California Educator

May 2011

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The people behind the protest Six educators who rallied by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin CTA members made history by taking over the state Capitol during the State of Emergency week. They lobbied, marched, prayed, sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “graded” legislators on their ideas for solving the state budget crisis. They became known in the halls for their blue shirts, and legislators got the message that educators will fight for adequate school funding. This was a collective action that saw results, but it was also a collection of individual stories. Becoming an advocate KENNETH TANG ven- tured to Sacramento be- cause his school in San Gabriel is closing. Students in his class at John Marshall Elementary School are devastated. It will be the third school closed in five years in the Garvey School District. Last year a beloved teach- er died just before retiring, and stu- dents planted a tree in his memory. Students asked Tang tearfully: What will happen to that tree when our school closes? “When they asked me that, I decided to become an advo- cate for public education,” said the Garvey Education Association member. “And that meant going to Sacra- mento for a week.” Tang marched, lobbied and chanted “We Are One.” He dis- covered it was more than a slogan when fellow protesters were ar- rested. Feeling deeply anguished, he prayed for them during a can- dlelight vigil outside the jail. It ended at midnight, but he stayed awake all night and vowed not to eat until they were released. He rushed back to the jail when he heard they were being let go. “When [CTA Board Mem- ber] Larry Allen walked out of the jail the next morning, I grabbed him and hugged him,” said Tang. “He had tears in his eyes, and I just lost it. To me, the candlelight vigil was as meaningful as if I had been ar- rested myself.” Tough decisions JULIA CERVANTES ESPINOSA wrestled with the decision of whether to come. She had just received her third pink slip and hoped to be re- hired once again at Stanford Elementary School. She was worried about leaving students during testing week. “It was a difficult decision,” admitted the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) member. “My students are English learners and need me. But I decided my students — and the next gen- eration of students — would be better off if I came to Sacramento.” She spoke with her parents and then told the youngsters she was leaving to try to get more money for schools. She reminded them to eat 14 California Educator | MAY 2011 breakfast every morning and begged them to do their best on the test. She sent letters to parents ex- plaining her decision, and most of them supported her for taking a stand. In Sacramento, Espinosa spoke with her stu- dents daily on the phone. “I miss you,” she said. “I’m thinking of you. Study hard!” All doubts vanished once she arrived. She led marches, including a “Republicans pass the buck” ex- ercise. She was interviewed on TV. She visited legisla- tors in their offices and told them that students weren’t getting the education they deserved. She be- came empowered. “I’m ecstatic to be here,” she said. “I can feel so much positive energy. It’s almost like going to church. I know that I’m here for a good reason for the kids.” Just the beginning DEWAYNE SHEAFFER simply got tired of waiting. “We can’t sit around waiting for someone to save us,” said Sheaffer, president of Community College Association’s Long Beach City Col- lege chapter. “We need to get active and explain to legislators what’s hap- pening not only to K-12 schools but higher education, which is moving more toward privatization. Pretty soon it will be more like a privilege than a right to go to school.” Colleges are turning students away, and have pink-slipped so ma- ny professors that students can’t get the classes they need to graduate. As head of the counseling department, he has seen counselors dwindle and individual counseling being re- placed with “group” sessions, much to the dismay of students with indi- vidual needs. Enough, he said, is enough. “I wanted to model the behavior I want from my members instead of just telling them about the be- havior they should have,” said Sheaffer. “I think that what hap- pened in Sacramento will be the shot heard round the world. But it’s just the beginning.”

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