The ParentAdvocates 'A for Accountability' Award
JOHNIE MAE ALLEN
Still fighting, and once again a winner of an A For Accountability. From 2003: Johnnie-Mae is a woman of power. She says hello with such force that not only do you know she means what she says, but that she definitely says what she means. As an African-American mother of a very bright son, Timmy, she has learned to fight for him and what she believes in. No one fools around with Johnnie-Mae for too long. JM was thrilled when her son TJ received a graduation notice from Mr. Philip Santise the Principal of P811M, a special ed school on the Upper West Side, telling her that her son had been accepted into the full inclusion NOVA Program in Booker T. Washington MS 54.
The first year went well, then, after JM was elected to the PTA Board of Booker T. with Betsy Combier, President, and questions were raised about "Where's the money?" TJ seemed to be suspended every other day. He was reported by Principal Larry Lynch for drinking water between classes; he was suspended for allegedly speaking badly to a teacher, but the teacher was not allowed to speak with JM. Assistant Principal David Getz even called JM one day to tell her that her son was not attending any of his classes. When she showed up at the school, he told her that TJ was in his classes, and he told her "sorry, I had someone else's schedule." Larry Lynch sent JM a letter telling her that TJ had been suspended; he wrote the letter June 6 2002, he told her she must be at a meeting on June 6, and Mr. Lynch mailed it June 10. JM received the letter on June 11, 2002, and had never heard of a suspension. Then TJ was sent back to P811M without any notice to his mom, but The E-Accountability Foundation won TJ's return to Booker T at an Impartial hearing.
Jackie Kamin, a parent in the Delta Program, also a lawyer with Advocates For Children and the District 3 Least Restrictive Environment Coalition, and now appointed by Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields to the Panel for Educational Policy, refused to help JM or TJ, and then told The E-Accountability Foundation to "mind your own business".
JM went to an impartial hearing with Betsy Combier, and was given a P3 letter for TJ and full tuition at a private school in Westchester. TJ missed his mom, so he transferred to A. Philip Randolph Campus High School, where the Principal has, during the 2004-2005 school year, suspended him 5 times without cause, and has now assured him that he will not pass his grade. Dr. Susanna Ross, the IEP evaluator for the Region, told TJ and Johnnie Mae that TJ was obviously emotionally disturbed, and, over the protests of his mom, his advocate, Betsy Combier, and his teachers, scribbled emotionally disturbed all over an IEP that she sent to JM two weeks after the IEP meeting. When the advocate asked that the IEP be completed at the meeting in accordance with IDEA procedural Safeguards, Dr. Ross told her she was stupid and didn't know anything. JM never gave up. JM and TJ, we follow your lead!
David is an Assistant Principal at JHS 226 Virgil I. Grissom in Queens, and stood up against the Principal, Rushell White, in support of the excellent staff members who had been forced out of their jobs because of the discrimination, abuse, and hostile work environment created by Rushell White. He risked his own career, and his emotional well-being to say to the world via New York City newspapers and Parentadvocates.org Editor Betsy Combier, that no public school should be managed by fear and threats. We continue to help and support David as he proceeds through the Court system, making waves through an education system that no longer cares about kids or people of any age.
DEE ALPERT died in 2011 but will never be forgotten by advocates for all children. She was a retired New York City-based attorney who handled cases throughout New York State for over a decade, and acted as consulting counsel in special education cases nationally. She is on the Professional Advisory Board of the Long Island Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. Dee has been an incredible source of information to us at parentadvocates.org and has given us great insight into the New York City and New York State education system, and how these agencies do not always act in the best interests of the children they are supposed to protect and support. She has a website, The Special Education Muckraker , and here are some of her reports:
Feds Tank study of school sexual abuse;
Special Education Survey: Document Alteration, Falsification and Forgery;
9.3% Drop in Graduation Rates for Disabled Kids;
Tactics & Strategy in Mediations and Negotiations
Aaron Carr is a person with a mission. He wants "predatory" landlords to be held accountable for their actions. With this as his goal, he founded the Housing rights Initiative in New York City. HRI is a nonprofit housing watchdog group which uses a data driven and systemic approach to investigate real estate fraud and to connect tenants to legal support. The Wall Street Journal praised his work in an article "Rent Gadfly Takes On New York Landlords, One Building at a Time". Mr. Carr wins our "A For Accountability Award" for 2018.
Congratulations Mr. Carr!
