CHICAGO Public School Budget Cuts: A Mother Speaks

#Down2BareBones

By Bats Social Media Team: Aixa Rodriguez, Steven Singer, Sue Goncarovs, Lisa Smith

A group of concerned Chicago mothers, called BAM, or Badass Moms, dressed in skeleton and bone costumes on July 29th to protest against $60 million in public school budget cuts while charter schools gained $30 million in funding. These mothers and their children wore the Halloween attire to illustrate how deep these spending cuts were hitting their schools – down to the bare bones. Members of the Badass Teachers Association’s Social Media Team chatted with Rousemary Vega, founding Badass Mom, an involved and concerned parent of four public school students, to find out about the BAM action and what is happening in Chicago public schools.
·
Aixa Rodriguez:  We would like to tell the story of this parent protest. Tell us about your group. What is your mission/purpose?

Rousemary Vega: Our mission was to bring to life how our Public Schools are being starved. We have been on the chopping block for many years, but money is being redirected and charters are being funded.

Aixa: You protested by wearing clothing with skeletons and bones on them and were holding tombstones. What was the significance of these choices?

Rousemary: We wanted to be creative in our message and we needed to be bold enough. The purpose of the skeleton suits was to visually show that we are DOWN 2 BARE BONES.

Aixa: What does this group of mothers wish to change?

Rousemary: We wish to change the dirty inequality in our neighborhood public schools. We want to change how our parents are linked and involved. We want to build bridges of parents, from one Public School to another. We want to raise our parents voices so loud that we no longer can be ignored and or silenced. We will not shake in fear.

Aixa: What is currently happening in Chicago schools? How have the mayor’s choices impacted neighborhood schools?

Rousemary : What is happening here in Chicago, is a massacre of Public Education, a disruption of futures and the killing of a profession. Our children are paying the price for the corporations’ free ride. Public school is where everyone is welcome. They are changing and privatizing schools. Where will the kids go? Where will the kids that need different teaching and more time go? They are cutting the arts, trips, teachers, transportation. The charters are getting funded and they are leaving us with nothing.

We started a petition asking Depaul University for the money back that would have gone to public schools.

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/depaul-naming-rights?source=c.tw&r_by=4614698


Aixa:  Your group has said “Every Chicago school is your school.” What do you mean by that? Why is this your slogan?

Rousemary: It is not enough to just care about the school your kids go to. These cuts are happening to the system. Chicago is really segregated, and they want us to fight among ourselves. But we can’t hate each other because one school has a program my school doesn’t. We need to unite and fight so all schools have that program. Every school is our school.

Aixa: Parents have long supported the Chicago Teachers Union, seeing the teachers issues as connected to the quality of education children receive in Chicago Public Schools. This #Down2BareBones action features mothers alone. Why was this done? Why were teachers not at this event?

Rousemary: We love and highly respect the CTU. But this action was about mothers who are done being a shadow. We want the mayor and every other parent to know we have our own voice and that this is our fight. Because when I fight for Education, I mean everything.

SueG:  Karen Lewis has been a stalwart supporter of teachers and parents in this…how have the attempts to discredit teachers been part of the impetus of your protests?

Rousemary: Karen Lewis is amazing and her support for parents, loyalty. It really upsets me to see how they – the system, the reformers, the money makers – are discrediting teachers. I know this is being done because teachers are the forces to our chances and changes. Because without teachers, we will all fail. That is my motivation, I can’t let my children fail. Why are they not valued like the kids in charters? Why must we make do with the bare bones?

Steven Singer: Rousemary, is this happening in all Chicago public schools or just schools serving certain populations? Minorities? Poor? Etc.

Rousemary: Steven, this is happening to all our public schools, but more cuts to our poor communities as much as $3.9 million. Rahm’s choices have clearly been an attack on our black and brown communities, teachers and students.

Steven: Is this coming mostly from the mayor’s office? Would it have been different with Chuy (Garcia)?

Rousemary: Yes, much different with Chuy.

Aixa: What do you want Chicago aldermen to know?

Rousemary:  Today’s action was important for us as mothers, we want to raise awareness. We need our parent voices to rise and be heard. I want to be that mother to guide and push other parents to stand up for all schools not just their own. Some of our schools no longer have physical education. They are taking it online!

Aixa: That’s outrageous !!!

Rousemary: Yes. The cuts are really deep. We are literally #DOWN2BAREBONES.

Aixa: How do they even justify this!!

Rousemary: He (Emanuel) is a money making bully who says he cares about our city, but not the people in the city. No money. They say they are bankrupt.

