Students, educators rally for public education across LAUSD
Mike Szymanski | February 17, 2016
As part of demonstrations taking place at schools around LA Unified and in cities across the country, a group of roughly 100 protesters made up of parents, students, district leaders and politicians gathered outside Hamilton High School Wednesday morning to rally in support of public education.
“Every day at this school I’m exposed to someone with different experiences,” said senior class president Brittany Pedrosa. “The cultural diversity makes it so beautiful.”
Pedrosa’s fellow students talked about being at Hamilton with special needs, or in special programs like music, arts or Arabic language, with teachers and counselors who help them even after hours. They also talked about having class sizes of more than 40 students and not having enough resources. One student talked about coming over from Mexico at 6 years old with her sister.
“I remember coming home from school with my sister surrounded by my uncles helping me with English homework. Those were the hardest years of my life,” said Jessica Garcia. “Now I will be the first in my family to go to college.”
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the LA teachers union, UTLA, said that 40 cities throughout the country and 170 schools at LAUSD alone were participating in the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools demonstrations.
“I just got off the phone with the people in Chicago and this is happening all over the country where we are highlighting great programs in sustainable neighborhood community schools,” Caputo-Pearl said. “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.”
Caputo-Pearl was talking about the non-profit Great Public Schools Now program, which was started by the Broad Foundation and has announced a plan to expand the number of charter schools at LA Unified. Megan Baaske, representing Great Public Schools Now, was at Hamilton observing the event and handing media a statement saying, “Great Public Schools Now is an effort dedicated to expanding high-quality public schools, not privatizing them. We hope to work constructively with any group that shares our deep desire to improve education in Los Angeles, and we support all communities who are rallying for better schools.”
The statement added, “While we know that creating meaningful change for kids can be difficult, even controversial, we feel the urgency of bringing successful schools to neighborhoods still in need of better options. To accomplish that, we are looking forward to funding teachers and leaders to replicate what works and to support communities to demand that all schools move towards excellence. We are eager to have a thoughtful discussion about the future of education in Los Angeles without impugning the motives of those who disagree with us or resorting to ad hominem attacks.”
Pumping her first in the air and shouting, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she was angry because “I heard people say that public education is failing. If I sound angry it is because I am fighting for solving the problems. Every school in America should have the resources and create the climate for what we have on these stairs right now.”
LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King, who worked for a decade at Hamilton, stood in the background of all the activity. Although she was mentioned during the speeches, she did not speak herself.
“I’m here to celebrate Hamilton and the great work going on here. I’m here to see the kids and the faculty,” King told LA School Report.
After the walk-in King went to greet the school’s band teacher, Stephen McDonough, and also gave a hug to the only female drummer in the marching band. King told her, “You stick in there, girl. I’m proud of you.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz spoke at the rally and said a long-retired teacher at the school, Wayne Johnson, was responsible for sparking his interest in politics.
“If it wasn’t for what he taught me, I wouldn’t be in office now,” Koretz said. “But having over 40 kids in a classroom is a little difficult and it could be made better.”
LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer led the procession into the school with a marching band and the charge: “We walk in!” School board member George McKenna and Juan Flecha, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, were also among those walking in at Hamilton.
“We walk in for the future of public education and we know that any plan, any strategy to change public education must be about all students, not some students,” Zimmer said.
He added, “We walk against the hate we see spewed in the debates and the rhetoric about the children you just heard about our schools, about our teachers, we can overcome this by linking arms together like we are about to do and seeing great things that are happening in our public schools. Their dreams are our dreams. Their schools are our schools. Their future is our future.”
With that, the marching band, teachers, parents and students walked into the foyer of the school and gathered around a marble life-sized statue of Alexander Hamilton, for whom the school is named.
Zimmer told LA School Report afterward, “It was great to see the students speak for themselves about what they are getting out of this school, and the programs they are involved in, but also the improvements they can make. I was very proud of them.”