The River Jordan and the Caddo Parish School Board

Back when I was a kid, I attended a church that hung a picture, painted by the pastor, in the baptistery. The preacher said it was of the River Jordan, but unfortunately, to many, it looked more like a highway, lane striping and all. I can still remember sitting in the pew trying to make sense of the winding river/highway.

Eventually the pastor resigned and moved on. It wasn’t long until a chasm began to form within the church. On one side were those who saw this as an opportunity to turn the page on the conflicted portrait. They verbally reasoned the baptistery curtains should be closed due to heightened energy cost. On the other side, the loyalist to pastor, felt it would be wrong to close the curtains on the picture.

The tug of war went on and on, with each Sunday seeing the curtains opened and then closed, closed then open. Hard feelings built and tempers flared. But one Sunday something happened. Suddenly, when the curtains were opened to the baptistery, the picture was gone. No explanation, just gone.

The curtains closed and the church moved on, that time put aside. Today, decades later, as I sat in the pew at the same church body, for some reason I conjured that long ago memory. I thought about how many divisive moments I had witnessed here lately. The Caddo Parish School Board is certainly an example of that. Clearly, both sides feel strongly about their positions, one side with loyalty to the current administration and the other looking to turn the page. We would be hard put to say who is right or wrong. Just as my church members, they are all good people with strong convictions.

As I lingered after church today, I had the opportunity to share my church memory with the pastor. He shared a similar story about one of his earlier days. He ended it by saying the conflict was put to rest with the placement of only a Cross in the baptistery, no argument to be raised.

So, perhaps that is the solution for our school board as well. Just as the Cross is central to the Christian religion, the board can turn their attention away from the area of contention that divides them and focus on their binding core beliefs, picking a leader best qualified to realize their shared vision and values for our district. Perhaps then the curtains can be closed and we can move on about the business of reclaiming the promise of public education in Caddo.


Stop for the bus: Our kids are worth the wait

Stop sign on school bus

FACED WITH A DANGEROUS rise in distracted driving, members of the Charlotte County Support Personnel Association wanted to alert their community to just how lethal it can be not to stop for a school bus when its flashers are on.

So, members of the PSRP affiliate in southwestern Florida undertook a two-week campaign this spring to draw the attention of motorists to the importance of driving carefully around school buses. They worked with businesses to put their message on marquees and display posters. They designed wonderful fliers, festooned with students’ drawings of school buses. Working with the public schools, they put out press releases, ads and letters—even a quiz on bus safety—all based on a free “STOP for the BUS” toolkit provided by the AFT.

A few weeks after the campaign, district school bus drivers conducted a survey of the community, also using the AFT toolkit. The result: Violations by drivers who ignored the school bus flashers fell dramatically, from 90 to 66, compared to the same period a year before. It was the lowest number of violations in the past three years.

There’s still room for improvement, CCSPA President Bonnie Bistarkey says. “Educating our citizens about the importance of stopping for the bus is critical to ensuring our students’ safety,” she says.

This year’s National School Bus Safety Week is Oct. 21-25, but you don’t have to wait to conduct a campaign like the PSRPs did in Florida. Contact PSRP@aft.org  to find out more.

Reprinted from the Fall 2013 issue of PSRP Reporter.



Dear Red River United,

Yesterday, AFT President Randi Weingarten was one of 200 labor, civil rights, faith and immigrant leaders arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the Concert and March for Immigrant Dignity and Respect in Washington, D.C. Maria Neira, vice president of New York State United Teachers, an AFT vice president and a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, was also arrested.

Stand in solidarity with Randi and the others arrested on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.

Randi ArrestedOn her way down to the police station, Randi said, “There are times when injustice is so great that there is no other choice but to be civilly disobedient. This is one of those times. From the students who have never known a home beyond the United States to the teachers who want all their students to have equal opportunities, our broken immigration system is a huge obstacle for AFT members, students and families they serve. That’s why we are working to reclaim the promise for all who make America home—regardless of where they were born.”

Randi was joined at the rally, and later at the police station, by AFT Vice President Maria Neira of the New York State United Teachers. Neira said, “Our nation was built on the strength and vitality of immigrants. It’s time for Congress to recognize the contributions immigrants have made, are making and will continue to make by passing a comprehensive reform bill—one that includes a pathway to educational opportunity and citizenship for students and families.”

Randi and Maria stood up for what they believe is right. Stand with them for compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.

For years, the AFT has stood in solidarity with immigrant workers and advocated to advance comprehensive immigration reform. We must act now to ensure we achieve our goals.

