Writing My Life

Now and Then

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… activists vs. REACTivists…

I’ve written about the current state of education – the state I live in because I am an educator. And I have to remind any new readers that education is in an upheaval for several reasons.

  1. the GREAT REcession
  2. education REform under  President Obama
  3. the WAR between the DISTRICTS that resulted in the SEcession of almost half of Jordan School District
  4. state budget cuts – results of #1 and a state law requiring a balanced budget

While I don’t plan to describe the above issues, suffice it to say (I  LIKE that cliche’) that the current Jordan School District was $30 million dollars short, and so lay-offs were announced and battle lines drawn. The Jordan Education Association leadership stand on the front lines, and many active members fill in the supporting rank and file. Sitting on the sidelines are less passionate/committed JEA members and teachers who do not support JEA through their membership.

Along the front lines, however, are other leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with teacher union members – parents, mostly mothers. One young mother, Jolynne Alger,  is every bit the leader that Robin Frodge, JEA president, is. This mom, a PTA mom, started a grass-roots effort via FaceBook among parents in Jordan School District to fight against the budget recommendations set forth by the school board. She didn’t do it by attacking board members. Instead, she recruited other like-minded parents and took the fight up to the hill and challenged legislators to help in the struggle. I saw her in front of cameras and seated on marble floors writing out memos to state representatives and senators.

Through combined efforts of teachers, parents, and union members, the legislator downsized the budget battle to a sizable skirmish. While long-term solutions were NOT addressed in the legislative session – state equalization for money to ALL Utah schools or equalization between the 2 districts involved, Canyons and Jordan – support to Jordan arrived in the form of a bill that allows diverting money from capital funding to general funding. That means that new buildings or repairs will have to be delayed so that about $14 million can spare teachers from being laid off and class sizes from being increased. VERY GOOD NEWS.

While my own job is still in jeopardy, I still marvel at individuals who jump into the fray – sometimes BEFORE it becomes a fray. While I am a card-carrying JEA member because technically, I am NOT an administrator but a teacher on special assignment, I do not jump into frays. I have a NON-confrontational personality that doesn’t mix well with picketing, shouting, and other “in-your-face” tactics that seem to be popular forms of communication. Nevertheless, I really admire those who stick their necks out for us ostriches. (Are you loving all my analogies and metaphors?)

While a few individuals see an injustice that hurts others, not necessarily themselve, they immediately join the fight against it. I, on the other hand wait until that thing lands on my front door and hurts me, and THEN I REact. I suppose that’s better than ignoring the elephant on the doorstep as some still do, but there are times I wish I’d grow more of a backbone or better support causes that INdirectly affect me.

But I did venture up to the capitol, wrote notes to legislators, talked with JEA leaders and parents, wrote letters and asked questions of the board. I also reflected and commented on the situation through this blog, and some who read my meanderings passed the posts onto others.

I guess what I’m saying is “THANK YOU” to those who charge forth to carry the banners.  Why? Because they are willing to invite controversy into their lives on a daily basis, sit down with criticism and debate the issues, live with angst as a constant companion, and in so doing they make a difference. I don’t always agree with some activists (especially those tea party folks) or their modus operandi, but I respect their willingness to stand up for their beliefs. In the meantime, I’ll fill in the ranks – maybe not on the front lines, but NOT on the sidelines either.


… my day “on the hill” …

I really do not like the cliche’ “don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.” It’s so overused – right along with “put your money where your mouth is,” but last week I decided I needed to heed the messages of both expressions. After venting my frustrations – in rather dramatic fashion – about the conditions in our school district and state legislature, I decided I better join other educators and citizens up on Capitol Hill to voice my support for some bills that could help Jordan School District.

There is something intimidating about walking into buildings of Classicism design because they emanate an air of importance. Add the fervor of a legislative session, and visitors cannot help but inhale the tense atmosphere of decisions in the making. I didn’t expect to feel exhilaration in the face of my frustrations, but there it was: press conferences, interviews, special interest groups, pages, signs, TV reporters and cameras. The sounds of footsteps running across marble floors or climbing up marble steps echoed throughout the rotunda. A mariachi band entertained citizens, lobbyists, legislators, and school children.

Men, women, and children lined the hallways outside the House of Representatives and the Senate Chambers, and they wrote messages to their legislators, urging them to vote for or against this bill or that resolution. It was inspiring to see so many involved. I attended the press conference organized by Utah Education Association to urge passage of House Bill 295 that would ease the financial burdens of struggling school districts like Jordan and Grand by allowing building funds to be used for classroom needs. Next, I spoke to teachers, parents, and education leaders to see what I could do to help. Finally, I added to the stacks of messages being sent to legislators to plead for their help in passing legislation that supports our students’ education. It was a GREAT feeling.

Here a just a few pictures I snapped of democracy in action:

This South Jordan mom joined educators and other JSD patrons to speak out for our children’s educational future. Even HER mother came along to show support for HB 295 that would ease financial pressures, thus forcing a move towards increased class sizes.

These mothers whose children attend schools in Jordan School District are writing memos to their legislators, expressing their concerns and their demands that students come first. TV reporters interviewed the young woman on the far left.  I wonder where that footage went. I didn’t see it on any of the channels.

Looking down from the House of Representative mezzanine, I saw Hispanic leaders addressing their constituents. Now, this community knows how to make an impression. Not only did they lay out a catered feast of Latin American favorites, they entertained onlookers with a festive musical program featuring an excellent mariachi band.  Instead of feelings of frustration, this group filled the air with positive vibes!

On Thursday, the day after my TRIP to the HILL, I thought all efforts had been in vain as I heard that HB 295 and failed to pass, BUT on Friday, law-makers added an amendment to the bill that enabled its passage in the House. Now it goes the Senate, and “insiders” are optimistic about its success there.

Now I’m not an “insider” and many of the citizens who travel to the Capitol are not big time politicians either, but I feel that our voices did count. I recently learned that the state capitol is also called “The People’s House,” and last Wednesday, I witnessed why that title is so befitting. The experience did more to erase my frustrations than my whining ever did. And as I left, I paused in front of former Governor Olene Walker’s portrait because she was such an advocate of literacy and education. In fact, the painting of her shows that she’s reading A is for Arches an ABC book about Utah, written by Katherine Larsen

As I looked at Olene’s portrait, I not only reflected upon the events of the day, I thought about all the women I saw there and the evidence of women’s political contributions to the betterment of our state. I’m grateful to them all! Perhaps we should add another nickname to that stately structure on the hill: The Women’s House.