Aixa: What is the state of the charters?

Rousemary: They are giving away our Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money to corporations that don’t need it. It’s all about privatizing.

Nancy Osborne: Awful, awful, awful. Chicago is like watching Detroit sliding into the abyss again.

Aixa: What do you want other parents to know?

Rousemary: That when it comes to public education and its teachers, we need to act today because tomorrow might be too late. To know that when you stand up and fight…..your voice becomes heard.

Aixa: You are a warrior for the right reasons. How can Chicago citizens help draw attention to this situation?

Steven Singer: Is there anything folks outside of Chicago can do to help?

Rousemary: All our public schools are bleeding and being cut. It’s really hard to watch. Help us spread our message. #Down2BareBones. Tell your elected officials.

SueG: How should parents who are interested in helping you contact you for more information?
Rousemary: They can email me at

SueG:  How difficult has it been to attract media attention to what parents have been saying?

Rousemary: The media is not on our side.  Not difficult to attract,  difficult for right words. They spin the story so our voices aren’t heard. It’s like we don’t matter. They had security and like 10 policemen for mothers with babies and didn’t let us into the meeting; they said it was full. But with who? Who speaks for us? And the media doesn’t dig deeper and doesn’t expose this.

SueG: How will these cuts  hurt your children and has your family been impacted economically?

Rousemary: I wish I could tell you that this is about how it is hurting my pockets and it is, trust me. But, these cuts are hurting us physically, mentally and emotionally. For example, the budget cuts included that special teacher, or no more physical education, or no more field trips, or no more bus transportation. Our cuts are #DOWN2BAREBONES. We are in desperate times. We are being closed out. We must stand up today.

 

Poster in picture courtesy of  Ellen Gradman, a BAM MEMBER
Present for this action:
Clare Fauke
Julie Dworkin
Mary Fahey Hughes
Karen McKeegan Fraid
Carolina Gaete
Carolyn Brown
Rachel Lessem
Janet Meegan
Jesus Ramos

 

BAM member Cassandre Creswell

 

 

Links for Further Reading :

 

 