HARRIS LIRTZMAN is a person who believes in the rights of children in public schools to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The New York Times wrote, "A passionate fellow, this teacher warned his principal last fall that their Bronx public high school was routinely violating the rights of the most vulnerable children, those in need of special education. For speaking up, Mr. Lirtzman — who served as a deputy New York State comptroller before turning at age 53 to public-school teaching — saw his career ground to dust. He was denied tenure, and the principal, Grismaldy Laboy-Wilson, asked him to leave immediately. When he took his worries to the investigative arm of New York City’s Education Department, the investigators opened a file on him instead...... the city’s Education Department shoulders a heavy burden. It dedicates 18,000 teachers to special education. Each student is required by law to have an individual educational plan. But those words — “inconsistent special education guidelines” — are a not-so-lovely euphemism for violating the rights of underserved children....... (Mr. Lirtzman) had a wild toboggan ride of a time and came to love his students. Several parents said he was one of the best teachers their children ever had. But when the department denied him tenure and the principal forced him out, he had enough. He retired. His coda arrived a few days ago, again in the mail. The principal, Ms. Laboy-Wilson, filled out his final evaluation, in accordance with regulations. She rated him satisfactory over all. On a long list, she listed him as unsatisfactory in just two areas: He did not keep a professional attitude and maintain good relations with supervisors. If that’s the price of dissent, suffice it to say Mr. Lirtzman can live with that."
HIPOLITO "POLO" COLON: UPDATE February 2017:
Hipolito "Polo" Colon Jr.: The First and Finest Teacher Advocate/Warrior in New York City Dies at Age 67
Polo was a tenured teacher at PS 120 in Brooklyn NY, when he became aware that the principal of the school was not following federal laws protecting the children in her care at the school. He wrote down what he believed to be illegal actions by the principal and called in the NYC BOE investigators. He believed that he would be protected by local, State, and Federal whistleblower laws, and the investigators would look into his allegations. Instead, the NYC DOE "investigated" him, and removed him suddenly and without warning from the school. He became another statistic of the New York City "rubber rooms", or re-assignment centers, where tenured teachers who are whistleblowers are dumped, and where these potential firecrackers sit, day after day, at long tables. Polo sat in the room for almost 1 year, and, like most of the other 400+ teachers in rubber rooms around New York City, asked for, but never received the charges describing the 'crimes' that he was accused of doing. Then, in August 2006, he received a letter from NYC BOE General Counsel Michael Best saying that he would be terminated at the September 19 2006 meeting off The Panel For Educational Policy, due to his waiving of his right to a hearing. He did not waive his right to a hearing, and, unwilling to lose his salary (as his UFT representative said he would), he took steps to stop the BOE, The PEP, and NYSUT from leaving him without his job and his salary: he filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court pro se. Parentadvocates congratulates him, and hopes that his actions are repeated by all the other teachers dumped into rubber rooms unfairly and denied due process. See NYC Teacher Hipolito Colon Makes History and Sues the NYC BOE, The Panel For Educational Policy, and NYSUT For Violating His Rights
NANCY SWAN is a former teacher, and she has had her commentaries published in USA Today, Biloxi Sun Herald, Mobile Press Register, Memphis Commercial Appeal Jackson Mississippi Clarion Ledger, and HNN. Parentadvocates.org wrote about her story in 1997. She lives in a body damaged by methyl isocyanate. Despite warning labels on barrels and the history lesson from the tragedy in Bhopal, the Long Beach Mississippi school board allowed a roofing contractor to apply a spray on foam roofing and coating products during the school day. The chemicals contained various compounds of isocyanate, including methyl isocyanate and toluene diphenol isocyanate. After three days of exposure in October 1985, over two dozen children and teachers, including Mrs. Swan, were left with serious and permanent damage to respiratory and nervous systems. Swan's soon to be published book, Toxic Justice, describes her metamorphosis from middle school teacher to ardent crusader for safer schools, environmental protection and judicial reform.
One of her editorials on judicial reform led to the conviction of half a dozen high profile attorneys and judges. Nancy Swan’s husband is a professional editorial cartoonist. Three of his cartoons were published alongside her commentaries. Her commentary on the hazards for corruption whistle-blowers is posted on Transparency International's Barometer 2009. Nancy Swan is a supporter of Healthy Schools Network, Advisory Board vice president of POPULAR, Inc. a human rights organization. She also serves as Alabama Delegate leader for Amnesty International USA. She was been asked to be spokesperson and to participate in the EPA Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program in the southeastern region.
LARRY FISHER, federal accountant, whistleblower; a founder of Taxpayers for Government Accounting Reform (www.tgar.org) and Whistleblowers for an Honest, Efficient, and Accountable Government (www.government-insiders-forum.org).
Larry has questioned the government's flawed accounting policies/standards and financial systems over the past 25 years. During that period he has tried to make government officials at all levels aware of the government's accountability problems, but finally realized that the government accounting and financial systems were never designed to work. "This self-imposed failure creates a never-ending, lucrative revenue source for revolving door bureaucrats and their corporate partners - accounting contractors and financial software contractors. Add the lack of meaningful Congressional legislation to hold self-serving, revolving door bureaucrats accountable or protect insiders who object; demented systems of rewards and punishments; deficient educational requirements for accountants, budgeting, and computer science positions; and you have all the ingredients for a government finance operation that works as planned - to fail" Diogenes magazine, FALL, 2005.
