Wow. What a year it has been! We keep growing and we keep working. How thankful we are for all of your work and support. Let's review our amazing accomplishments!
In January, a few of us attended the Three State Conference of public education advocates in Fort Wayne hosted by our friends and amazing activists, the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. We shared ideas and information with other folks who are in this fight with us.
In February, we were asked to participate in two different panels. First, the Democratic Women's Caucus held "The Challenges and Threats to Public Education" in which our chairperson Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and board member Jenny Robinson joined a panel speaking to the Indiana legislature's attack.
In addition, ICPE members Mike Walsh and Cathy F-R joined a panel sponsored by the Monroe County Community School Corporation entitled: "MCCSC's Community Conversation: What to Expect from the 2015 Legislative Session, What We Can Do to Protect Public Education."
ICPE put on a community conversation of our own in February: "Should There Be An IREAD-2?-- An Early Literacy Community Conversation" CATS-TV filmed this wonderful panel and we learned a lot from our local educators about developmentally appropriate practice and the inappropriate policy our legislators are mandating.
We have become known well enough in the community to fairly regularly be asked to weigh in on education issues on our local radio. In February, our chair was asked to participate in Noon Edition's segment: "Proposed Legislation Would Strip Superintendent Of Many Powers."
The enormous highlight of February was the ICPE-sponsored Rally for Public Education. On a snowy President's Day, over a thousand people gathered at the statehouse to show support for our public schools and our duly-elected superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz. If you recall, the legislature was hearing a number of bills which removed the role and responsibilities of the superintendent. Cathy's speech was shared widely on social media and even made Diane Ravitch's blog. (As did one of her "rants" on Facebook regarding the ISTEP fiasco).
In March many of us participated in a protest of the ISTEP and its use in "accountability" by taking to social media in a "Twitter storm" organized by our friends at NEIFPE. It garnered enough attention to make the news which was mission accomplished. Our calls to action for letter-writing were very successful. Many of us had some published in the newspaper locally and around the state.
We hosted a fabulous forum entitled "Whole Child, Healthy Child, Helping Kids Thrive" in April (also on CATS) and discussed the importance of supporting the connections between health and learning. This was particularly relevant given that an Indiana legislature on the Ways and Means Committee had made the news with the quote: “Did Mary’s mother get arrested the night before? Did Johnny not come with shoes to school? Those to me are not core issues of education.”
We decided to have a presence at the Children's Expo here in town with a booth at their event. It was a good thing. Right next to our booth was the pro-school "choice" privatization proponents, Institute for Quality Education booth. IQE supports charters and vouchers. Our volunteers were on hand to talk about the importance and quality of our own democratically-governed public schools.
Also in April, a number of us attended the Network for Public Education's second annual conference in Chicago. If you can attend this conference this year, we highly recommend doing so. What inspiration to be hearing from and networking with public education activists from all around the country-- Diane Ravitch, Phyllis Bush, Jitu Brown, Carol Burris, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, among others.
In May we rallied our "troops" to speak out locally against the Seven Oaks Classical School, a Hillsdale College sponsored charter school, seeking authorization from the Indiana Charter School Board. We had a marvelous turnout and, just before the vote at the ICSB, Seven Oaks withdrew their application (knowing that they were about to be denied). Unfortunately, Seven Oaks came back again this fall to ask for a different authorizer's approval ("authorizer shopping" is legal for charter schools in Indiana)--this time from Grace College, a private religious college. We filled the public hearing with supporters of our public schools who spoke eloquently and passionately against this. We will not know whether we were successful until later this year. It is amazing that it's legal for a private religious entity to have the last word on redirecting our public tax dollars to a charter school in this way.
ICPE also co-sponsored the screening and discussion of the important film "Rise Above the Mark" twice last spring. Thanks to all who attended and who helped with the organizing of this event!
All throughout the spring, summer and fall, we have amazing volunteers (who need YOUR HELP) who staffed our booth at the Bloomington Farmer's Market. This presence allows us to continue to hold conversations about the attack on public schools and raise awareness around the harmful legislation at work.
In August, two of our founding ICPE members, Phil Harris and Mike Walsh, participated in the Democracy for Monroe County "link up" event: "Evaluating the Performance of our Public Schools." What an interesting and thought-provoking discussion it was!
This fall, our state ICPE board member, Deb Fish, along with our co-founder Roger Fierst, helped organize a series of membership-raising meetings around the state. Indianapolis, Evansville, and New Albany, are all working to create local ICPE affiliates such as our own. We must continue to grow and engage our citizens!
In October we hosted yet another forum: "Our Public Schools--Valuable and At-Risk" a community conversation about the continued attack on the funding for our public schools. Also can be seen on CATS-TV.
Also in October, Jenny Robinson, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer and ICPE member Michelle Smith attended the teacher shortage hearing at the statehouse and waited seven and a half HOURS to speak. Their testimonies also went viral all over social media, Diane Ravitch's blog, and made the news.
November saw us gathering support to stop Seven Oaks charter school and then in December we hosted the eye-opening film "Education, Inc." Please watch back the conversation we held afterward about money and politics in education here in Indiana.
If you've made it this far in our blog post, you can see that we have worked very hard in our goal to inform and empower the citizens of Indiana to help our public schools be all that they can be! We are so thankful for everyone who has written a letter, made a phone call, stood at our booth at the market, or helped organize our events. But we have so much more to do:
This is a BIG year. In 2016, public education advocates MUST help organize in our community to ensure that we elect people who will support our public schools. Four seats for local school board are up this fall, the local referendum is up for renewal, our state superintendent, Glenda Ritz, will be seeking re-election, and we need a legislature and governor who will support public education. We need congresspeople, senators, and a president who will stop the privatization of public schools and commit to equal educational opportunity.
Are you ready? We are. It's a year of exciting possibilities! Let's go!