Friday, September 19, 2014

Unaccompanied Minor Children: Where Do We Go? What Can We Do?

The surge in numbers of unaccompanied minor children (predominantly from Central America) crossing southwestern U.S. borders has drawn much national attention. Compelled by poverty, socio-economic inequities, and high incidence of violence from gangs and drug cartels, parents seek passage to the U.S. for their daughters and sons. These children cross our borders carrying something more precious than their belongings -- they carry hope, the hope that they will escape harm and that they will live a better life.

But the journey may be dangerous. It often relies on unscrupulous human smuggling networks that expose them to harm, exploitation and abuse. And if they survive the journey, once on US soil these children wait to be reunited with relatives already living in the US. Notes are pinned to the clothing of some as young as four years old to help identify and locate relatives. While they still carry hope, they must also wonder: Where do I go? Where do I belong?

The plight of these children presents an enormous challenge. Political posturing abounds. Blame is hurled at laws and policies established by current and previous presidential Administrations’ and failed immigration reform proposals. Congressional stalemates on requests for funding to address the large increase of children abound. But all this is irrelevant to the children. What we have is a humanitarian crisis. Federal law says minors cannot be held at a Border Patrol facility for more than 72 hours. They must be processed, then either sent to live with a relative or released to a shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (Department of Health and Human Services). The refugee office operates only about 150 permanent shelters for unaccompanied minors and they are filled to capacity. So, again where do they go? 

As the influx of unaccompanied minor children is most-recognized in the southwest, many of our states are experiencing increasing numbers with no immediate end in sight. New York places second only to Texas with the number of children released to sponsors, with over 4,000 children released to our state from January through July this year. Federal law requires that unaccompanied children arriving from non-bordering countries be given a removal hearing in court. While awaiting proceedings (which could take months or even years) unaccompanied children go through a two-step process: first, federal shelter until placed with a sponsor; second, release to “approved” sponsor, usually a family member or friend, to await disposition hearing. 

When children are released to their sponsor, they are eligible to enroll in the local school district. Under Federal law, states and local educational agencies are obligated to provide all children – regardless of immigration status – equal access to public education at the elementary and secondary level. This has resulted in schools across the nation, including our NY schools, experiencing a sharp rise in numbers of immigrant students. Districts receiving them are in need of resources, i.e. funding, staff and services, to assist supporting these students and families. So, where can we go? 

National PTA has received inquiries from state leaders and membership asking the questions, “Where can WE go?” and “How can WE Help?” To find out, click on the links to documents below. We are the most committed, most powerful child advocacy group in the nation. Together we must find innovative ways PTAs can welcome and support these children, their families and sponsors as we are all neighbors sharing our homes, schools and communities:  

Unaccompanied Children in the U.S.: Fact Sheet and Resources

Answers to common questions about the increase of unaccompanied children entering the United States from Central America including federal and state responsibilities, the anticipated impact on public schools and federal resources available to address this impact, and the federal response to date.

Connecting with Children & Families who Recently Immigrated: Putting PTA's National Standards for Family-School Partnerships into Action

Using PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships as a guide, here are some ways local PTAs can welcome and support all children, families and sponsors of children who recently immigrated to the United States. This resource also contains national and community resources that can provide PTAs with valuable supports and services to engage families and sponsors.

National PTA’s Position statement and talking points:

  • National PTA’s position statement Services for Undocumented Children
  • Talking Points for PTAs: Services for Unaccompanied Children 

Policy Briefing: Increase of Unaccompanied Children Entering the United States

A webinar for state and local PTA leadership on the recent increase of unaccompanied children entering the United States. This resource provides an overview of the issue including relevant federal laws, federal and state impact, PTA positions, and available PTA resources. The slides are available here and the recording is available here.

Please distribute these resources widely to your membership. These resources, as well as future resources on this matter, can be accessed at

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teacher Tenure, Retention, and Evaluation

We are hearing a great deal about teachers and tenure; last-in, first-out (retention); APPR and so on. As if the politicization of Common Core hasn’t been contentious enough, we are now confronted by a new challenge: competent delivery of classroom instruction.  It is only natural that parents want assurance that the person spending upwards of 900 hours each school year with their child is qualified, competent and compassionate.  PTA has long recognized the vital role that teachers and administrators play in the lives of their students, not only in their academic development but also in their social, emotional and civic development.

In light of today’s challenges to the education profession exploring the relationship in context of who we are as an association is crucial for our mutual understanding and future advocacy. One of the objects of PTA is to bring into closer relation the home and the school. That parents and teachers may cooperate intelligently in the education of children and youth.

Parents and teachers are partners with a common mission: to ensure every child the opportunity to reach his/her potential. They are interdependent and deeply respectful of their individual and shared roles. For this reason, and to assist you with understanding our NYS PTA positions I would like to share the following talking points:

  • As far back as the early 1970’s, NYS PTA’s Legislative Program called for:  
    • NY’s tenure law to include periodic review of tenure and provisions to protect the integrity of teachers, i.e. teachers should be able to freely speak up on behalf of their students without fear of punishment
  • The teacher-student-family relationship is complex and can be emotionally charged and susceptible to conflict. There are also well-documented incidents of teacher-administrator conflict where an incompatibility exists leading to greater vulnerability to reprimand or dismissal based on bias or reactionary behavior. For this reason:

    • NYS PTA has long-supported measures, i.e. “due process”, to safeguard teachers and administrators from arbitrary or capricious employment decisions.

  • Abolishment and/or “excessing” of educator positions is often the consequence of tough economic times, reductions in school aid and imposed spending caps.
    • For more than 40 years, NYS PTA has urged the adoption of legislation allowing school boards to consider both certification and seniority in determining whose services should be terminated or retained upon abolishment of or excessing a teaching position in order to maintain quality education in the classroom.
    • NYS PTA supports, and with certain exceptions federal law requires, the placement of highly qualified (appropriately certified) personnel in ALL teaching positions.

  • NYS PTA believes well -executed evaluations lead directly to improvement of classroom instruction by teachers as well as improved supervisory skills by administrators.
    • NYS PTA long-advocated for the NYS Education Department to establish regulations to require a system of regular observation and annual evaluation for both teachers and administrators and observation and evaluation guidelines.
    • NYS PTA has encouraged requirements for local school boards to establish advisory committees (administrators, teachers, chairmen, parents and students) to define and refine the evaluation system appropriate to individual school district needs.
    • NYS PTA believes in a balanced teacher/principal accountability system that employs multiple measures to improve academic achievement for all students. The evolving policy of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) is generally consistent with PTA positions. However, greater attention should be given to the 60% observation component -- with training for skillful use of rubrics, concerns regarding subjectivity can be minimized. Once fully and appropriately implemented, APPR coupled with fair and efficient safeguards through due process, will assure that our children’s teachers and teacher leaders are qualified, competent and effective partners for boosting student achievement.

As we look ahead to a new school year, lets’ keep in mind that effective instruction and family-school collaboration are essential components of student academic success and, most importantly, that in our shared mission we are all one community working  together to improve the lives of children.
Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

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! 

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! 

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! 

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:

Thank you for your continued support. 

Lana Ajemian President, NYS PTA
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow! 

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!