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!