The Giraffe Heroes' Program
I worked with Ann Medlock and John Graham in the early 1970's on the establishment of a non-profit membership group called The Business Initiative. We looked at moral, ethical, and spiritual issues in the business world, and held seminars for business people who felt that their lives needed personal empowerment. Ann and John moved out West and have been looking for people who stick their necks out for more than 20 years. They have also designed Guides for schools that should be, we believe, in every school principal's office.
Moving people to stick their necks out for the common good; the world needs heroes, people with vision and courage, people who are willing to stick their necks out and take responsibility for solving tough problems, on the planet and on the block.
The Giraffe Project has been finding these heroes and commending them as "Giraffes" for over 20 years.
We tell their stories in the media, from podiums and in schools, inspiring others to stick their necks out.
We're training tomorrow's heroes.
ZACK KOPPLIN as a high school senior took his state, Louisiana, to task for rejecting science - the study of evolution - in favor of creationism. Zack insisted that creationism is not science. He succeeded in throwing out the effort to change Louisiana textbooks, held Michelle Bachmann accountable for making false claims, and rounded up prominent Nobel scientists to support him. Dr. Michael Zimmerman's article has the following: "Zack recently began an effort to repeal an atrocious stealth-creationism law in Louisiana. The law, the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, encourages attacks on evolution to be taught in Louisiana's public schools under the banner of critical thinking. This is the only state law of its sort in the country and, as Zack so well points out, Louisiana students interested in science are being done a huge disservice by its very existence." Kudos to Zack Kopplin!
JIMMY KILPATRICK and GEORGE SCOTT
Jimmy saw, in 1999, a need to educate the general public on what was happening in education and our nation's schools, and he also believed in the power of the Internet.Today, EducationNews.org is the online newspaper of choice for anyone who has any interest in education issues.
George works with Jimmy, and is doing the first audit ever of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). He says that:
"The damage it has done and is doing to significant percentages of minority children in the name of public education accountability has profoundly disturbing connotations. Equally, the damage it has done to the principle of honest communication between state government and parents of children of all colors and academic skills has been eviscerated. Whether it has been the deliberate academic manipulation of its TAAS testing program or its use of statistical ploys to express results of its new TAKS testing program, the TEA has demonstrated once again that it is institutionally incapable of telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the academic skills of Texas students. The TEA has created vendor-driven 'solutions' that enriched private industries, rewarded politicians, educators and academicians, and seduced many organizations that have apparently lost sight of the morality and nobility of standing up without fear for academic integrity on behalf of our minority children who have become ping pong balls in this cynical, corrupt world of high stakes testing. Texas has created a system of public education accountability that is more about money and contracts than it is the academic futures of our children...In the blink of a year, grand assurances of noble achievements in terms of the academic equity gap and improved academic skills for minority students have given way to a courser reality that the TAAS-based "Texas Educational Miracle" was a grand lie.
There are groups out there that say they care about minority youngsters. With the TAAS' pretenses now shattered by TAKS, minority children can no longer afford the 'pretense' of that concern; it can no longer be tolerated. It's time for these groups to put up or shut up."
Previous Columns by George Scott
MATTHEW LACLAIR heard his history teacher at Kearney High School in New Jersey, telling his students that if they didn't accept Jesus they would go to hell, there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark, that there was no scientific basis for evolution, and that only Christians would be allowed in heaven. Matthew, a 16 year old junior, knew that the powers that be in the school - the adults - would not believe him if he told them what was being said, so he taped the teacher, David Paszikewicz. Then, many people retaliated against Matthew, but we think he deserves praise. So, we give him the A For Accountability Award with good wishes for the future! We hope that he never stops holding those who do something improper accountable for their actions. See "Preacher Teacher in New Jersey is Taped by One of His Students, Then Held Accountable".
HON. PROF. WANGARI MAATHAI
2004 NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE, Giraffe Heroine, Founder of The Green Belt Movement:
Wangari Muta Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya, East Africa in 1940. The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Prof. Maathai obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology from Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas, USA (1964), a Master of Science (M.S.) in Biological Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh, USA (1966), and pursued doctoral studies in Germany and the University of Nairobi before obtaining her Ph.D. in Anatomy in 1971 from the University of Nairobi. In 1976, she became Chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy, and, a year later, Associate Professor in the Department of Veterinary Anatomy, both at the University of Nairobi-the first woman in the region to attain those positions.
Prof. Maathai was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) from 1976 to 1987 and was its chairperson from 1981 to 1987. It was in 1976, while serving in the NCWK, that she introduced the idea of planting trees using ordinary people. She continued to develop the idea into a broad-based, grassroots organization called the Green Belt Movement (GBM), launched in 1977. GBM's main activity involved women's groups planting trees to conserve the environment and empower themselves by improving their quality of life. Through GBM, Wangari Maathai has helped women plant more than 30 million trees on their farms and in school and church compounds across Kenya.
