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Organizing School Revs Up Members

Tuesday’s opening session of the Reggie Smith Organizing School at the University of Richmond left participants with no doubts about who needs to bring about the changes we want to see in public education. It’s us.

VEA President Kitty Boitnott noted that the leadership school, which is being relaunched this summer, “is the kind of training that will build our membership, and our Association,” while helping members assert their professional expertise. The conference theme, in fact, is “Taking Back Our Profession.”

Beginning with the federal “Nation at Risk” report in 1983, Boitnott said, “reformers” began to discredit the work educators do while cutting them out of efforts to address what schools need. In the years since, increasing demands have been heaped on schools, but teachers have largely been cut out of the school change conversation.

Said Boitnott: “Those who have been attacking public schools and public school educators represent a well-funded, well-organized, and highly motivated group of businessmen and hedge fund operators who care nothing about the education of the masses of our children but are looking to take over the schools of those who are affluent and have good support systems at home, leaving the rest to chance.”

She continued, “You believe in what we believe... that we can and must make a difference for ourselves and for our students. It’s time for us to take back our profession, fellow VEA members. It is time for us to say, enough already! If not on our own behalf, then on behalf of our students who need us to advocate for them. For, indeed, if not us, who? And if not now, when?”

Speaking after Boitnott, Christopher Lloyd, a teacher and vice president of the Montgomery County (Md.) Education Association, lambasted the view of some critics that a business approach focused on the bottom line will “fix” education. “That’s flat-out wrong,” he said. “None of us manufacture widgets. How does one measure critical thinking, or an ability to form relationships?”

But Lloyd (pictured at right) went on to say that those gathered at the training should feel confident they have what it takes to wield more influence over the course of public education. “As teachers and ESPs, we have the skills to organize,” he said. “We know how to build relationships. We know how to connect to the issues of the soul. We’re tenacious—we don’t give up on kids. And we have the will to alter the arc of history.”

The organizing school continues through Thursday.

Photos: View a Slideshow from Reggie Smith Organizing School.


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