I On July 9, the Associated Press reported that the Government Accountability Office said the federal stimulus money "is keeping teachers off the unemployment lines." Simultaneously, the California Teachers Association reported, "districts statewide already have made $12 billion in cuts and laid off 17,000 teachers."
I wrote to President Obama in response, with a sense of urgency, to make him aware of the gap between public statements such as those made by the GAO and what I see all around me, with pink-slipped teachers heading for those unemployment lines. I am concerned not only with job loss, but with the increase in class size and loss of supportive services that go hand-in-hand with teacher reductions.
In recent decades our schools have been the saving grace for thousands of students who lift themselves out of poverty and crime with our help. Some have gone to Harvard and returned as lawyers. We have survival stories and our share of local heroes, thanks to public schools.
I reminded President Obama of his inspirational message to students and educators delivered in the State of the Union Address, "DROPPING OUT IS NOT AN OPTION." I have used this mantra to successfully motivate local students to achieve their goal of graduation. My students have clearly been inspired by our country's choice of President Obama, who did not live a life of entitlement but clearly faced challenges, as have my students.
In the schools we deal with students challenged by high poverty, gang-infected neighborhoods, unusually high unemployment, and many parents with education levels inadequate to assist their children with schoolwork. When you see these students graduate, what you do not see behind their caps and gowns are the stories of their childhoods and what they have had to overcome.
I wrote to encourage the President to come to our area. If the President could take tours of local schools and hold a town hall meeting and hear your voices, he could incorporate our reality into his perspective on public schools.
I have a poster of the President with the single word "HOPE" proudly displayed in my home. I had the honor of shaking his hand as a delegate to the California Democratic Party Convention in 2006. I am one of his strong supporters. I wrote to help him understand what is happening in our California coastal community. The picture here simply does not square with the good change he envisions.
Our public schools are in jeopardy, not just here in Santa Cruz County, but all over the nation. We cannot let them fail. To do so will negate our ability to flourish as a democracy.
I am pledging to write to the President on at least a monthly basis and send modified versions of my letters to legislators. The folks in Washington and Sacramento need to learn more from us about our reality and our priorities.
Sandra is a board trustee for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, California, and a recently retired 31-year public school teacher. Her opinions are her own.
© Sandra Nichols 2001 - 2009