In 1986, GBM established a Pan-African Green Belt Network. Over the years GBM has exposed a number of people from African countries to its community empowerment and conservation approach. As a result of GBM sharing its experiences and its belief in grassroots participatory methods to solve local challenges, a number of individuals have established GBM-like tree-planting initiatives in their own countries, or have used some of GBM's methods to improve their programs. To date, initiatives have been successfully launched in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, among others.
In September 1998, Prof. Maathai launched a campaign formed out of the Jubilee 2000 Coalition. She played a leading global role as co-chair of the Jubilee 2000 Africa Campaign, which advocates for canceling the backlogged, non-repayable debts of poor African countries. Recently, her campaign against "land grabbing" (illegal appropriation of public lands by unscrupulous developers) and the rapacious "re-allocation" of forest land has received much attention in Kenya and the region.
In December 2002, Prof. Maathai was elected to Kenya's parliament with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote. She now represents the Tetu constituency, Nyeri district in central Kenya (her home region). Subsequently, in January 2003, President Mwai Kibaki appointed her Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in Kenya's ninth parliament, a position she currently holds.
Wangari Maathai is internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights and environmental conservation. She has addressed the United Nations on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly for the five-year review of the 1992 Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.
Over the years, she and the Green Belt Movement have received numerous awards, most notably the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Ms. Wangari Maathai died in September, 2011.
ERICH MARTEL taught AP U.S.History at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C. for 20 years. He is an outspoken whistleblower of students graduating from his school without meeting the graduation requirements, and on April 2, 2006, wrote Dr. Clifford Janey, Superintendent, D.C. Public Schools, a letter describing his concerns: "...Three weeks ago, I received from the Board of Education copies of the "official" lists of Woodrow Wilson High School June graduates for the years 2000 through 2005. Although most people think that the "official list" of June graduates sent to the Board of Education is the same list printed in the graduation day program. They are two different lists and can differ from each other by as many as 65 names (2001) or as few (!) as 35 names (2004).
Even these official lists are deceptive. In 2002, I reviewed the files of approximately 200 students whose names were listed in the June 11, 2001 graduation program. Seventy-seven had not legitimately completed Board of Education mandated requirements (altered grades, bogus). Sixty-eight of those names appear on the "official" 2001 graduation list that I saw for the first time three weeks ago, a "social graduation rate" of 34% (see Appendix for a description of the audit procedures employed, the variety of alterations and misrepresentations uncovered, and links to the news coverage).
The cover page of each annual Wilson graduation list summarized the number of graduates reported by each DCPS high school. I compared the "official" number of graduates to each school's October senior enrollment count, located on the SEO website (www.seo.dc.gov). When placed next to each other (see Chart B, below, p. 8), the contrast is startling.
Why? As my detailed, audit-level review of the Wilson H.S. Class of 2001 revealed, large numbers of students were certified for graduation despite failure to complete graduation requirements. .."
On August 17, 2006, he heard that he had been removed from his position in the AP U.S. History class at Woodrow Wilson High School. We believe this is retaliation and we congratulate Mr. Martel in his obtaining the assistance of the Office of the Inspector General to look into his allegations, not only in his school, but all public high schools in Washington D.C. See "DC Whistleblower Erich Martel is Removed From His AP U.S. History Class at Woodrow Wilson High School, Wins an 'A For Accountability' Award"
STEVE OREL, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
522 students pushed out of school in Birmingham, Alabama:
In what perilous direction is education heading when we view our students as "interfering" with standardized student achievement test scores?
Steve Orel is the Assistant Director and Lead Instructor at the World of Opportunity adult education program in Birmingham, Alabama, where he is also an activist member of the Birmingham Human Rights Project.
Background to the pushout situation in Birmingham:
From out of the rubble which resulted from a skirmish with Birmingham City Schools over the misuse of standardized testing, arose a wonderful new program called World of Opportunity which offers exploration and discovery of careers, skills, adult education, and literacy to poor and working class adults and young adults in our community. Allow me to explain how this came about.
In March of this year, I noticed an unusual influx of high school students enrolling in the Birmingham City Schools Adult Education Program where I instructed. The students presented similar documentation from their high schools which stated, "Withdrawn. Reason: Lack of Interest." The mere fact that these students were standing in our classroom, eager to continue their studies, contradicted the notion of a "lack of interest," to me. These students told us they were not referred to our adult education program. They found us on their own initiative.
What was the meaning of these withdrawals?
When I asked my supervisors and other instructors what was the meaning of these withdrawals, I learned that the students who came to our program were administratively withdrawn prior to the administration of the SAT9 test. I found some other common characteristics. All of the pushed out students I came in contact with were African American teenagers. Many were not functioning at their grade level. Many had poor attendance habits. None had voluntarily withdrawn. Some had gone back to the school with their parents and guardians trying to get re-enrolled but they were refused. Several of the students were actually pushed out of school precisely on their 16th birthdays.