"The Heart of the Swarm” Bats Congress Speech 2015

Excerpts from Dr. Yohuru Williams BATs Teacher Congress Speech, “The Heart of the Swarm,” delivered Saturday July 24, 2015. This is a shortened version of Dr. Williams’s remarks during the BAT’S Congress on Saturday.
10169447_10153444324956118_8138437963594981830_nWelcome Back to DC Bats! A little less than a year ago today, we marched on the Department of Education to deliver a simple message. Restore our schools. We pledged then that we would not stop fighting until we had achieved our goal of the restoration of public education and re-centering of its focus back on children. We explained to the world then . . .and remind all today . . . that BATs privilege three things: people over profits, parity of charity and choice over chance.
We return today for phase two moving forward with a plan to reclaim our educational system from the forces of politics and enterprise who continue to endanger them.
This danger takes many forms. An education secretary, for example, with neither the credentials nor the political will to understand the necessity of public education. A mighty cabal of corporate interests pushing a program of high stakes testing and privatization that seeks to drain every penny from the public coffers. A host of unethical politicians and so-called community leaders who have swallowed the corporate education Kool Aide echo them in their claims that that our schools are failing and beyond hope. Add to this, fake grass roots organizations like Students First funded by the moneyed interests that promote their anti-union, anti-local control program under the guise of public service. Claiming their work to be the great civil rights issue of our time, they forge ahead administering one death-dealing blow after another to public education assisted by panoply of petty bureaucrats and civil servants without the knowledge or power to challenge them.
Last year we came to plead our case. This year we come to draft and mobilize behind a national platform, which we will decide . . . that that will allow us to fight as a unified force for restorative justice in reclaiming public education.
We recognize that there are rough waters ahead and we fight against a national narrative of failure informed by racism and poverty— however we will not back down.
We come today prepared to roll up our sleeves, hammer out our differences and begin mobilizing on a scale the likes of which have not been seen in the United States for decades. Welcome to the BATS Congress!
I feel a little like I am preaching to the choir this morning, but sometimes even the choir needs to be reminded why we sing. Our voices matter because we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
A snapshot of the past six months, in this regard is instructive. Indulge me if you will for just a few moments to show you how. Despite a national opt-out movement, and on the ground actions by groups such as the Movement of Radical Educators, the Caucus of Working Educators, the Newark Student Union, United Opt Out and of course the BATS, the pied pipers of corporate education reform continue to push their poison penned legislation. They would have the effect of turning the nation into the charter barter tragedy that is the state of public education in the city of New Orleans today, unregulated, hyper-segregated, economically deflated, and politically negated.
They continue, nevertheless, to undermine democratic practice, flaunting their poor grasp of history and their lack of vision; attacking the very agents who are an essential line of defense for our youth, teachers, and schools.
. . .
We are going to be clear, our schools are not for sale, and we are not interested in your Cartoon Education Reform. Stop turning public education into a mockery with your corporatizing crockery.
I recognize that they have cut instructional time for literature in our schools so it may feel for some like “Apocalypse Now” but I would remind you as my literature teachers would that “The Sun Also Rises.” Today over Morningside Washington, we rise with the sun with a powerful message for those who are in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of history.
So I would like to, in conclusion. read to you from the Gospel of Bats A farewell to Arms: The BATs version.
Attention enemies of public education, time for you to go on a permanent vacation. Today you may smile and laugh with scorn. But do not be surprised in the next few months if you find yourself in the heart of the swarm.
. . .
The Bats are going to play TSA for TFA.
Because when we recognize, in your lack of training, a detriment to youth, we cannot hold back, we must tell you the truth.
We appreciate the deception but numbers don’t lie.
It was clear. so clear, you weren’t ready to fly.
So we show you the door, but don’t you despair, for I’m sure now that you’re jobless Ms. Rhee will be there.
And when she runs in the other direction clutching her purse, scream to her “But Michelle you said students first!” ask her to explain where is your piece of the pie and while you’re at it for BATs please tell her “Bye Bye.”
For nearly eight years Mr. Duncan, the balls been in your court.
But it is obvious to all, leadership wasn’t your sport.
Your reign is now ending in thunderous despair.
You hear a crack from the heavens and you wonder “Whose there?”                                                                                                                                                                                             You reach for your binder and swing; ‘swat swat’.
It’s a shame you didn’t play baseball, or you would know all about BATs.
BATs fly by radar; we see with mind, how you have left our children and schools in a bind.
When down in a block we descend from the sky, to show you the door and tell you “Bye Bye!”
Bill and Melinda Gates your intentions so clear, trading the humanities for technology is all you hold dear.
We can teach without your I Pad and you may wonder why because the center of everything you do begins with I, I, I.
But we are the people and we will decide what is best for our children and as an aside when we show you the door and free money, you cry . . .                                                            We will do our best Backstreet boys impression and tell you Bye, Bye, Bye.
Corporate Education Reform lackeys too numerous to name, from small town America to Greece, Russia and Spain.
Your diabolical plans to drive our schools in a hearse was diagnosed and exposed by a public school nurse.
She took your temperature and grimly informed our nation has the Germ . . . Global Education Reform.
I suppose this is why you cut our school nursing jobs first, then libraries, athletics, music and verse.
But if you stay real quiet you can hear the beat of our drum for
we must
we can
we shall overcome…
We will restore our schools, so be forewarned, that truth and justice are at the heart of this swarm.
Our democracy is too important.
We can’t allow it to crash and that . . .you see . . . is why they call us badass!
For we will stand for the littles and fight for the truth, perish for principle in defense of our youth, do all in power to put the wrongs to end.
So BATs roll up your wings let the Congress begin!

“The Heart of the Swarm” Bats Congress Speech 2015

Excerpts from Dr. Yohuru Williams BATs Teacher Congress Speech, “The Heart of the Swarm,” delivered Saturday July 24, 2015. This is a shortened version of Dr. Williams’s remarks during the BAT’S Congress on Saturday.
10169447_10153444324956118_8138437963594981830_nWelcome Back to DC Bats! A little less than a year ago today, we marched on the Department of Education to deliver a simple message. Restore our schools. We pledged then that we would not stop fighting until we had achieved our goal of the restoration of public education and re-centering of its focus back on children. We explained to the world then . . .and remind all today . . . that BATs privilege three things: people over profits, parity of charity and choice over chance.

We return today for phase two moving forward with a plan to reclaim our educational system from the forces of politics and enterprise who continue to endanger them.

This danger takes many forms. An education secretary, for example, with neither the credentials nor the political will to understand the necessity of public education. A mighty cabal of corporate interests pushing a program of high stakes testing and privatization that seeks to drain every penny from the public coffers. A host of unethical politicians and so-called community leaders who have swallowed the corporate education Kool Aide echo them in their claims that that our schools are failing and beyond hope. Add to this, fake grass roots organizations like Students First funded by the moneyed interests that promote their anti-union, anti-local control program under the guise of public service. Claiming their work to be the great civil rights issue of our time, they forge ahead administering one death-dealing blow after another to public education assisted by panoply of petty bureaucrats and civil servants without the knowledge or power to challenge them.

