Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summertime Reflection


Wow, July is here…and the hammock beckons! Where DID the year go? For someone loathe to ride the Cyclone, this year has surely been a heart-stopping roller coaster ride with plans made, plans thwarted; challenges met with success, those met with defeat; knowing where we stand, wondering where we stand – surely a year of unprecedented highs and lows. But I look back at what we have learned and what we have accomplished and feel reassured, proud. We held to our mission and influenced change, we reached new heights of visibility, and we lifted more NYS PTA voices in advocacy.  And so, it’s been a good year.

We cannot deny that differing views, competing ideas and flawed education reform remain hurdles to clear. Yet, they also stimulate creativity and innovation to find solutions. Throughout the summer, NYS PTA will continue to press forward for seeking both an independent review of assessment and accountability policies, and the suspension of the link between standardized assessment outcomes and high stakes decisions for students, teachers or principals. 

However, in the shadow of education reform, APPR, and high stakes testing is a membership challenge that threatens. As we combine reform controversies with targeted efforts of certain groups to undermine PTA’s mission for children, I cannot overemphasize the pride I feel in our local PTA leaders -- you have held steady and strong in your efforts to build membership throughout a year that has challenged your resolve.  For this I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you – extraordinary effort in an extraordinary time!  

But membership decline is not just a state or local issue, it is a national issue. We know there are ever-growing demands on the time of parents and families; we know so many are full-time in the workplace yet need to be that helping hand at home; and we know that you are being pulled in different directions by competing interests, always with our children’s future at the center of each effort.

But we also know we are the only parent group consistently at the table with decision makers representing the needs of New York’s children. PTA’s VOICE matters. PTA’s advocacy voice, your voice, has value. It is what has brought us to the table to influence change – whether the issue is one of education reform, or access to healthy foods and safe environments, or to assure a child’s mistake is not punished in the same manner as an adult’s. We do not put membership dollars ahead of mission. However, no matter what or how many positions we take to safeguard children and youth, they are meaningless without members to take them to action.

With the talent and commitment inherent in our NYS PTA membership, I know we can and will build our chorus. Your hard work throughout this year has surely earned you time to kick back and relax; take a swing in that hammock. But, as you do, please consider this request: reflect upon what has been accomplished through 118 years of advocacy for children by this remarkable association. Then ask how your voice, your influence CAN make a child’s dream become reality. Wishing you warm, reflective, transformative and inspirational summer days!

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org 




Friday, April 4, 2014

It's Time to STAND UP Taller!

Dear Members,
Over the past several months, NYSPTA members have fought the good fight to let our elected officials know how to prioritize our concerns for public education. In just the past three weeks, you have sent more than 6,200 messages to legislators through our website, as well as made innumerable phone calls to communicate our message. 

It has made a difference, but there is still more to do. Let’s take a look:

Good News
State aid was increased by more than 5%, the largest jump in the past 6 years. We are incredibly grateful that our legislators realized that in a tax cap environment increases in state aid are critical! Tell them ‘thank you!’

Needs Work
While partially restored, the GEA (Gap Elimination Adjustment) is still taking more than $1 billion away from our schools. This ‘loan’ to our state government – the one that professes to have a $2 billion surplus – must end! Tell them to pay debt first, ‘eliminate the GEA!’

Needs (a lot more) Work
Common Core ‘reform’ trumpeted by the Governor does NOT address any of NYSPTA’s five points of concern, and certainly does not help our students. The moratorium on use of students’ test scores is contradictory: if the value of test outcomes is questionable for use in making student decisions, the same must apply for determining educator effectiveness. Tell them to temporarily ‘suspend links to BOTH student and educator high stakes decisions!’

Ill-conceived testing related to Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) has not been addressed. The concessions that have been made to date are simply distractions from real reform. SED has been charged with providing information and training to educators and parents, but has been provided with zero dollars in support. Tell them to create ‘real Common Core reform!’

Must be Rejected
Not included in the budget but still on the table for discussion this spring is the ‘education scholarship tax credit,’ which is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing and represents ‘politics over public good.’ It seems warm and fuzzy on the outside but would devour public school funding via quasi-vouchers. Tell them NO!

There is a lot of time left in this legislative session. Don’t be distracted by the fact that the budget is done. Legislators are aware of what they are doing and are strategizing the best way to market their plans to make it sound like they benefit everyone. Change can still happen. We must be vigilant in our mission.