Even some of my superiors told me that the reason the students were withdrawn was to remove low achieving (i.e., low scoring) students out of the test pool with the aim of raising SAT9 scores. Six local high schools were placed on an academic alert status by the State Department of Education. Low SAT9 scores this year would mean school takeovers by the state, and the local Board of Education was apparently willing to do anything to prevent that.
Ms. Virginia Volker is one of two student advocate members (along with Ms. Mary Moore) of our local Board of Education. She inquired about the withdrawal situation at Board meetings, but could not get straightforward answers. When she raised her inquiry publicly, the local media began to cover the issue of the withdrawn students.
As my knowledge of the withdrawals increased I wrote a term paper for a course at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham), entitled, "In what direction is education heading when we view our students as 'interfering' with student achievement test scores?" The paper challenged the significance and misuse of standardized tests. The term paper documented the withdrawals and included statements from some of our students. Somehow, without my permission, my term paper was turned over to the Board of Education.
"Figures lie and liars figure," Mark Twain
At first the Board administration denied that there were any mass withdrawals at all. They said that they looked into the situation and there was no merit to the allegations.
Within a few days, they conceded that 115 students had been withdrawn at one high school alone, and by the end of July they admitted that in fact 522 students, or 5.6% of the entire high school student body in this city, were withdrawn for "lack of interest" in 1999-2000."
The Board began demonizing the withdrawn students. They publicly characterized these students as thugs, hoodlums, arsonists, even rapists. They blamed the withdrawn students for all of the chaos in the local high schools. One Board representative challenged the public to "walk in our shoes and spend a week in school with these students." That challenge was my opportunity to speak out and defend the students who had enrolled in our adult education program.
In defense of our students
I responded to all of the slanders made against the students by explaining that those who enrolled in our program buckled down, and tried their best to complete their assignments. They applied for library cards, began taking books home to read, and those over 18 registered to vote. They engaged in dialogue journal writing assignments and began to reflect on their schooling, lives, careers, ambitions and insecurities. I explained that there had not been one single fight, nor fire, nor disruption by the withdrawn students who enrolled in our program. In fact, several attended class during Spring Break and into the Summer even though their classmates were not in school. Most had made measurable progress in our program. One student had designed a website.
In late June, I was called on the carpet by the Board administration and asked about my term paper. They wanted to know whether I had received permission to conduct research on this matter (My paper was a term paper, not a research paper). I was also asked whether I had received permission before making my public statements to the press in which I defended the students. At no time was I ever asked whether my allegations that students had been pushed out of school wer accurate, or more importantly, what we could do to retrieve the pushed out students and get them back into the educational fold.
First students were pushed out and now they were locked out
In early July my supervisor abruptly shut down our summer program altogether. In March and April, the students were pushed out of school, and now in July, they were locked out once more.
The students and parents shared with me what had happened to them and I felt it was critical to get their stories out. Consider the statement of Brad (not his real name), a recently "withdrawn" student who described the situation at his high school:
"I used to be a student at [name of school deleted] in Birmingham. About 2-3 months ago, there was a school assembly. Everyone in the school attended the assembly. The principal...spoke to us."
"The principal said that he didn't want any students to interfere with the SAT scores. He said that the SAT scores were already low, and that the State was going to take over. He said that he would try to get out the students out of the school who he thought would bring the test score down. He also gave us this same message over the intercom a couple of times after that.
"On the last day that I went to school, I was told to report to the principal's office because my name was not on the roster. I was given a withdrawal slip which said,"'lack of interest.'
"I did miss a lot of school days. I had family problems. I had allergies.
"I wanted to get back in school so I enrolled in a continuing education program in early April and have been attending regularly."
Within two weeks of being withdrawn for "lack of interest," Brad enrolled in a pre-apprenticeship construction training program and an Adult Basic Education GED preparation class just a couple of miles from the school he was expelled from. Now, does Brad sound like a student who "lacked interest"? And he is typical of the character of a pushed out student with whom I had the joy of working.
The students have a story to tell
The expelled students I have worked with provide common reports of their experiences at their former schools where they felt "branded, labeled,"" and stigmatized. The most typical stigma is "lack of interest""which is as they were labeled on their withdrawal forms. As educators we must realize that our youth will eventually sink to our low level of expectations of them. According to the students I talked with, they listened to a cacophony of less than encouraging statements such as, "You'll end up on drugs and end up in jail. You'll never amount to anything."" The withdrawals were just a finale to the lack of support they felt throughout the year. Many of these students have given up faith in a school system and society that appears to have given up faith in them. We are approaching a stalemate: The attitudes of the State Department of Education and the students appear to be reciprocal. We've got to reverse this trend and act as student advocates to expose these injustices.