Last year we came to plead our case. This year we come to draft and mobilize behind a national platform, which we will decide . . . that that will allow us to fight as a unified force for restorative justice in reclaiming public education.

We recognize that there are rough waters ahead and we fight against a national narrative of failure informed by racism and poverty— however we will not back down.

We come today prepared to roll up our sleeves, hammer out our differences and begin mobilizing on a scale the likes of which have not been seen in the United States for decades. Welcome to the BATS Congress!

I feel a little like I am preaching to the choir this morning, but sometimes even the choir needs to be reminded why we sing. Our voices matter because we speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

A snapshot of the past six months, in this regard is instructive. Indulge me if you will for just a few moments to show you how. Despite a national opt-out movement, and on the ground actions by groups such as the Movement of Radical Educators, the Caucus of Working Educators, the Newark Student Union, United Opt Out and of course the BATS, the pied pipers of corporate education reform continue to push their poison penned legislation. They would have the effect of turning the nation into the charter barter tragedy that is the state of public education in the city of New Orleans today, unregulated, hyper-segregated, economically deflated, and politically negated.
They continue, nevertheless, to undermine democratic practice, flaunting their poor grasp of history and their lack of vision; attacking the very agents who are an essential line of defense for our youth, teachers, and schools.
. . .
We are going to be clear, our schools are not for sale, and we are not interested in your Cartoon Education Reform. Stop turning public education into a mockery with your corporatizing crockery.

I recognize that they have cut instructional time for literature in our schools so it may feel for some like “Apocalypse Now” but I would remind you as my literature teachers would that “The Sun Also Rises.” Today over Morningside Washington, we rise with the sun with a powerful message for those who are in danger of finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

So I would like to, in conclusion. read to you from the Gospel of Bats A farewell to Arms: The BATs version.

Attention enemies of public education, time for you to go on a permanent vacation. Today you may smile and laugh with scorn. But do not be surprised in the next few months if you find yourself in the heart of the swarm.
. . .
The Bats are going to play TSA for TFA.

Because when we recognize, in your lack of training, a detriment to youth, we cannot hold back, we must tell you the truth.
We appreciate the deception but numbers don’t lie.
It was clear. so clear, you weren’t ready to fly.
So we show you the door, but don’t you despair, for I’m sure now that you’re jobless Ms. Rhee will be there.
And when she runs in the other direction clutching her purse, scream to her “But Michelle you said students first!” ask her to explain where is your piece of the pie and while you’re at it for BATs please tell her “Bye Bye.”

For nearly eight years Mr. Duncan, the balls been in your court.
But it is obvious to all, leadership wasn’t your sport.
Your reign is now ending in thunderous despair.
You hear a crack from the heavens and you wonder “Whose there?”                                                                                                                                                                                             You reach for your binder and swing; ‘swat swat’.
It’s a shame you didn’t play baseball, or you would know all about BATs.
BATs fly by radar; we see with mind, how you have left our children and schools in a bind.
When down in a block we descend from the sky, to show you the door and tell you “Bye Bye!”

Bill and Melinda Gates your intentions so clear, trading the humanities for technology is all you hold dear.
We can teach without your I Pad and you may wonder why because the center of everything you do begins with I, I, I.
But we are the people and we will decide what is best for our children and as an aside when we show you the door and free money, you cry . . .                                                            We will do our best Backstreet boys impression and tell you Bye, Bye, Bye.

Corporate Education Reform lackeys too numerous to name, from small town America to Greece, Russia and Spain.
Your diabolical plans to drive our schools in a hearse was diagnosed and exposed by a public school nurse.
She took your temperature and grimly informed our nation has the Germ . . . Global Education Reform.
I suppose this is why you cut our school nursing jobs first, then libraries, athletics, music and verse.
But if you stay real quiet you can hear the beat of our drum for
we must
we can
we shall overcome…
We will restore our schools, so be forewarned, that truth and justice are at the heart of this swarm.
Our democracy is too important.
We can’t allow it to crash and that . . .you see . . . is why they call us badass!

For we will stand for the littles and fight for the truth, perish for principle in defense of our youth, do all in power to put the wrongs to end.

So BATs roll up your wings let the Congress begin!