I urge you all to continue emailing and calling the legislators to Hear Our VOICE.
Thank you for your continued support!

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org 



Friday, January 17, 2014

Reflecting On The New Year - It's Time To STAND UP!

I would like to begin the New Year with a little reflection and much gratitude. Looking back at 2013 it was surely a year of extraordinary challenge -- my heartfelt thanks go to all PTA members, friends and partners who demonstrated extraordinary fortitude with navigating the mine field of education reform over the past year. And, within every challenge lies opportunity.


2013 was a year of soul searching and self-examination for our association and brought with it renewed purpose and drive. In 2014 we will pay this forward as we advocate for change that will prepare today’s children for the challenges of tomorrow’s highly mobile, global society -- change that is necessary; change that must be actualized with reasoned and rational approaches; change that considers all affected; and change that will assure opportunity for every child to not only succeed in college or the workplace but succeed as contributing citizens.

As we dive headfirst into 2014, we add to the turbulent waters of education reform, state and local assessments, APPR and data privacy issues, a proposed executive (state) budget that, at the time of this writing, is likely to start out with a cap on state and local spending significantly lower than 2%.

Under these imposed constraints, fiscal mandates and demands of reform implementation, our students, school staff and our communities struggle to effectively meet heightened expectations.
But this does not alter the fact that we must focus forward and, as we do so, identify obstacles along the path to reform as well as who can assist us in removing those, whether fiscal or programmatic.

To accomplish this, members, parents and families must be meaningfully engaged at all levels of advocacy with prioritizing education spending and addressing real world implications of NY’s reform efforts. We are at a critical juncture -- as we work collaboratively and deliberatively to find common ground with our state education partners, policy makers and legislators, at the same time we must adhere to our mission for children.

We must be the VOICE of common sense and a reasoned, responsible approach to reform. NYS PTA’s HEAR OUR VOICE campaign is designed to provide just that, talking points and rationale to assist our members to speak out. But this is only the beginning...

We now ask that every member not only speak out but STAND UP for education reform and investment.
  • STAND UP for what’s sound and necessary about reform
  • STAND UP for fair measures of accountability
  • STAND UP for respect for educators
  • STAND UP for every child being valued and deserving of access to opportunity to be successful in a rapidly changing, competitive world
  • STAND UP at home in your school district by attending board of education meetings - ask questions, be part of the process, choices and decisions being made locally for your community and,  most importantly, for your child
  • STAND UP with your region PTA as trainings and events are offered
  • STAND UP with your state PTA as we share information and provide opportunities to participate in calls to action and attend events that foster knowledge and provide access to decision makers
Together we must STAND UP to learn, to question, to build relationships, to influence!

March is PTA Advocacy Month. While the HEAR OUR VOICE campaign was initiated in October and the New Year launched our STAND UP campaign via statewide digital media outlets, we continue to ratchet up our advocacy momentum as we approach NYS PTA’s Annual Legislation/Education Conference at the Desmond Hotel in Albany, on March 1-2; Lobby Day (state/local representatives) at the state Legislature on March 3; and Virtual Lobby Day (grassroots) on March 4.This conference is your opportunity to explore key issues with state governance, representatives of education and child advocacy groups and decision makers. Visits to the Legislature and VLD are your opportunity to connect and communicate our message to decision makers. As we unite our voices and turn up the volume on advocacy, participation is your opportunity to STAND UP for your child, for every child! 

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org 



Monday, November 18, 2013

Hear Our VOICE!

Dear Member,

Thank you for your swift and diligent response to our action email last week. Our combined voices sent more than 8,000 messages to the US Secretary of Education, NYS Commissioner, Board of Regents and state legislators to lobby for a call to action with regard to implementation of the Common Core.

Moving forward, please consider attending one of the upcoming SED-sponsored forums in order to continue this important dialogue. Recent public recognition by the Commissioner that testing of our children may be too extensive and Common Core implementation can be improved provides us with a great opportunity to continue to press our overall message: SED must be more deliberate and hear the importance of a clear and consistent message that is integral to any reform. With this in mind, we are offering a new campaign CORE to take with you to the forum:
  • Value input from parents
  • Order a one-year delay
  • Implement first, test second
  • Create improved, flexible testing
  • Expand professional development
You will notice that these five key points spell out the word VOICE; this is intentional. Our PTA VOICE must be heard and easy to remember. We stand for sensible measures that will help all children and families realize the promise of the Common Core standards.