Speaking out publicly as student advocates
I asked and received permission to speak at a Board meeting, at which time I presented a proposal to retrieve the withdrawn students and get them back into an intense reading remediation program at their respective schools. The Board gave me 3 minutes to present my views. What was their response? I was terminated by Birmingham City Schools the next day.
From the very outset, I was cautioned by administrators within the academic and teaching community that my job would not survive bringing these revelations to the light of day. But I knew that I was speaking the truth and I was duty-bound to defend our students. There seemed no choice to me but to speak the truth, stand beside the students I worked with, and try to put an end to this standardized test-driven madness.
I stumbled across this pushed out situation, and I was compelled to speak the truth. Birmingham, Alabama is one of the cradles of the civil rights movement in this country. As a civil rights and human rights community, we tend to cherish our children with a special passion unique to our city. We know where hatred, bigotry, and anti-humanitarian views can lead. The death of four little girls and two young men on September 15, 1963, is forever etched into the psyche and humanity of our community. This is why this enormous pushout of 522 high school students is especially difficult to comprehend and so very tragic. Since the pushouts began, at least one of these students, 16 year old Timothy Harrison, has been shot and killed on the streets.
The World of Opportunity arose from the rubble
A very interesting chain of events has taken place since I was fired. Our program had been a very successful and thriving program last year. In fact, our participants received quite a few awards for our literacy and GED work. When word got out that I was fired, I was offered a position by Catholic community activists, as Assistant Director / Lead Instructor of an expanded adult education program which was reopening at the exact same location. This would afford me an opportunity to work with many of the same students. Opportunities like this do not come often in a lifetime. So, despite the fact that I had to take severe cuts in income and benefits, I wholeheartedly accepted the job.
When Birmingham City Schools learned that I had been hired by another agency, they pulled out of the partnership completely, taking boxes and boxes of text books and testing materials with them.
Despite this setback, the World of Opportunity opened its doors on September 5, 2000. As I submit this update to the Roots of Resistance Conference, 67 students have enrolled in the World of Opportunity program and this is only our 12th day of operation.
Many of the students have been pushed out of their former high schools. They see the World of Opportunity as a second chance, or as one student, Josie (not her real name), put it, "making ways out of no way." As much as possible, we are matching instructors and tutors to work one-on-one with our students in literacy, GED preparation, and exploring and discovering job and career skills for employment or promotions.
Solidarity from other education activists
One of the biggest boosts to our program and spirits came from support which we received from activists on the Assessment Reform Network (ARN) e-mail list. When our program was shut down and I was fired, education reformers from around the country wrote letters urging the local and state boards of education to reinstate the 522 pushed out students and rehire me. Another important source of support is the National Coalition of Advocates for Students who filed a freedom of information request with Birmingham City Schools to determine the scope of the pushout problem.
Our lifeline has been the concrete assistance which Susan Ohanian (Vermont), and Gloria Pipkin (Florida) have organized through the Committee to Recognize Courage in Education (CRCIE). The Ohanian/Pipkin team solicited donations for books to replace those removed from our premises and donations from their contacts around the country. We have received hundreds of dictionaries, text books, reference books, history books, novels, children's books (the majority of our students are parents and they are now reading more with their children). We have accumulated a substantial library in our building, and we also are in a position to give away books to our students and encourage them to build their own libraries at their homes (and we are holding on to books for some of our homeless students who have no place other than our school to store their books).
Locally, through the efforts of the Catholic community, and also by secular activists like myself who work with the Birmingham Human Rights Project, we are making this school a success story. Several Alabama civil rights attorneys have also been a great assistance to right the wrongs against the pushed out students and my termination. I never intended to work outside of the public school system, but after I was fired and sent into exile, this was the only way to continue working with and teaching these students.
Ultimately, where we all gain our most strength is from our students. Their resiliency, tenacity, perseverance and burning desire to continue their education is what motivates all of us to work in this field. At the World of Opportunity, we have faith and confidence in our students and they in turn are developing trust and confidence in our program and themselves. What more could we ask for?
There are so many lessons which we are still learning in this journey. As educators, our first priority and commitment must be to the students, not to a dehumanizing standardized test bureaucracy. We must be prepared to speak the truth, regardless of the consequences. When you stand up against injustice, others will stand with you. As unimaginable as it may sound now, there is life after firing. There is a place and a role for fired educators to continue their calling.
Step by step...
As I have had the honor of working on the community effort to remodel and reopen the World of Opportunity, I have been inspired by the lyrics and tune of the anthem of the original mine workers federation:
Step by step, the longest march can be won.....can be won.
Many stones will form an arch. Singly none.....Singly none.
And by union what we will, can be accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill. Singly none.....Singly none.
If you would like to learn more about our World of Opportunity program or contribute books or donations to our program to continue educating the pushed out students, please contact us as follows: Steve Orel, World of Opportunity, c/o MWW, 7429 Georgia Road, Birmingham, AL 35212, pager: 1-800-239-2337, enter PIN# 2818 (leave a voice mail message), tel: 205-271-9532, e-mail: ShopMathEdu@aol.com.
