Sunday, June 25, 2017

Our 2017 Skinny Award dinner; a wonderfully joyful and inspiring evening!

Our Class Size Matters Skinny award dinner was held last Tuesday, June 20, and it was terrific, despite a last minute change of venue because the restaurant where it was supposed to be held unexpectedly closed. Many people told me it was the best Skinny award dinner ever. Amir of Casa La Femme welcomed us with open arms; the restaurant is luxurious and spacious, with good food, and a belly dancer even turned up at the end of the evening. Sorry if you didn't make it, but there's always next year. Below is the speech I gave and some photos; there are many more on the Class Size Matters Facebook page here. See also the video of the CPE1 parents singing below.  The evening was also covered by bloggers Arthur Goldstein and Norm Scott.

Welcome to our 9th annual Skinny award dinner. This is always one of the most joyous and inspiring evenings of the year for me and I hope for all of you as well.

Carol Burris, Diane Ravitch  and John Allgood.
Before getting started Some special people I want to thank – first of all, the Class Size Matters board – Diane Ravitch, Patrick Sullivan, Monica Major, Emily Horowitz and Cynthia Wachtell.

I want to thank Diane, Cynthia and Susan Ochshorn of Early Childhood Education Policy Works for their generosity and helping to underwrite the dinner tonight.

My fellow NYC Kids PAC members who are here tonight – many of whom also volunteered to help set up and check you in -- Shino Tanikawa, Karen Sprowal, Fatima Geidi, Gloria Corsino – all great parent leaders. Also Benita Lovett-Rivera, our brilliant graphic designer, who helped with the turnout and success of tonight’s event.

I want to thank Dr. Audrey Baker and Dr. Gerry Baker, for coming and to congratulate Audrey for receiving her Doctorate of Educational Leadership just a few weeks ago.

Karen Sprowal and Jan Atwell
I want to thank Jan Atwell with teaching me everything I know about education policy and politics and has been my mentor in this area for many years Whenever I don’t know the answer to a question I just ask Jan.

And most of all, I want to thank my husband Michael Oppenheimer for supporting me every possible way – financially emotionally and telling me that what I do is worth doing, even as his own job and mission is literally saving the world from climate change.

When we started this in 2009 we held it at a little cafĂ© on Chambers Street. Never did I imagine that I would still be doing this nine years later. Now I want to explain why this is called the Skinny awards: First of all, we’re a Skinny organization, with a very modest budget; and the name is meant to contrast with the Broad award, given by the billionaire Eli Broad to public school systems that conformed to his corporate reform ideology. Finally, the award is given to people who give us the real “Skinny” on NYC schools.

There are also a bunch of previous Skinny award winners I’d like to recognize who are here tonight:

Diane Ravitch won our first Skinny award in 2009 – and since then has led the nation, through her incredible intellect, knowledge and passionate and eloquent writing in advocating for our public education system, and protecting it from the privatization efforts of and the assorted billionaires, corpocrats and Silicon Valley executives who would like to privatize education I barely have time to read her prolific and prodigious blog every day – I have no idea how she manages to write it all.

Also here tonight is Robert Jackson who received the award in 2010 – for his role as the chief
Robert Jackson, Gretchen Mergenthaler; Sarah Morgridge
plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit, in which he sued to obtain funding equity for NYC schools and also for his excellent work chairing the City Council Education Committee for many years.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa is here tonight; please give her a round of applause. Her election as Chancellor is probably the best thing that happened to education in our state in many years; she won the Skinny award along with Regent Kathy Cashin in 2012.

In 2013, Teacher and bloggers extraordinaire Arthur Goldstein and Gary Rubinstein, received the Skinny awards, and in 2014, Carol Burris former principal of South Side HS on Long Island who is now doing a stellar job as Executive director of the Network for Public Education.

Barbara Harris, Kemala Karmen, Lisa Rudley
Also here tonight is the amazing Lisa Rudley Executive Director of NYS Allies for Public Education; Kemala Karmen from NYC Opt out and Rosalie Friend, Jane Maisal, Katie Lapham and Fred Smith from Change the Stakes– who collectively won the award in 2015 for their amazing work leading the opt out movement.

Now for the 2017 Skinny awards.

