Building Coalitions to Defend Public Education

The attack on public education is intensifying daily in our country. Now, more than ever, there is a need to unify groups and individuals in the fight against these attacks through the formation of coalitions. Learn more about building a coalition here.

During a coalition brainstorming session, Annette Alston (center), president of the Newark Teachers Association, offers suggestions regarding future coalition actions while Wilhelmina Holder (back left), president of the Newark Secondary Parents Council, raises her hand, prepared to offer additional suggestions.

During a coalition brainstorming session, Annette Alston (center), president of the Newark Teachers Association, offers suggestions regarding future coalition actions while Wilhelmina Holder (back left), president of the Newark Secondary Parents Council, raises her hand, prepared to offer additional suggestions.

Dr. Leonard P. Pugliese
AFSA Regional Vice President
Executive Director, CASA, Local 20 AFSA

It is undeniable that public education is facing an unprecedented period of assault from both the private sector, which has its collective eye on the potential for monetary profits, and the political sector, which too often is overly influenced by the private sector. These assaults are never-ending, highly destructive and dizzying. School budgets are slashed, positions are eliminated, public schools are closed while charter schools are opened, and without any sufficient evaluation, one new program after another is implemented.

While many oppose these attacks, our defense often is fragmented, disjointed and in some cases counterproductive. If our public education system is to survive, the time has come for like-minded groups and individuals to unify and form strong, active coalitions.

A Coalition’s Importance
A coalition is a collection of people and/or organizations working together to solve a common problem. Through the power to address a common goal and provide concerned parties with a unified approach to a problem, coalitions eliminate duplicative efforts, minimize chances for wasted resources, and create a greater chance for effective and efficient action. In response to the maelstrom we are facing in our district of Newark, N.J., we have formed the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools, composed of key groups and individuals working to fight back against the assault.

“It is essential for communities to come together and form coalitions that will save the schools and the educational system our forefathers so wisely implemented,”says Tina Taylor, president of the City Association of Supervisors and Administrators (CASA), an active group in our coalition.

Reading our story, I am certain many of you will draw parallels to what is happening in your own cities and towns; I urge you to begin thinking about how to build coalitions in your communities. As Joseph Del Grosso, coalition member and president of the Newark Teachers Union said, “It is truly important for all, regardless of titles or job descriptions, to come together and form long-lasting coalitions. It is not important if one is an administrator or teacher; we must fight to protect public education at all costs.”

 

Image 2: Junius W. Williams, director of The Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University, Newark, opens the May 11, 2013, coalition meeting by reading the minutes from the prior meeting. CASA President Tina Taylor (left) and Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the NAACP Newark, N.J., chapter (right) look on.

Junius W. Williams, director of The Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University, Newark, opens the May 11, 2013, coalition meeting by reading the minutes from the prior meeting. CASA President Tina Taylor (left) and Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the NAACP Newark, N.J., chapter (right) look on.

An Active Coalition in Newark
The Newark, N.J., public school system is an urban district serving approximately 37,000 students, 89 percent of whom receive either free or reduced-priced lunches. There is high unemployment in the city, basic services are lacking, the crime rate is high and many of our city residents struggle each day to provide for their families.

In 1995, the state of New Jersey seized control of Newark’s public school district, removing the elected board of education and replacing it with an advisory board of education. Beverly Hall (of recent Atlanta fame) was selected as the first state-appointed Newark superintendent of schools, with all other top-level administrators removed and replaced with new state appointees.

In the last 18 years of state control, New Jersey has replaced or eliminated thousands of educators in Newark while ending many programs and implementing others without accomplishing what was promised—raising student achievement.

“It is no longer about education. It is about occupation,” says New Jersey State Sen. Ronald L. Rice. “With the state replacing boards of education with powerless advisory boards in the takeover districts, the voters have become disenfranchised. It is blatantly discriminatory that the takeovers all have occurred in urban districts.”

After each failed initiative, the state distances itself from its failed program and introduces yet another initiative with more empty promises, using Newark as a disposable Petri dish for educational reform.

Michael James, deputy director of The Abbott Leadership Institute (with raised hand), offers suggestions for future coalition actions.

Michael James, deputy director of The Abbott Leadership Institute (with raised hand), offers suggestions for future coalition actions.

Additionally, her poor relationship with the nine-member School Advisory Board led to its unprecedented action of voting unanimously on a resolution of “no confidence” in her leadership at its April 2013 meeting.

“What an opportunity this might have been if parents, community and district staff had been involved in the process,” said former Superintendent of Newark Public Schools and coalition member Dr. Marion A. Bolden. “Instead, outsiders have imposed an audacious experiment on other peoples’ children; a system of schools versus a school system as we have known it. The pace of the restructuring efforts has been quite disruptive and the lack of community ownership does not bode well for sustainability.”

In this atmosphere of state occupation, state domination and superintendent insensitivity, parents, community leaders, political leaders and workers created a coalition, coalescing behind the call for a return to local control of the Newark Public School System.

