We had an incredible day last week at Markham Middle School in Watts, California. It may take a moment to feel like you are being heard but after 18 months in the trenches, Tim Sullivan greeted Governor Schwarzenegger, Senator Gloria Romero and California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss at the front doors of his school!!! Truly an inspiring day for all. Congratulations to everyone at Markham Middle School. We are so honored to be able to follow your story! Here is the video of the press conference along with the transcript:
Good morning, Markham Middle School. My name is Tim Sullivan, I’m the principal here at Markham Middle School.
To my Markham Middle School students here today, we’re going to expose you to a civics lesson. Today’s lesson will expose you to the California State Standards for Social Studies, Standard 11.1, Section 4, analyzing state civil rights in regards to the state of California.
On February 24, 2010, we filed a lawsuit with the Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the students of Markham Middle School, Samuel L. Gompers Middle School and John Liechty Middle School. The lawsuit points out that these three schools lost up to 50 percent of our teaching staff and that there were other schools in affluent areas that lost 0 percent. This violates the constitutional rights of our lower-income students.
I came to Markham Middle School because this data posed as a challenge. I dream of making Markham Middle School and taking Markham Middle School, to a new level of academic excellence. But in order to do that I need an entire staff. I need a staff of rock stars, as we currently have here at Markham Middle School, in order to achieve that goal. We have teachers here that are providing rigorous and relevant academic experience for every child here at Markham Middle School. I love this school and I believe that I have the greatest job in the world but I know I can’t go through this process of teacher decimation for the second straight year. I came here to provide our children with hope, not hopelessness.
I would like to now introduce to you some supporters of our efforts here at Markham Middle School. We have Dr. George McKenna, superintendent, Local District 7. (Applause) We have Joan Sullivan, Deputy Mayor of Education, city of Los Angeles. (Applause) We have Adrianne Sears, Los Angeles Urban League. (Applause) We have Paul Miller, Teach for America. (Applause) We have Alice Huffman, California State Conference of the NAACP. (Applause) We have Shirley Ford, lead organizer, Parent Revolution. (Applause) We have Reverend Eric P. Lee, president and CEO, California State President, Southern California Leadership Conference of Los Angeles. (Applause) We have Don Lancaster, president of 100 Black Men of Los Angeles. (Applause) We have Heather Barondess, data systems advocate and campaign manager, the Education Trust-West. (Applause) We have Ms. Ana Ponce, executive director, CEO, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy. (Applause) We also have Leonardo Cablayan, Operation HOPE. (Applause) We have Nate Sesmonds, Brotherhood Crusade. (Applause) We also have David Fleming, chair, Los Angeles Business Federation. (Applause) We also have Miss “Sweet Alice” Harris, Parents of Watts. (Applause) And we also have as a supporter Oscar Cruz, Families in Schools. (Applause) And we also have our awesome teacher, Mr. Nicholas Melvoin, Markham Middle School. (Applause) We also have Ms. Bonnie Reiss, Secretary of Education, state of California. (Applause) We have Senator Gloria Romero, state of California. (Applause)
It is now with great honor that I introduce to you the leader of the great state of California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Applause)
Well, thank you very much for the nice introduction. Tim is doing a great job here and I just wanted to tell you I’m very happy that he introduced everyone here on stage and out there so I don’t have to do it. But I just want to say thank you very much for the great introduction. I’m honored to be here today at Markham Middle School and to be here today at this school with such fine educators and such fine community leaders and parents, business leaders and the political leaders and so many great, great students.
I’m so excited to see all of you here today and to see such curious faces and eyes. And I just want to tell you that your school principal loves all of you and is very, very proud of the great progress that you’re making with your education. (Applause) Yes, Principal Sullivan believes in all of you and is very proud of all of you.
And a few minutes ago I had the chance to meet with him and have some great discussions with him about education and the various different problems and obstacles and challenges that are facing education. And he also told me that you’ve been having civic lessons on civil rights lawsuits and especially the civil rights lawsuit that’s being brought on your behalf right here. And I know that you also were told that you have a good opportunity here to make history and I’m here because I want to help you make history. (Applause)
I’m here to stand up for the civil rights of students and their families who are being denied a great education just because of bad policy here in our state, a state law that I am committed to change. Decades of research has shown that nothing is more crucial and important than a great teacher for great education and for educating our kids, yet current law takes away the flexibility that school districts have and need to provide every child with a great education and with a great teacher. It tells them that even if a teacher is effective and even if a teacher is fantastic and is an award-winning teacher and is loved by students, none of that matters when it comes to layoffs. When layoffs are made the only thing that matters is seniority, which means how long a teacher has been working and that is inexcusable. As a matter of fact, the L.A. Times said that schools have no choice but to ignore teacher quality, just because of the crazy law that we have on our books and that we have to change.