Wendy Lecker from the Education Law Center is not only a brilliant pro bono attorney but also has a terrific weekly column in the Stamford Advocate newspaper. She has represented the rights of NYC public school students since the days of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, and in numerous successful lawsuits since then -- including making the NYC Department of Education comply with the law when it comes to holding borough hearings on the
Wendy Lecker of Ed Law Center
Contracts for Excellence plans.

Most recently, she forced Governor Cuomo to provide legally mandated funds to struggling schools despite his efforts to withhold them. She is about to represent CSM and NYC parents on another legal matter, which I’d hoped I could announce tonight, but has been unfortunately delayed due to circumstances out of our control. Wendy Lecker, will you come up and accept your well-deserved Skinny award?
One of the most extraordinary stories of this year is how a student newspaper at Townsend Harris HS in Queens called the Classic helped bring down an interim principal named Rosemary Jahoda, by reporting on numerous examples of her unacceptable behavior, including refusing to address the discrimination of Muslim students, delaying sending student transcripts to colleges, micromanaging teachers, and other instances of insensitivity to students and teachers alike. They live-streamed a student sit-in to protest her actions when the Superintendent was visiting the school, and posted a recording of the principal's conversation with a staff member, in which she used foul language.

Brian Sweeney, Sumaita Hasan, Mehrose Ahmad of Townsend Harris
For all their conscientious reporting, the newspaper received the ultimate compliment from DOE officials in the age of Trump, who called their stories “fake news.” Instead, a teacher at the school countered this way, and I quote: "These students double and triple check their sources and the DOE should have done as much vetting on Miss Jahoda."

Their work was repeatedly hailed in the NYTimes, WNYC and local papers for helping to build support for the principal’s removal, which finally occurred in April. Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, students and co-editors of the Classic, and your faculty adviser, Brian Sweeney please come up and accept your well=deserved skinny award for your brilliant reporting and courage, and for giving us the real Skinny on NYC public schools.

Laura Barbieri of Advocates for Justice
The next awardees are very special to me. Advocates for Justice have fought for the rights of public school students in innumerable cases, including representing CSM in a lawsuit we helped file against Arthur Schwartz went up to argue the case in state court, he was the sole attorney against five attorneys for the city and the DOE, and an army of other attorneys who trooped in from three private white shoe law firms representing Success Academy and other charter schools.

Yet Arthur was not daunted, argued the case brilliantly, and we would have won that lawsuit, except in the meantime the Legislature and the Governor changed the law and took that clause out.  allowing the DOE to only charge $1 to charter schools for co-locating in public school building; as the state law said at that time that if the DOE if they chose to give space to charter schools they would have to charge them market rates. When

Since then Arthur and Laura Barbieri, Special counsel at Advocates for Justice, have sued DOE to stop other charter co-locations and against charter school discrimination against special needs students; Laura has also represented the parents and students in E. Ramapo in federal court, against their school board diverting public school funds to promote their own religious schools and discriminating against students based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, and religion.

Most recently, Laura represented Class Size Matters in the lawsuit we pursued to ensure that School Leadership Team meetings are open the public and we won vs DOE, first at the Supreme Court level and then in a unanimous decision by the Appellate Court this fall. And incredibly, like Wendy, they do all this work for free! Arthur and Laura – please come up and receive well-deserved our Skinny award .


The amazing parents of Save CPE1
Now last but not least, we want to celebrate and honor an amazing act of organizing organization and advocacy by the parents of Central Park East, who refused to let the principal installed at their school destroy its wonderful spirit and traditions. The school founded by Debbie Meier in 1974 has long prided itself on its progressive philosophy and democratic form of government., and when parents discovered the DOE had installed a principal who not only had not background in progressive education but put teachers who opposed her in the rubber room, grilled children in her office trying to get them to make unfounded accusations against their teachers without the knowledge of parents, and lied to them, they didn’t give up.

Instead, they fought back. They attended every single PEP meeting and urged the Chancellor to act, held numerous rallies, signed petitions, and finally in April, sat in at their school overnight – daring the DOE to arrest them. The last straw was when the principal banned two of the parent leaders from the school on trumped up charges, Jen Roesch and Kaliris Salas-Ramirez. After being subjected to more than a year of bad PR and damaging headlines, the Mayor and the Chancellor finally conceded and the principal resigned last month. For their incredible bravery, hard work, and persistence in saving their school, will Jen and Kaliris on behalf of Save CPE I, please come up and accept your award.

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