IN MEMORY OF MARLA RUZICKA
An American activist who dared to help Iraqi victims
Intrepid humanitarian aid worker Marla Ruzicka died in Baghdad Saturday when her car was caught in an insurgent attack.
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 2005
Californian Marla Ruzicka was the head of an NGO whose blend of tenacity and optimism kept her in Iraq long after almost every other humanitarian aid organization had left.
Marla and her Iraqi driver died Saturday when their car was tragically caught between a suicide car bomber and a US military convoy.
Marla was more than a source for a story, she was one of those quiet cheerleaders that kept me - and the Iraqis she touched - going almost from the moment that I arrived here three years ago.
I first met her in Jordan, just before the war. A reporter friend told me that I should get to know this young activist who made a name for herself working for Global Exchange, the US organization that sent field workers to Afghanistan to count civilian casualties.
After the Iraq war, she moved her push for an accurate count of civilian casualties to Baghdad. At a time when the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations were leaving Iraq, Marla started the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. Through that, she helped Iraqi families navigate the process of claiming compensation from the US military for injuries and deaths.
When she died Marla was traveling to visit some of the many Iraqi families she was working to help. Lately, she had been attempting to aid the relatives of a toddler whose parents were killed after the mini-bus they were traveling in was hit by what was believed to be an American rocket. The baby was thrown out of a window to save her life.
It's still unclear exactly how Marla and her driver, Faiz, were killed. But early reports indicate that they were traveling on the dangerous route between Baghdad and the airport when a suicide car bomber tried to attack a military convoy. Faiz was an Iraqi Airways pilot, who at one time worked as an interpreter for Monitor correspondents in Iraq.
I was always amazed at how composed Marla remained amid the violence and confusion of Iraq. One of my favorite memories of her was when I was sitting in the middle of the Palestine Hotel lobby in Baghdad, surrounded by a confusing swirl of soldiers, officials, and reporters. Fear swept over me. What was I doing here? I had come as a freelancer, with no experience covering a war. Just as I was quietly freaking out, Marla appeared in the dusty, harried scene. She was the picture of calm in a perfect French braid and long blue dress. She was like a breeze blowing through, so tranquil, so clean.
Later in the fall of 2003 when I moved here and was despairing of my sputtering freelance work she would always say, "Jill, good for you. You're working so hard. I'm so proud of you." She was the eternal supportive cheerleader. One night she slipped a note in my hotel mailbox. It was a small essay of encouragement and praise from out of the blue, scribbled in black ink on a scrap of notebook paper.
I found out that Marla had died several hours after she didn't show up for a party that she planned at the Hamra, a hotel occupied mostly by foreign journalists. I was tired and wasn't going to go. My friend Scott went and called me about 11 p.m. He said no one had heard from Marla since about 2 o'clock that afternoon. The other journalists and I all feared a kidnapping. I went over to the Hamra lobby and asked at the reception desk if they knew Marla's driver's family. They said his brother had just called because they were worried they hadn't seen him. A bad sign.
Then we got a call from the US military saying a woman fitting her description had been in an accident, but that she was in the military hospital and in good condition. We were relieved. In Baghdad's strange logic, we all thanked God it was a car accident and not a kidnapping. Then we received another call. It was the military again. This time they said the woman was dead on arrival.
The only thing we can say now is at least she died doing what she wanted, doing what she really, really believed in. If she were still here, she'd be most worried now about her driver's family and who will take care of all the other Iraqi families she was working with.
She would point out, this happens to Iraqis every day and no one notices or even cares. There are no newspaper articles or investigations into what happens to them. For most of them, there was only Marla.
DORIS LIPSON SASSOWER and her Daughter ELENA RUTH SASSOWER
J.D., NYU Law, Co-Founder and Director of CJA. Renowned nationally as a pioneer feminist and leader of the women's rights movement before the movement was recognized as a movement, "mother of joint custody," and well known for her work as a divorce law and judicial reformer, she had a distinguished 35-year career at the bar with her own law firm, when, as a result of her judicial "whistleblowing," she was viciously retaliated against in June 1991 by a due processless politically-motivated suspension of her law license for having had the temerity to speak out to expose corruption of our judiciary by powerful party bosses in both parties. As pro bono counsel to the Ninth Judicial Committee, CJA's predecessor grass-roots local group, in 1990, she challenged a corrupt bipartisan political deal for cross-endorsement of seven judges over a three year period in the Ninth Judicial District of New York.
ELENA RUTH SASSOWER, B.A., Brown U., Co-Founder and Coordinator of CJA. A long-time judicial activist, she has been fighting corruption on federal, state, and local levels, constantly breaking new ground with her dedication, creativity, and innovative strategies.
