Weeks from Election, over 350 Parents, Teachers, Students, & Community Organizations Build "People's Platform" for District
Hempstead, NY - April 8, 2014 - After weeks of capacity crowds and the input of over 350 community members, a coalition of Hempstead students, teachers, and community organizations released an 11-point platform of policy proposals for the troubled school district, which is among the lowest-performing districts on Long Island, with a 38% graduation rate in recent years. Thursday night's workshop at the Hempstead Public Library capped the "Our Schools, Our Future" community education series, which mobilized over 350 community members in recent weeks. [Full-resolution photos available here.]
The coalition effort included over one dozen local organizations, led by the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, New York Civil Liberties Union-Nassau County Chapter, and New York Communities for Change. The non-profit organizations have plans to use the proposals as an educational tool in a coordinated non-partisan Get Out the Vote campaign launching later this month, which organizers said was expected to reach over 700 voters three times each. The highest voter-earner in last year's election won with 628 votes.
"The balance of power has shifted in the Hempstead School District," said Steve McFarland, Nassau County Organizer for the Long Island Civic Engagement Table. "These workshops are the start of a grassroots campaign that's nothing short of inspiring: in the last few weeks we have seen passion and unity from all corners of Hempstead – students, parents, teachers, and leaders. The People's Platform is a democratic list of priorities for everyone who wants a brighter future for Hempstead's youth, and hundreds of us have signed up to knock on doors and make the phone calls to ensure that we can win on our issues in May and beyond."
"The community has been shut out of the process of improving our education system for too long," said Diane Goins Long Island Chairperson for New York Communities for Change. "NYCC has been fighting for the school board to engage the community for years. Our calls have fallen on deaf ears. In that sense, these workshops were a breath of fresh air. The community came together to discuss the problems and solutions and to build a collective vision for our school system. Many people who did not know what is going on have become educated and are now involved and ready to make change. Most importantly, voters now know the issues and can make an informed decision come Election Day."
"The Hempstead community has waited far too long for a school district that works and provides the sound quality education to which every child in New York is entitled," said Hector Gerardo, community organizer at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "These workshops brought together key stakeholders to develop a strong set of policy demands that speak to the needs of the community. Everyone's voices were heard and respected and now it's time to take this message to every corner of this community and turn these ideas into action."
"The Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association is determined to be part of community conversations to help improve public education," said Elias Mestizo, President of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association. "The workshops were instrumental in bringing different perspectives to accomplish that goal."
Sergio Argueta, of The Corridor Counts, said, "What was confirmed over the course of three workshops is that which we already knew. Our children want to learn, parents want to be engaged, and our teachers want to teach. We all deserve better, and collectively we will get there!"
George Siberón, Executive Director of the Hempstead Hispanic Civic Association, said, "The workshops and platform that evolved from these workshop demonstrated how a community can come together and work through ideas on how to turn around a dysfunctional school system. Over 350 parents, students, community activist, community based organizations came together, put aside differences and focused on the important work of creating the best possible atmosphere for our children to learn and for the inclusion of parents and community stakeholders in the education process of our children."
Philip Mickulas, Executive Director of Family & Children's Association, said, "Family and Children’s Association has been pleased to support the effort to inform Hempstead residents about the important issues confronting the community as it prepares to select new members of the school board. It’s been gratifying to see people identify the key elements such as accountability, transparency, diversity and community partnership."
"It is important for the community to speak up and take action to ensure students receive a high quality education," said Blanca Villanueva, Long Island Education Organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education and Long Island Progressive Coalition. "The series of workshops held in Hempstead is a testament of how the community can come together and organize to achieve a goal. Community schools are one of the best ways to address the social, academic, and emotional needs of our poorest students. We call on the Governor to expand his community schools initiative outside the competitive process so that students like those in Hempstead can get the services they need to succeed."
Shea Levin, of Every Child Matters-Long Island, said, "Children don't have a voice in our democracy, therefore they need adults to step up and be their voice. We can all do this by getting out the polls on May 20 and voting for someone who will make children a top priority."
Maria Hernandez, a parent of students in the Hempstead School District and member of La Fuente-Long Island Civic Participation Project, added, "I was able to meet other parents who are just as concerned about the situation of our schools in Hempstead as I am. There were many wonderful ideas floating around that I would like to see happen in the future. Also, learning a hispanic candidate was running for the board was very satisfying."
The People's Platform for the Hempstead School District
Our School Board
Community oversight & Financial transparency
Diversity & cultural competency training for board members
Improved services for LEP students & parents
Parent/teacher representative on Board
Improved Parent-School Communication
Smaller Classrooms, Improved Support Services
Our Community Schools
One stop shop: School as hub for services
School Safety – better, smarter
Community Partnerships, Community Space
Image via LI Civic Engagement Flickr Page