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Day of Solidarity
Members, communities unite in anger against the mayor
by Dorothy Callaci, Cara Metz, Michael Hirsch, Ellie Spielberg & Bill Levay | March 22, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Outraged teachers, parents, students and community and political leaders rallied in every borough on March 15 in a Day of Solidarity to protest the Bloomberg administration’s decade of mismanaging the city’s schools.
Their anger was directed at the staggering number of school closings, the impact of those closings on school communities, the surge of school co-locations without any parent input, the release of the Teacher Data Reports and the mounting attacks on teachers.
In Manhattan’s Foley Square, the stalking figure of the Grim Reaper and tombstones representing high schools marked for closing reflected the mood of the hundreds demanding to be heard.
Juan Pagan, the president of the Parent Association at targeted Legacy HS, said Bloomberg was “the execution mayor, not the reform mayor,” adding, “the children are paying the price for his mistakes.”
Facing the closure of Renaissance HS, veteran teacher Gwen Garrett said she is retiring earlier than she ever thought she would.
“I love, love the kids, but I’m tired of fighting,” she said.
A school secretary at PS 102 in East Harlem, Doreen Barrios-Castillo, voiced her dismay at the futility of public input at the city’s Panel for Educational Policy meetings, where the vote by the Bloomberg-dominated body is always a foregone conclusion.
“My heart breaks for the kids who stand up for themselves and for their schools at all the PEP school closing meetings I attend,” she said.
When UFT President Michael Mulgrew asked, “Who is going to hold the mayor accountable?” the crowd roared back, “We are!”
He called on everyone “to stand tall and strong” and promised to continue the fight at rallies and in the courts “to get back to what education is really about.”
Teacher union leaders from across the country and around the world, who were in New York that day for an education summit, also spoke in solidarity. AFT President Randi Weingarten said she was “embarrassed that my home city does not know how to treat teachers and children.”
In Brooklyn, 200 protesters replete with signs and whistles drew in passersby, giving them fliers and talking about the dire situation in the schools.
“The DOE is not listening to teachers, cares nothing for our opinions and wants us to be like robots,” said Orlando Cole of Watts Academy in East New York. “The city wants to undermine our job security by getting out older teachers and not awarding tenure to the newer ones. We’ve got to support each other.”
Vivian Goodman of PS 203 in Mill Basin said, “Bloomberg has no clue as to what it means to teach a child.”
At the Bronx County Courthouse, some 300 teachers rallied to blast the mayor for moving to close schools that they claimed were victims of DOE neglect.
Tom Newton, the chapter leader at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education HS, detailed how his school’s CTE curriculum has been providing training that leads to jobs for its graduates. He slammed the mayor for wanting to take that advantage away from his students by closing the school.
Lehman HS teacher Ray Morales challenged Bloomberg “to try spending a day in the life of a New York City teacher when the visit isn’t orchestrated for him. Every day we deal with children with special needs, with differentiation and with calling parents. That would be an education for him.”
In Queens, elected officials joined UFT members protesting the mayor’s closing of 33 restart and transformation schools “out of spite,” as City Council Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie termed it, because he “is not having his way” on teacher evaluations.
Borough President Helen Marshall said, “I work hard to build schools. I don’t want anyone closing them!” In a challenge to the mayor, she added, “Government must do the right thing. Come on, Mayor Bloomberg, join us!”
Georgia Lignou, a social studies teacher at William Cullen Bryant HS, one of the schools that the mayor is threatening to close, said she was at the rally to take a stand for “common sense.”
On the steps of Staten Island Borough Hall, where more than 100 teachers, retirees and parents gathered, UFT Borough Representative Emil Pietromonaco called the mayor “out of control.”
PS 74 science teacher Matt Kirwan came “to tell the mayor that we’ve had enough” of cuts to the classroom, teacher attrition and increasing class sizes, and said the lack of support was making it “really difficult to do our jobs.”
Many in attendance were still outraged about the plan to shut PS 14, the only Staten Island school on the mayor’s chopping block.
Retired teacher Jeanne Casanovas said parents and teachers deserve a voice in the decision-making process, especially when it comes to closing schools. The mayor’s “reign of terror over the school system has to end,” she said.