Our Holiday Party was back on December 3 at Showers Inn (Thank you Roger and family!). It was a great turnout of members. The most we've seen in a while. In case you weren't able to make it, here is the speech given by our chair, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer:
It’s appropriate that this party comes between Thanksgiving and the Holidays. Although I have frankly had a hard time finding my energy and motivation after these past elections, two things have kept me from burning out completely. One was looking back on our year and reflecting on all of the incredible things we’ve done. The second thing that has helped me move forward is thinking about these remarks that I give every year and looking for the silver linings in our current situation!
First, Thanksgiving: I want to give thanks for all of you. If you have written a letter to the editor in support of public education or a public education candidate, thank you. If you have volunteered on a campaign for a public education candidate, thank you. If you have contributed money to a public education candidate, thank you. If you’ve volunteered at our farmer’s market booth, thank you. If you have helped organize or attend one of our forums this year, thank you. Thank you for all you do.
We have had quite a year. We doubled our membership and had, at one time, we have had over 100 dues-paying members last year! We put on a forum about special education around this time last year and also co-hosted a conversation with Dr. McCormick about education policy. Since January of this year, we got in the news for a petition we started to support a bill eliminating textbook fees. We brought the film “Backpack Full of Cash” to our community which was attend by over 200 people and raised some money and awareness from that documentary about how “school choice” is undermining our public schools. In April, we hosted a follow-up meeting about how we can advocate for public schools in the face of this charter and voucher “competition.” Our board retreat in June was the launching of an endorsement committee for candidates as well as a committee working on a presentation (and they have been working really, really hard) to bring to new audiences. Our message is spreading. I spoke in Muncie to a very strong reception of citizens and also served on a panel in Columbus as well as the rally at the statehouse in February. We have had such a strong presence at the farmer’s market that people look for us now—and particularly want recommendations for the elections this past November. That shows that our issue is very important to many! We had a new legislative report card to show them of how the candidates/legislators measured up on public education. This fall we hosted 3 candidate forums, one of which was in Richland Bean Blossom school district—a first time ever for us! This fall we also saw a number of our board members represent us at the Network for Public Education conference in Indianapolis on panels and workshops.
In addition, several of us have been working hard to encourage and help our state-level ICPE become a growing and more effective organization. There are three new members on their board who are parents and activists for public schools in Indianapolis. New voices at the table with new perspectives will help us grow.
Speaking of new faces, public education really won in November across the country. Even if some of the excellent candidates we had in our area didn’t win, we need to look nationwide and even our neighbors in Indianapolis to see important victories.
Scott Walker is OUT. A former superintendent of public schools is now the governor in Wisconsin. In Michigan, a public education advocate also won the governorship. Where #RedforEd happened, so did many victories. Kansas’ new governor is pro-public education. Pro-public education candidate for state superintendent won in Arizona (teachers walked out there) and in California the public education candidate, Tony Thurmond, beat out the charter school proponent, Marshall Tuck, for state superintendent. Public education was a central talking point for Beto O’Rourke and so many others who ran (many who won) all over the country. Here in Indianapolis, despite the privatizer backing and big money, two public school proponents won their bids for school board race in IPS. It was a true grassroots victory for a city where school board members have been bought by powerful DeVos-like interests for quite some time. We are winning.
Honestly, though, I haven’t felt that victorious, but here’s where I think that it’s appropriate that we are about to celebrate holidays that celebrate light in the midst of darkness.
It’s pretty dark in Indiana. But you all—and so many others—are the light. Candidates who worked non-stop this past year, speaking for our public schools and teachers and children living in poverty, who painted us a picture of what leadership could look like, what support for public education could be… people like Liz Watson, Penny Githens, Amy Swain and others, they may remind me of Don Quixote tilting at windmills—but how will we get anywhere if we don’t have the vision, the energy, the imagination or models to follow? They and the thousands of people who worked with them on their campaigns are bright lights in the darkness. Our lawyer friends Alex Tanford and Bill Groth who helped us try to take down a piece of the law that seemed an egregious breach of separation of church and state with the authorization of Seven Oaks—they are also our windmill tilters—pro bono but for the good of all. We are thankful for their light and the attempt to lift the rock and expose some creepy crawlies there. Then there are also our writers: People like Ray Golarz and Dale Glenn and others… who write to the newspaper or on our blog--and remind us of the beauty and promise of what public schools and teachers do every day: they are lights for us in this darkness. My friends at ICPE who work tirelessly for no money at all, keeping on top of the legislation and the news, creating the infographics and posters, keeping us on task and moving forward, “herding cats” through board meetings, retreats and committee meetings—you all are the lights in a time of darkness. And there are the people who work tirelessly for our public schools like Dr. DeMuth, our superintendent, and school board members —who help ensure that our schools are supported in what they need. And the teachers—the miracle workers who, despite all of the many things that weigh down this profession in our current time in history—rise above it all and find the joy and the love made visible through their work with our children. Lastly, the children themselves—any of us who spend time in their presence, we know that they are the brightest lights and it is our job to ensure that we are not too tired or too down to enable them to shine fully. It is our job to continue this work, to create a better world, so that they will shine.