In unity,
John Ost
AFT Political Director

Tweet this: Breaking @rweingarten and AFT VP Maria Neira arrested for #CIR. Stand with them: http://bit.ly/11W8pmf #FreeRandi 


Reclaiming the Promise conversation series kicks off

October 3, 2013

The AFT and the Albert Shanker Institute have organized a new Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education conversation series, with discussions set for the second Wednesday of every month. The series kicks off on Oct. 9 with a conversation titled “Civic Purposes of Education and the Common Core.”One of the primary purposes of public education is to foster an engaged and well-educated citizenry: For a democracy to function, those who govern must be prepared to take on the duties and the rights of citizens. That is the broad topic of discussion for the first event.

A panel will discuss a series of questions related to the Common Core. Panelists will be Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute; Chester E. Finn Jr., senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Kathy Swan, lead author of the Common Core College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards and professor at the University of Kentucky College of Education; and Ross Wiener, vice president of the Aspen Institute and executive director of its Education and Society Program.

The Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education conversation series is designed to engender lively and informative discussions on important educational issues. It features speakers with diverse perspectives, including views other than those of the AFT and the Albert Shanker Institute, with the aim of encouraging genuine engagement among the speakers.

This flierabout the event includes more details, including online registration information.

[Albert Shanker Institute]


Is school making you sick?

Dear Red River United,

The new school year is in full swing. We’re hoping that you or your children returned to a school that is safe and welcoming and that provides a healthy environment with good air quality and temperature control. We know, however, that conditions are less than ideal for many educators and their students. A national survey of school nurses found that more than 40 percent knew children and staff who were adversely affected by avoidable indoor pollutants.

Tell us about conditions in your school building. Fill out this short survey.

We know little about the general condition of America’s school buildings. One study by the 21st Century School Fund found that the average age of a U.S. school is 40 years and that the cost to modernize schools would be at least $270 billion.

We’d like to hear from you about the conditions you or your children found when you returned to school this year.

Help us reclaim the promise of a high quality public education. Take a moment to answer our survey about the state of your school.

We’ll use the results to advocate for repairing and modernizing schools—making them safe and healthy for students and staff. Modernizing schools can save big money. The U.S. Green Building Council reports that modern, green schools can save $100,000 per year on operating costs—enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 textbooks.

Let us know how schools in your community are doing. Fill out this short survey today.

Fixing our schools is part of the AFT and the BlueGreen Alliance’s Repair America campaign—our effort to upgrade the systems we rely on every day for water, energy, communications, and to move people and goods around our country. Modernizing our schools to be healthier, safer and more efficient will put people back to work and ensure America’s students have high-quality learning environments.

Help us find out how your school compares with others around the country by taking this short survey today.

In unity,
Darryl Alexander
AFT Health, Safety & Well-Being


Event provides 40,000 books to Philadelphia students

September 30, 2013

Philadelphia’s cash-strapped public schools might be short on paper and supplies, but thousands of the city’s public school students have new books as the result of a Sept. 28 event in which more than 40,000 books were given away for free.

schwartz_and_aft_leaders-250x150The Philadelphia event was a partnership between the AFT, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFT Pennsylvania and First Book. (First Book is a national nonprofit group that provides new, high-quality, low-cost books to children in need.) The groups are working together to provide much-needed educational resources to students, parents, educators and community programs to fill the void left by recent school district budget cuts and school closures.

It took just 3 1/2 hours to distribute the mountain of books. Teams of teachers came from Philadelphia public schools—where many libraries have been closed or are without librarians—to pick up the books. Representatives from community organizations, such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum, also were at the event to distribute information. Several other unions lent support to make the event a success.

Among those helping out were Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), AFT President Randi Weingarten, PFT President Jerry Jordan, AFT Pennsylvania President Ted Kirsch (pictured above), First Book Executive Vice President Chandler Arnold and children’s author Eric Wight (a Philadelphia native). Jordan and Kirsch are also AFT vice presidents.

“How do kids learn to read without books?” Weingarten asked. “That’s why we joined with First Book. We call this reclaiming the promise of public education. It’s a collective obligation.”

philly_first_book-250x166Schwartz thanked Philadelphia’s educators for their amazing work despite the difficult conditions. “We need a recommitment to public education in this state and in this nation,” she said. “Without support for public education, we cannot be the great democracy we are.”

“Our kids are going to be successful because of you and First Book,” Jordan told the packed hall of volunteers. “No one knows the sacrifices you teachers make for your children.”

“This is another example of what the union is doing with community to get the children what they deserve,” Kirsch said.

[AFT press release, Kate Childs Graham, Dan Gursky/photos by Laurie Beck Peterson]


National Hispanic Heritage Month

Spotlight On...

Hispanic heritage
National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The AFT website has a variety of resources to help educators celebrate the month in their classrooms. It includes materials on topics such as the fight for civil rights, scientific exploration, access to education, and challenges and opportunities. It also includes a special section on Sonia Sotomayor, the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.



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