Rejuvenation — then action

Moving into 2017 with purpose

You have reached winter break, and you deserve every moment of rest and rejuvenation that you will get. You are the backbone of our schools, our service to students, our communities, our union, and our profession. Enjoy this time.

It is a time of traditions for many families. For almost five decades, at this time of year, my family has gathered with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Cincinnati, Ohio. As my generation has grown up and had our own kids, the gathering has grown in size and geographic reach — families now come to Cincinnati from California, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Connecticut, and Michigan. We still all stay in the same house, sleeping on the floor, on blowup mattresses in the living room, and so on.

For my 12-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, as it was for my older brother and me, it is a tradition that is highly anticipated for the entire year. It is one of those experiences that feeds so many aspects of a child’s development.

As 25 people of all generations sit down to eat each night, from Aunt Cynthia’s turkey to my mother’s stew, my kids feel safe and cared for. As they listen to their grandparents’ stories and experiences, they learn about themselves, their identities, and the world around them. As they play football games outside in the snow, with the teams including everyone from the six-year-old cousin to the 76-year-old grandfather, they feel healthy and are exposed to new things. As they get to know broader sets of people in Cincinnati, a fascinating city that, across the river from Kentucky, straddles the industrial Midwest and the South, they learn from diversity. As an older cousin who lives in rural Connecticut teaches them about sustainable farming in the backyard, they learn how to contribute positively to communities. And, from the snowball fights to the pillow fights, they have fun, and have the crucial bonds of family reinforced.

As educators, you do each of these things every day in school. You help students feel safe and cared for, you help students learn, you encourage healthy habits and expose students to new things, you encourage learning from diversity, you connect learning to contributing to the community, you make things fun, and you reinforce the importance of family and support networks.

Yet, these fundamentals that undergird your work and the experiences of our students are at risk under Donald Trump, a President-elect who has selected more billionaires and radical ideologues to his cabinet than any in history—from white nationalist and anti-Semite Stephen Bannon to Islamophobe Michael Flynn to Andrew Puzder, who has advocated against the minimum wage and health benefits, to Betsy DeVos, who has funded pro-unregulated charter, anti-union, and anti-LGBT legislation, to Rex Tillerson, whose world experience comes from being an oil executive rather than a diplomat.

The policy proposals that are emanating from this group tear at the fundamentals. They tear at students feeling safe and cared for, they tear at creating authentic spaces for learning and for fun, they tear at diversity, they tear at students feeling connected to community, they tear at keeping families and networks together.

 

The Trump ripple effect: Why we must organize for January 19

This is why we must lead on January 19 with our morning actions at schools and work sites. We must show our students, our families, our communities, and our co-workers that we intend to protect each other, protect the civic institution of public education, and protect what public schools are about: inclusion, learning, safety, and diversity. Make no mistake about it — the way the Trump administration moves, and its ripple effects, will have deeply local impacts at our schools, from potentially dramatic increases in deportation, to increases in hate crimes, to increased federal supports for the financial and educational undermining of LAUSD, to increased federal pressure to attack health benefits.

In a city strengthened by immigrants and diversity, and with more people — students, educators, school staff, and more — connected to the Dream Act than anywhere else in the country, I am proud that our union has acted swiftly to organize events supporting immigrant and free speech rights, get crucial information into the hands of educators and students, and compile a constantly expanding set of resources on curriculum, services, and “know your rights” pieces on our website.

It won’t surprise you that Trump’s connection to the local L.A. context goes even deeper.

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released a statement with high praise for Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who is a non-educator billionaire. It is clear that CCSA, already surpassing all other funders in state political races, intends to use DeVos’ pro-unregulated charter growth politics to advance their agenda even more aggressively.

Moreover, the billionaires behind the Broad-Walmart effort to move half of LAUSD students into unregulated charter schools, which would send LAUSD off the fiscal cliff, are deeply tied to Betsy DeVos. The Waltons of Walmart have been the largest donors to DeVos’ two organizations that promote vouchers and unregulated charters: Alliance for School Choice and American Federation for Children. Eli Broad is also a substantial contributor to DeVos’ organizations.

Broad and DeVos also teamed up to fund legislative races in Louisiana, a state that, post-Hurricane Katrina, became the poster-child for unregulated charter growth and the systematic destruction of the civic institution of public education. Broad and DeVos teamed up again in funding the Educational Achievement Authority in Michigan, which oversaw the mass charterization and de-unionization of Detroit public schools, resulting in a wasteland rife with student equity and access violations, recently documented in a front page story in the New York Times.