“It is vital that a sizable number of stakeholder individuals and groups have come together as the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools, to insist upon research-based, democratically conceived ideas for school reform in Newark,” said Coalition member Junius Williams, director of the Abbott Leadership Institute at Rutgers University.

Coalition member and Newark Municipal Councilman Ras Baraka echoes the importance of coalitions in the fight, stating, “The attack on public education is an attack on communities, parents, students and unions. It will take coalition building and collaboration of these three groups to restore public education in this country.”

Creating a Coalition

 

CASA Vice President Walter V. Genuario (left), CASA President Tina Taylor (center) and other coalition members look on as AFSA Regional Vice President Dr. Leonard P. Pugliese responds to a question posed by the coalition facilitator.

CASA Vice President Walter V. Genuario (left), CASA President Tina Taylor (center) and other coalition members look on as AFSA Regional Vice President Dr. Leonard P. Pugliese responds to a question posed by the coalition facilitator.

Step 1: Identify Your Issue and Coalition Members
“It is important that parents work with educators, school administrators and staff, because we reflect the strength of what is right for our children.”
—Wilhelmina Holder, president of the Newark Secondary Parent Council

Identify the issue or issues you want to address. Once you have that spelled out, identify potential individuals and groups with similar concerns or interests. Remember that the broader your membership, the better the coalition represents its key groups and individuals.

Step 2: Identify Your Key Groups
“It is imperative that we begin and maintain coalitions with the gathering of concerned students, unions, parents, teachers and community stakeholders. These like-minded individuals should organize, galvanize and strategize to address immediate and pending educational concerns.”
—Cuthbert Ashby, chairman of the Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools

Key groups and individuals fall within three broad categories: stakeholders, community opinion leaders and policy makers.

Stakeholders are those most affected by the issue and are the most likely to be the driving force of any coalition. They are also the most likely to energize the coalition and voluntarily do much of the hard work necessary for a coalition to succeed in its mission. Identify and invite stakeholders to become members early in the coalition-building process. Their importance is indisputable.

Community opinion leaders such as civic, clergy and business leaders hold the power to influence others and spread the coalition’s message. They also can raise the credibility of the coalition. These individuals often have a track record of positive leadership, bringing much-needed attention to the coalition and its mission.

Policy makers such as state and local political leaders have a wide sphere of influence and are in the position to affect policy decisions that will bring about the coalition’s desired changes. Their seats at the coalition table greatly increase the chances that tangible and positive change will take place as a result of the coalition’s work.

Coda
As we close this school year and begin planning for the upcoming school year, I urge you to begin building coalitions in your school district. If a coalition already exists, recommit yourself to its mission and take to heart the words of James Harris, president of the New Jersey Conference of the NAACP, who said, “The current national movement to destroy and dismantle traditional educational opportunities is unacceptable and will be resisted wherever and whenever it occurs.”

Make no mistake about it, this is a war, and for our public educational system to survive, we must unify and strengthen our best arsenal—our voices. Join others on the battlefield and form active coalitions.

For more information on forming coalitions in your school districts and communities, contact the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) at 202-986-4209 or visit afsaadmin.org/build-a-coalition.

Newark Public School Instructional Director Deborah Mitchell-DeBerry and New Jersey State Sen. Ronald L. Rice discussing the positive impact of the growing coalition.

Newark Public School Instructional Director Deborah Mitchell-DeBerry and New Jersey State Sen. Ronald L. Rice discussing the positive impact of the growing coalition.

COALITION FOR EFFECTIVE NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Below is a partial list of organizations and individual members that belong to the Effective Newark Public Schools Coalition.

Cuthbert Ashby, chairman

Abbott Leadership Institute, Rutgers University, Junius Williams, director

City Association of Supervisors and Administrators, AFSA Local 20, Tina Taylor, president

Dr. Marion A. Bolden, former superintendent of schools, Newark, N.J.

Essex/West Hudson Central Labor Council, New Jersey State Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, president; Walter V. Genuario, executive secretary-treasurer

International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 and its branches, Michael Lewis and Salvatore Costanza, business representatives

NAACP, Newark, N.J., chapter, Deborah Smith-Gregory, president

Newark Education Workers Caucus

Newark Secondary Parents Council, Wilhelmina Holder, president

Newark Teachers Association, Annette Alston, president

Newark Teachers Union, AFT Local 481, Joseph Del Grosso, president

New Jersey Communities United, Roberto Cabanas, lead organizer

Parents Unified for Local School Education, Sharon Smith, co-founder/CEO

Ras Baraka, member, Newark, N.J., Municipal Council; chairman, Newark Municipal Council Education Committee

Ronald L. Rice, New Jersey state senator and chairman, Black Legislative Caucus; co-chair, Joint Committee on Public Schools

SEIU Local 617, Rahaman Muhammad, president

Thirteenth Ave. School PTA, Lyndon Brown, president