Fighting back against reforms they feel harm traditional public schools - and hoping to envigorate the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers with "more ground-up help" - a new group of teachers, counselors, nurses and other school employees has formed.
The group, the Caucus of Working Educators, announced its launch on Friday.
"We're working to save public education in Philadelphia, one school at a time," the group announced on its website.
"Our vision is just to strengthen and inform the work of the union with the concerns of the people who are in the schools every day," said Kristin Luebbert, a teacher at Bache-Martin Elementary School in Fairmount and a founding member of the coalition.
The voice of teachers and other school staff is "not taken seriously by the SRC," Luebbert said in an interview. "We ask questions, and they say, 'We're not going to answer it.' We have this passion and innovation, and we want to take this to another level."
"It's a good time," Luebbert said. "We want to make sure that teaching stays a profession that people engage in for a lifetime and not as a resume builder for their law profession or their political career."
Luebbert said the group fully supports both PFT leadership and the team now negotiating a new contract.
"But we think it needs more ground-up help from our members," she said. "We have a voice, and we can help."
The group will hold events and pursue campaigns around issues of social justice, "like overly harsh discipline, and around equity for charter schools and the way they affect traditional public schools."
The Caucus for Working Educators joins a growing group of grassroots organizations like the Teacher Action Group, that have organized around public education issues.
Feltonville Arts and Sciences teacher Kelley Collings said she joined the group "because the very future of public education is at stake," Collings said on the group's website. "If we don’t fight, there will be no more public education in Philadelphia. In order to win the fight, we need to build an engaged, politicized, and mobilized rank and file union membership that has meaningful partnerships with parent, student, and community groups at the local school level and across the city. The caucus is our best hope for making that happen."
Teacher David Hensel said that he joined because "Many of us were brought closer together during these last few years of terrible decisions that have accelerated the chronic disinvestment of our city's young people. We've been out there fighting as best we can within our own groups, at times out there on our own, and we all knew that it was time for us to collectively come together and support each other through this caucus. We want the Caucus of Working Educators to be a home for others who know they must continue to speak out, to tell their story of what these cuts and poor decisions are doing to our students and their families," Hensel, a
Taggart Elementary teacher, said on the group's page.
Nurse Eileen Duffey, who works at Academy at Palumbo, a magnet school in South Philadelphia, said that she joined the group because "I am alarmed at the rampant disrespect being shown urban educators across this nation. I want to work to strengthen our union so we professionals who know how to help our students can work in solidarity to fight back against the draconian budget cuts that are hurting children. We have the knowledge, talent, experience and energy to reinvigorate our schools. I want to harness every bit of that passion to strengthen this union, because our working conditions are our students' learning conditions."