There’s more. The L.A. School Report website, which has been pro-unregulated charter, anti-union, and has a history of inaccuracy in reporting, is owned by The 74, which is chaired by billionaire Campbell Brown. The 74 has received substantial donations from Betsy DeVos’ foundations.

We are ground zero in a battle that now puts us up not only against Broad-Walmart, but against the interlocking forces of Trump, DeVos, Broad, Walmart, CCSA, and their media arm at the L.A. School Report, not to mention Broad’s funded project at the L.A. Times. And, for Democrats who have supported the growth of unregulated charters, and attempted to cast a blind eye to severe student equity and access issues, and a blind eye to the financial undermining of the civic institution of public education that serves all students — for those California and Los Angeles Democrats, it is time to make a clear and public choice. Team up with Trump, DeVos, Broad, Walmart, and CCSA behind a privatization agenda, or team up with students, parents, community, and unions behind a vision for Community Schools, a vision of high-quality, equitable, accessible education for all students.

 

UTLA’s proactive roadmap for Winter/Spring

Most people across the country do not have an organization that can address multiple issues simultaneously. We do in UTLA. As winter flows into spring 2017, we will be moving on multiple fronts in support of the Schools L.A. Students Deserve, continuing to frame a proactive vision for what our students, schools, and profession need.

Five key elements of this Winter/Spring 2017 roadmap include:

  • Continuing to expand support for exciting work-site struggles in support of contract enforcement and important issues at schools. The struggles that were highlighted on the front page of the UNITED TEACHER last month — against a bad principal, for green spaces on a campus, against a Prop. 39 charter co-location, and for rigorous contract enforcement — these were only the tip of an exciting and vibrant iceberg.
     
  • Building escalating actions to put pressure on LAUSD to meet our demands in contract reopener negotiations, full contract bargaining, and health benefits negotiations. In reopeners, we are bargaining on salary, class size, academic freedom/testing, school discipline/restorative justice, and school restructuring, all critical elements in building a Community Schools model. Reopener negotiations begin January 12. Between January 9 and February 22, all of you at your work sites will have the opportunity to engage in a bargaining survey process that will define our priorities for our full contract campaign. We will sunshine those priorities in April. And, as we head towards the expiration of our health benefits in December 2017, we are working with the other LAUSD unions to develop an organizing plan to protect this crucial element in recruiting and retaining excellent school employees.
     
  • Organizing vigorously behind our endorsed candidates for the LAUSD School Board, Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla. Candidates elected on March 7 will serve on the School Board that will ultimately consider our full contract and health benefits. Both are deeply experienced in schools and issues confronting youth and families, and support the vision of the Schools L.A. Students Deserve. These elections couldn’t be more important.
     
  • Working with the new Reclaim Our Schools L.A. community/labor coalition, which UTLA is a driving force within, and with other coalitions, such as the L.A. Compact, to drive toward investment in a Community School model.
     
  • Building our internal systems and structures, and our relationships across the city, to achieve strike readiness by February 2018. While we don’t want to strike, we know that we will need the real capacity to do so if full contract and health benefits negotiations stall. Strike readiness in the biggest teachers’ local in the state also gives us the ability, if necessary, to create a crisis at the state level over the two state-policy-rooted issues that will ultimately lead to the demise of public education if they are not addressed within the next 10 years: shockingly low per-pupil funding and the distressing lack of regulation on charter schools.

 

Enjoy your break: you deserve it

I write the above because it is my responsibility, whether a vacation time of year or another time of year, to keep you abreast of what is shaping our and our students’ lives and what we can do about it. I take that job very seriously.

Rest assured, we will make it through these challenging times — and we will thrive.

With that said, I want to reiterate one of the most important parts of this column. Have a great break. You deserve every minute of it, every hug you get from a family member or friend, every moment of pleasure you get from sitting around a table with ones that you love.

As I get ready to go to Cincinnati and am thinking of the great time my kids will have, of my Uncle Joe’s pumpkin pie, and of the most obscure 1980’s National Basketball Association references I can make that will elicit my brother’s hearty laugh, I am reminded of the other gatherings that make this time of year so special.

When I taught at Crenshaw High School, a highlight was our staff holiday breakfasts and various after-school holiday parties. I would often have staff over to my house, down the street from the school, during this time of year. Just recently, I was reminiscing about these times with Susana Rafael, whom I taught with at Crenshaw during her first few years in the profession, and who now teaches at an LAUSD school in Sylmar. In the middle of the conversation, she mentioned that she is now the UTLA co-chair at her school. It brought a smile to my face — not only the memories, but the knowledge that educators like Susana are stepping into leadership roles in UTLA. There are few greater gifts at this time of year than hearing that.

I am honored to work with all of you in these important times. Have a wonderful, wonderful break.