JUSTICE NOT JAIL TIME FOR JUDICIAL ACTIVIST
The Center for Judicial Accountability, Inc. (CJA) is a non-partisan, non-profit citizens' organization co-founded more than a decade ago by Ms. Sassower, an Ivy League graduate, to depoliticize the processes of judicial selection and discipline by increasing citizen participation. On May 22, 2003, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a "public hearing" to confirm President Bush's nomination of New York Court of Appeals Judge Richard Wesley to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, covering New York, Connecticut and Vermont. The "hearing" was adjourned without any inquiry as to whether anyone present wished to be heard - at which point Ms. Sassower rose and made her polite inquiry, "Mr. Chairman, there's citizen opposition to Judge Wesley based on his documented corruption as a New York Court of Appeals Judge. May I testify?"
Ms. Sassower was thereupon taken out, arrested, handcuffed behind her back, incarcerated for 21 hours, during which she was kept incommunicado, and criminally prosecuted for "disruption of Congress." By contrast, protestors at last month's May 7th hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee who interrupted the hearing by shouting out for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to be fired and unfurled a "FIRE RUMSFELD" banner were NOT even arrested.
The Center views the case against Ms. Sassower for "disruption of Congress" as a vicious assault on citizens' rights - and retaliation for CJA's longtime public advocacy in exposing the corruption of the federal judicial selection process.
Judge Holeman himself, a recent Bush appointee, 46 years old at the time of his nomination, was approved after a "rubber stamp" confirmation similar to that of Judge Wesley, with no prior judicial or criminal law and procedure experience. Says the Center, "If our First Amendment is to mean anything, civic activists who courageously do their patriotic duty to speak out to stop the tide of governmental corruption of our judicial system at home should be given a medal of honor, not jail time."
The Westchester Crusader
June 24, 2004
Bob Witanek is convinced that the new IDEA 2004 will not provide the children of New Jersey with the free and appropriate education they need, and he is doing something about it with the help of New Jersey families whose children need services and/or resources under IDEA. After we told Bob that we were giving him an "A For Accountability" AWard, he emailed us back the following, showing us that indeed, he is the advocate that we look for:
"Admittedly I am giving impetus to this effort but I want to convey the idea of unity and organization – the potential for mass involvement – mass advocacy by the families of 225,000 NJ special education students and their allies. I don't want people to get the idea that they can sit back and watch just a few run around doing all the work. That won't work. We need everyone to pitch in and develop a plan to reach all of the special needs families so that we engage in our struggle tens of thousands – maybe over 100,000 special needs families. That's when we will prevail."
Thus when we write "he" we mean Bob and all the other people who have been mobilized in this effort. He started a website, The Student Advocate Website, wrote a petition (Petition on IDEIA 2004 Implementation:We Stand in Agreement to Maintain Strong NJ Special Education Law), gathered hundreds of signatures - soon to be thousands - and wrote politicians. His petition starts this way:
"We the undersigned, residents of NJ, parents, students, professionals and other supporters of students with disabilities call upon the NJ Department of Education, the Acting Governor of NJ and the Legislative Assembly and Senate to continue to maintain and further strengthen NJ public special education law.
In response to the US passage of IDEA revisions in December, 2004, we believe that it is critical to the integrity of the commitment to all students with special needs, that the State of New Jersey fulfill the needs of students above those of lobbyists. While the federal legislation allows a weakening of educational law on a state by state basis, we call upon NJ to at the very least hold the line to pre December 2004 revisions, and if changes are to be made, to elevate New Jersey's education of all students by strengthening the rights of students with special needs and their families".
If this were not enough, he also is gathering support for his cause through another website, APIECE: A Parents' Initiative For Every Child's Education. New Jersey politicians will be listening to this man, or already are.
Peyton Wolcott, frustrated and angry at the corruption and fraud in our nation's public school education system, starts a website to expose the perpetrators: http://www.peytonwolcott.com/:
How we take back our children's education: one person, one question, one school at a time
In 1987 Ronald Reagan shocked the world at the Brandenburg Gate in what was then West Berlin by making this simple statement, one stunning in its directness and its simplicity. Yet his speaking up at the opportune moment in history led to the eventual collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and Gorbachev's dissolution of the old U.S.S.R.
It's hard for my younger daughter's generation to imagine the immensity of Communism as it once existed. I'm a Baby Boomer and for us the Iron Curtain was real as steel and seemed it would last forever. But it didn't.
So too now with Education, Inc.
Whatever you call it, implosion is the only logical next step for an institution grown top-heavy and non-functioning as any Communistic hierarchy. We live in the greatest country in the world. The same spirit that inspired our forefathers 230 years ago to break free of King George III and tyranny still today
resides in our hearts and minds. And America's parents who are stepping up to the plate, making their voices heard, asking to see public records of spending and curriculum decisions, more--I call these
courageous people the Minutemen of today.
It is for these modern-day heroes that this website is designed and dedicated.