The 5 Teachers You Meet in Heaven: What It Really Takes to Save Our Schools

10169447_10153444324956118_8138437963594981830_nA few weeks ago, I had the privilege of delivering commencement addresses to the graduates of the Read Middle School and the Metropolitan Business Academy Magnet High School in Bridgeport and New Haven, Connecticut respectively. The student speakers at both schools thanked their principals and teachers for helping prepare them for the next chapters in their lives — chapters, of course, yet to be written. Their remarks, nonetheless, were far from perfunctory as evidenced by the heartwarming displays of affection students from both schools showed for their teachers. It is a safe bet that all they imagine regarding the significance of the connections they made will prove not only true but also richly rewarding in the future. They only have to look around to see why.

There are abundant examples of the many ways in which teachers change lives. During his acceptance speech for the Tony Awards top honor, Best Musical of 2015, producer Joey Parnes, for example, made it a point to thank “two of my many teachers” as well as “two of my newest teachers” emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning. During the same ceremony, actor Neil Patrick Harris likewise acknowledged his former “teachers in small town New Mexico.” He explained, “When sports were the only option, you showed creativity has a place in the world.” These are wonderful and much needed nods to the importance of and need for continued support of music and arts education. They also illustrate the deep, if not always-obvious ways, teachers can inspire greatness through a challenging assignment, a stimulating discussion, a few well-timed words of encouragement, the unbridled enthusiasm of a librarian, some constructive feedback on a piece of music or art, a successful entry at the science fair or the special attention of a club leader or coach. It is an aspect of the art of teaching that long-term educators cherish.

Given the continued attacks on the teaching profession from so-called corporate education reformers, these displays of gratitude and emotion are especially welcome as they powerfully reaffirm the quintessence of teaching as a humanistic enterprise.

Beyond the artificial scales of progress measured by high stakes testing, teaching at its core is about building relationships. It is one of the reasons that I believe if Mitch Albom’s bestselling book The Five People You Meet in Heaven was not simply a work of fiction, one or more of the five persons you meet in Heaven would most certainly be teachers.

Albom’s popular book, of course, begins with an extraordinary act of kindness and self-sacrifice with the main character giving up his life to save another. Albom, however, paints a portrait of Heaven, not as a place but a process. Consistent with this premise the main character’s voyage into the afterlife begins with a quest to understand his life’s true meaning. Over the course of this journey, he comes to appreciate how all life is intricately and beautifully interwoven — how one tiny ripple or encounter can have enormous consequences.

This is true of teachers and the immense responsibility they shoulder in guiding the hopes and dreams of the nation’s youth. Perhaps more than others, they understand the interconnectedness that Albom aims to highlight — especially in the present climate when so many of the foundations of our educational system are in real peril from corporate education reform and high stakes testing.

Those bent on destroying these foundations, would do well to heed the wisdom of Albom’s narrative voice. There are no random acts. Tinkering with those bodies and traditions that connect us is a risky enterprise. One of the institutions that still powerfully unites Americans are our schools. It would be magnificent if the “common core” they sought to promote focused less on artificial standards and test scores and more on establishing a deep appreciation for our shared humanity.

Teachers, of course, can lead the way, not toward some false utopia embodied in the privatizing, anti-union, agenda of the testing moguls but in education’s humanistic roots — providing young people with multiple pathways to success through a wide variety of educational, artistic and athletic experiences.

“People think of Heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains,” Albom writes. “But scenery without solace is meaningless.” People who believe that hastily prepared teachers and high stakes testing can yield the promised land of educational achievement should recall that form without substance is equally meaningless. We cannot afford to settle for the façade of excellence without fully investing in tackling all of the problems that beset our nation’s youth.

There can be no discussion of great schools in the abstract without improving strategies to address poverty and inequality, as well as building cultural competencies that emphasize our pluralistic strengths not undermine them. This, by definition, must include support for music and the arts, athletics and afterschool programs that help to build communities and promote democratic practice. This can never be accomplished without the cultivation of a diverse pool of well trained, properly supported teachers — true professionals forged in our nation’s graduate education schools and imbued with a sense of instruction that emphasizes care for the whole person not merely the cultivation of test scores.

No matter how loudly self-interested billionaires and sly politicians try to deny it, great schools begin with great teachers, collaborating with enlightened administrators and communities to serve the needs of the next generation.

In this sense, the five teachers that you meet in Heaven will likely be the same dedicated professionals currently working in an environment in which they are understaffed, underfunded and often grossly underappreciated, but still relentlessly sacrificing in the hopes that the tiny ripples they create can shape a life and perhaps, a better future.