Please bear in mind that these five key points are quite concise and meant to get attention. We have outlined with greater detail what the points mean just click here to access those expanded talking points. We ask that you carefully read this information that provides more detail, so that as you talk with fellow parents, attend local or regional forums, or individually advocate for children and families, your VOICE can be heard!

Check with your superintendent or local state legislator or Regent for information regarding participation and look for changes to be posted at: http://usny.nysed.gov/community-forum-schedule.html

Thank you for your continued support. 

Sincerely,
Lana Ajemian President, NYS PTA
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org 

Click here to access more information and action tools from our website. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Town Hall Response

The purpose of the NYS PTA sponsored Town Hall meetings was to conduct a forum between members and the Commissioner of the State Education Department regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation in New York. This was to be an opportunity for information to be shared, for questions to be asked and facts clarified and for members to share their experiences and concerns.  

Protocol was published with the event announcements and the agenda and time sequence provided beforehand.  Knowing that emotions run high regarding Common Core implementation, adherence to a respectful exchange was requested. This was to assure a thoughtful, constructive forum that could be continued for members across the state, offering the same opportunity to meet with the Commissioner.
 

The support of our region directors and boards as well as our unit and council presidents of this effort was extraordinary. In order to provide a setting for the forums, they were asked to assist with the effort by reaching out to local school districts for a facility in which to host them. Understanding the importance of our intent, facilities were generously provided.
 

But our intent was not realized.

The purpose of the Town Hall meeting was not to hold a protest rally, nor to provide a forum for insult, personal attack, or overall disregard – this disregard was not only between the audience and the Commissioner but between audience members themselves. Some asked to be allowed to hear responses while many out-shouted their ability to do so. Despite requests by the Commissioner and NYS PTA to be courteous, disruptions continued and escalated.


Did responses to question take longer than anticipated? Yes, they did.  This part of the program ran 15 minutes beyond what was planned. But, we cannot ignore that much time was spent trying to settle the audience. 


Prior to beginning, it was agreed to extend the statement period to allow the allotted time, if the program ran behind. During the statement period the Commissioner requested to respond to some comments to clarify inaccuracies. Those commenting felt this imposed on their time. Their level of frustration was raised, precipitating more jeers and shouting from the audience and adding to an already hostile environment. It was not constructive or productive to continue. 

The decision to suspend the remaining forums was based on this experience as well as communications that there would be more of the same, yet intensified, ahead.  

Whether a program or advocacy initiative, we talk of the importance of evaluating outcomes of our efforts to determine whether we’ve met our goal -- we assess, we adjust, we regroup. The determination to conduct forums did not rest with the Region Directors, nor the local unit or council presidents. 

The forums were initiated by the collaboration of the State Education Department and NYS PTA.  However, their intended purpose cannot be achieved in similar or more contentious environments. So, rather than repeat the same, we learn from this and we regroup.  

We are now working to find an alternative for parents to both learn and share concerns regarding the Common Core Initiative and its implementation to accomplish our goal and move forward to influence change.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org
 

Monday, October 7, 2013

“All Great Change Begins at the Dinner Table”…Ronald Reagan

There’s a great deal of misinformation being circulated regarding NYS PTA and the Common Core Initiative (CCI). Unfortunately, there are those who seem unable to support their stance against education reform on the merits of their case and, instead, resort to manipulation of facts. 

