closure of nearby Atlantic City casinos between 2014 and 2016, Von Hess recalls how the closures rippled into households.
“They’re struggling to keep their homes and feed their families,” Von Hess points out.
Many of the area’s families depend on food pantries to survive. And donations help to fuel the survival of the food pantries. Von Hess, a member of the Hamilton Township Education Association, explained the donation idea to the food centers in her area. They loved it!
Next, she created a detailed proposal, and headed to a meeting of the district school administration bearing a detailed plan with a name created by her son: “No Food Left Behind.”
“Administrators were excited by the idea,” Von Hess says.
The program began at Davies in March 2015 and exceeded expectations. According to Von Hess, students were eager to donate unwanted food items.
Here’s how it works: Students drop unwanted food in boxes. After lunch, paraprofessionals sort the items into categories for delivery to food pantries the same day.
Over the summer of 2015, Von Hess collaborated with principals and paraprofessionals from neighboring schools to help them start their own programs. By that September, several schools were collecting food too.
“The food that we take to the pantries helps a lot,” says Von Hess. Collectively, the schools donate about 40 reusable grocery totes of food to area pantries per week. Von Hess says schools contact her often seeking advice about pioneering their own programs.
“That’s very rewarding,” she says.
“My role as a paraprofessional has helped me to see community problems,” says Von Hess who is proud that her school got the ball rolling with “people who did not hesitate to jump in to help.”
School nurses are an essential component to the health and wellbeing of students, particularly those with acute and chronic health conditions.
“For many of these students, without nursing services, attendance would decrease or students would be unable to attend school,” says Louise Wilson, health services supervisor and a school nurse in the Beaver Dam Unified School District in Wisconsin.
Wilson recalls sitting at her desk recently when she received a call from a concerned mother questioning whether her four-year-old son, diagnosed with diabetes, would be cared for during the school day. The child had Type I Diabetes, a chronic health condition that requires constant monitoring and a level of medical knowledge most educators and school administrators do not possess.
“I knew this mother was overwhelmed,” says Wilson, a nurse for 37 years, the last 25 working at schools. “She herself was trying to learn how to manage and safeguard her child.”
In recent years, school nurses have transcended treating the traditional bumps, bruises, and scrapes, to become a central force in helping parents gain access to healthcare for their children.
For example, in some states, school nurses work in conjunction with private healthcare providers and parents to help manage students with chronic diabetes, asthma and other conditions. At many schools, nurses screen students for hearing and vision problems that could create a barrier to learning.
After serving in the Navy, a San Diego veteran borrowed $50,000 from the federal government to attend a for-profit college that promised to deliver him a good, well-paying job, U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) told Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week.
But all he has now is $50,000 in student debt. “Should there be recourse for students like him who were enrolled under false pretenses?” Davis asked.
Advocates for students, including NEA leaders, say yes. But that Navy vet isn’t likely to find much support in the DeVos-led Department of Education, which has given the for-profit college industry “everything they’ve lobbied for and more,” Pauline Abernathy, executive vice president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), an advocate for stronger regulation, told Politico last month.
Reduced loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by their for-profit colleges, like Yvette Colon, who told Time that she borrowed $35,000 to get a certificate in cardiovascular sonography from Stanford-Brown Institute, only to find out that the for-profit college lacked the accreditation for her to take the licensing exam or transfer her credits to a community college. Stanford-Brown has since been shut down. “This school has totally messed up my life,” Colon told Time. “I can’t do anything. I can’t continue my education. I can’t continue to go forward in my career.”
Hobbled the DOE office charged with investigating for-profit college abuses. The office, which was created in 2016 and included more than a dozen investigators, has been reduced to three people, the New York Times reports. This means several investigations into the nation’s largest for-profits have been abandoned, the Times reported. At the same time, the new investigations supervisor is Julian Schmoke, former dean at the for-profit DeVry University. “Secretary DeVos has has filled the department with for-profit college hacks who only care about making sham schools rich and shutting down investigations into fraud,” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told the Times…
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, D.C. Organized by the survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was a rally by students for students, but they were joined by thousands of educators who amplified their message — #neveragain. Hundreds of sister marches were held across the country and around the world.
Connecticut Educators March for Students
Busloads of educators came from all over the country to support the Florida students and students all over the country who demand to be heard. Taking part was a group of educators from Connecticut, where the shooting that killed 26 elementary school children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton is still raw.
“We have to do something with our gun laws, and we have to be vigilant. Talking and talking about it doesn’t change anything and we need to act. Our kids don’t feel safe,” said Mia Dimbo, a middle school math teacher from Bridgeport as she prepared to march to the site of the rally in Washington. “We need support for mental health. We don’t have enough resources for psychologists and counselors, and there’s so much trauma our kids are dealing with. They should not be afraid when coming to school. Today I march for our kids and our teachers…”
In the summer of 2017, Charleena Lyles, a pregnant 30-year-old black mother was fatally shot by two white Seattle police officers in her home as her three young children looked on. Lyles, who had called the police to report a burglary, reportedly suffered from mental illness. She pulled a knife out of her pocket when the police entered her home, but rather than tasing or subduing her with pepper spray, they shot her seven times.
Days after the shooting, seven black Seattle high school students formed “New Generation,” a school activist group that led a walkout at Garfield High School to raise awareness about the young mother’s death and to organize in their school and community for racial justice. Uniting students with Charleena Lyles’ family on the one-year anniversary of her death, New Generation held a powerful assembly that launched the hashtag #RememberHerName to make sure that people don’t forget Charleena Lyles and the police violence that led to her death.
The death of Lyles is a symbol of the injustices the group of students has experienced and witnessed in their communities and even within their school. They wanted to take action not just for Charleena Lyles but for all people of color, especially their fellow students.
“We’re students of color and we share similar struggles, experience the same disadvantages, and strive to become more than what society has labeled us,” says Chardonnay Beaver, who founded New Generation along with classmates Janelle Gary, Myles Gillespie, Kevon Avery, Israel Presley, and Umoya McKinney.
“We’ve discovered that action is the first step in turning ideas of equality into reality. Because we’re students we have the opportunity to reach our peers directly.”
New Generation was a recipient of the 2018 Black Education Matters Student Activist Awards (BEMSAA), which gives recognition, support, and a $1,000 award to student leaders in the Seattle Public Schools who demonstrate exceptional leadership in struggles against racism—especially with an understanding of the intersections with sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, class exploitation and other forms of oppression—within their school or community.
Over the past three years, nine Seattle Public Schools students and one youth organization – New Generation — have been honored with the award.
The program was founded by Jesse Hagopian, an Ethnic Studies teacher and co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. Just like New Generation was spurred by violence, the award program was a positive outcome of a clash with police.