So, let’s set the record straight:
  • At no time has NYS PTA accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) or assessments in our state.
  • At no time has the NYS PTA president accepted any money, either from private or public corporate, industry or education agencies, to support the CCLS or assessments.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” from NYS PTA that campaigns such as “Lace to the Top” or “Opt Out” could not be mentioned or discussed.
  • At no time has there been an “edict” that individuals cannot participate in such campaigns.
  • At no time has NYS PTA governance or its president asked for members to be silenced regarding their concerns about the CCI or its implementation.
As a Matter of Fact:
  • NYS PTA supports the CCLS and, while not perfect, recognizes the need to ensure all students graduate high school, college and career ready, and; that it is necessary to evaluate progress along the way toward meeting that goal.
  • NYS PTA continues to express concerns over NY’s implementation of and the assessments associated with the CCI. Review the joint statement Common Ground on Common Core.
  • NYS PTA favors positive, constructive collaboration with decision makers. Although NYS PTA does not support negative campaigns such as Lace to the Top or Opt Out, NYS PTA recognizes the decision to do so is an individual one.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide varying platforms for parent voices. To this end:
o    A survey to more than 20,000 listserv subscribers for feedback on the CCI has been disseminated for the purpose of informing our work on behalf of our membership.
o   Survey comments were collected and delivered to both the Commissioner of Education and Chancellor of the State Board of Regents
o   NYS PTA representatives have been meeting regularly with representatives of NYS Education Dept as well as with the Regents and the governor’s office to share members’ concerns and encourage enhanced parent and family engagement in formulating and implementing education polices
o   Five 5 statewide town hall meetings are scheduled to deliver an update on the state of the CCI here in NY and to provide members an opportunity to clarify information and share concerns with NY State Education representatives.
o   NYS PTA publications and events, such as the annual Legislation Education Conference and Summer Leadership Conferences, have offered many opportunities to build understanding, ask questions and comment.
o   The Deputy Commissioner of Curriculum, Assessment and Technology will be the key note speaker at November’s annual NYS PTA convention; the Deputy Commissioner of P-12 Education plans to participate in a workshop.
  • NYS PTA BELIEVES its role is to provide information and materials for parents and members to become educated on topics and make informed choices; it is left to the individual to exercise personal choice on behalf of their child/student. 
NYS PTA supports the intent of the Common Core initiative, yet at the same time recognizes the flaws of implementation and seeks to address those flaws. Our efforts to support both students and educators adhere to our NYS PTA vision to be the premier child advocacy and parent engagement association to ensure every child reaches his/her potential. 

No, we will not rattle and rail at the gates -- for this only drowns out any chance of being heard as the rational voice of those who understand that change is inevitably accompanied by challenge. Instead we seek opportunity in change; the opportunity to provide constructive feedback from the dinner table to the school room to the state house that builds understanding and support for positive, sustainable education reform.

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!
president@nyspta.org
 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Finding Common Ground




When we talk about the issues raised by the Common Core Initiative we need to distinguish between the value of the initiative and the impact of implementation, both on the intended goal and those whom we claim it will benefit.  Some say we cannot completely separate testing from educational program. Perhaps true. But, if we truly believe our goal worthy, we must also look beyond the goal itself to how we get there. And, in order to have any sustainable success, we must make every effort to examine that trajectory with an objective eye.

Many educators, administrators, business leaders and parents recognize both the need for and the value of higher learning standards. These higher standards are intended to give every child the opportunity to meet the demands of a rapidly changing, highly mobile and technical society. The goal is both necessary and laudable.  Toward this end, classroom learning and instructional delivery are undergoing significant transformation as we shift from a system of delivery and memorization of facts to a more useful, creative delivery in order to apply learning in a real world sense. A dear friend who teaches high school honors math/algebra confided that because of the need to integrate new classroom strategies and approaches, after many years in the classroom, she is once again excited about teaching.  And she’s not the only one.

Conversely, at the same time we’ve set the standards bar higher, we’ve also begun the process of assessing what rung, what level, we’re on to reach it.  And perhaps this is where we should take a deep breath, recalibrate, and climb carefully.  How can we determine whether change, i.e. reform, is successful when change is still in progress? To be fair to the integrity of the Common Core, we must be able to distinguish the need for and value of the initiative from the rush to assess whether it is fulfilling its intent. Would we critique an unfinished canvas? Similarly, to judge any new approach to learning before it is carefully and confidently assimilated into classroom curriculum and instruction undermines the excitement, the promise of its end success.

As reform evolves, marking progress is important and dynamic. Good or bad, with the release of the recent 3-8 standardized assessment scores we now have a baseline, the canvas. And, while accountability is crucial in any initiative, patience and caution in holding students or educators responsible for the outcome until they’ve developed the skills and been provided the resources necessary to be successful, is just as crucial.  Good or bad, recent test scores give us an idea of what rung we, the education community, are on in order to attain higher standards. Our students are not less-abled; our teachers are not less-abled. It’s the ladder that’s different. All these scores tell us is that there’s much to do to create solid footing for students and educators to climb it.

That said, NYS PTA has worked throughout summer as a member of the Educational Conference Board, a statewide coalition of education leaders, to identify what needs to be done to steady the ladder. We have not only come to consensus on what’s good about reform, but also what we see as the stumbling blocks to successful implementation. Constructive dialogue leads to solid solutions -- together we found Common Ground on the Common Core, a five-point plan to both address concerns and support successful, sustainable reform. From there, together we speak for every child with one voice.