Now, what does all that mean? That means that sometimes the best and the most committed and the greatest teachers and award-winning teachers are getting laid off, when at the same time ineffective teachers are many times allowed to keep their jobs. And that’s what I talked about to your school principal. I talked to him about that, what’s going on here. He put this great team together of teachers in this school and then all of a sudden they get lay-off notices. Now, how do you put a team together when all of a sudden they get yanked away from the system? We cannot continue this way. (Applause)
Right, Alice? You tell them, Alice. (Laughter)
Now, to show how absurd this is, last year and again this year, several Teachers of the Year — Teachers of the Year — have been getting a pink slip and threatened to be laid off. Now, how can that happen, when they are award-winning teachers and they’re loved by their students? These are teachers who have been specifically recognized for their excellence. What message does this send to our schools, what message does this send to our children or to the parents and especially, what message does it send to the young college students who are considering becoming teachers? (Applause)
Now, just to show to all of you how crazy this is, think about the private sector. If you’re in the private sector in a company and you have 10 salespeople, two of them are award-winning salespeople that are number one sales people in that company and nationally recognized. And now they have to lay off two people. Do you think they will lay off those award-winning salespeople? No, they will be the last ones to go. Others will be going first, even if they’ve worked there a long time. If they’re failing, then they will be going first. That’s the way it works in the private sector and that’s what we have to do also in the school system here.
The message that we send is the wrong message and this is why I say seniority is something that is terrible when it comes to hiring teachers and sending them around. I mean, we know that when it comes to sending them to different schools, our teachers, that seniority is a big part. So when you have worked a long time in the school system then you can go to the schools of your preference, to Beverly Hills or to Santa Monica. And then those teachers that have been working maybe a year or two, they will be sent to the inner-city schools where it’s more difficult. So those that have been working for a long time can go to the wealthier schools, schools with fewer minority students, schools with fewer challenges. So all of that, the whole system, is set up wrong and this is why it is very important that we change this system.
And let me tell you something, that it is not just this that is a problem with our education system. What is also a major problem and what is something that we need to fix is the budget system and our tax system, because it is inexcusable that every single time our economy goes down that all of a sudden we cannot fund our schools because we have a failed budget system where we don’t have a rainy day fund set aside. So the days when we have spikes in revenues we should take a little bit of that money and put it aside into a rainy day fund, because we know whenever there are spikes in revenues it must come down. The old saying, what goes up must come down.
Well, let me tell you something, when it comes down and when the economy came down, all of a sudden we had to yank $10 billion from education — $10 billion — because we don’t have enough money and because we don’t have a rainy day fund. And this is why I said it’s unfair to send our children on this roller-coaster ride, up and down. One year we have enough money, the next year we don’t have enough money. So let’s go and change the budget system. That’s another challenge that I have for our legislators. (Applause)
And let’s change our tax system. We have a tax system that relies too much on personal income and capital gains, so we have a tax system that is not based on our economic activity but it’s based on Wall Street. So our economic activity went down by 2.8 percent but our revenues went down by 27 percent. Why? Because Wall Street crashed, the last two years, by more than 50 percent, it went from 14,000 to 6,500. So a lot of the rich folks lost their money, they don’t pay our taxes, so now we lost all of this revenue because of an outdated tax system. Other states have much more even-based tax systems where they’re not relying just on income tax.
So these are the kind of things we have to change. We have to change this system with seniority, we have to change the budget system, we have to change the tax system. And I’m asking and begging the legislature, let’s sit down and make those important issues a priority and let’s fix them right now and not wait any longer. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause)
And before I leave I just want to say that this is the responsibility that we adults have, to provide you with the best system and with the best financial system, budget system and all those things. That is our responsibility. You children have the responsibility to study. There is no one else that can do that for you. Now, you have done a great job already, what I’ve heard from your school principal. But let me ask you just — and say it over and over to you — study, study, study. Do your homework, do your math, do your reading, do your writing. Listen to your educators, listen to your teachers, listen to your parents, listen to your mentors, to your school principal. They mean well. They want to make you smart.
And when you do that, I can guarantee you — and I can see in your eyes the hunger that you have — I can guarantee you that you can accomplish anything that you want, anything. You can become a doctor, an educator, a millionaire, a billionaire, a star on the basketball court, just like your school principal was. Anything that you want to do. (Applause) Anything is possible, because this is the land of opportunity. But get smart and get ready.
Thank you very much, all of you. Thank you. (Applause) And now I want to bring out a great, great community leader and I’m talking here about Alice Huffman, great friend and great community leader. Thank you, good to see you.
Well, good morning. When the Governor — giving honor to the Governor, when he was running down all the things you could become, he forgot to tell you, you could become an actor and a great bodybuilder and governor. You can become all those things as well, OK?
It’s a great honor to be with all the dignitaries here this morning and with Senator Romero and the Governor. We have been campaigning for quality education for about the last six or seven months. We got involved in President Obama’s Race to the Top and we were very successful in getting some changes that will improve the quality of education. But we’re not trying to improve the quality of education generically, we’re trying to do it for each person in this room. We believe that each person in this room deserves a quality education.
So it was with great pleasure that I put out a press release today indicating that the NAACP — how many of you know what the NAACP is? Oh. It’s the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and we are 101 years old. I am its State Conference President and on the National Board of Directors and we’ve been fighting for equality in America all these long 101 years.
The Governor likes to talk about the sequel of both lawsuits that we are working with right now, that have been put forth by ACLU but he forgot to talk about the very first, the very first case, which was Brown v. Board. How many of you know what Brown v. Board is? Brown v. Board, 1954, was the lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court that said — we won, it was put on by the NAACP — that said all children deserve a quality education and all education must be equal and must be comprehensive and it must treat — it is a civil right and it is a civil right that you deserve, to be educated in America so that you can compete on the world arena. You know, you’re not just going to compete here in California. You have to compete with the world.
And so ACLU did another lawsuit that the Governor likes to talk about which, almost 50 years later, made sure that all the facilities and the structures that you attend school in were quality, that you couldn’t be going to school in old rundown buildings with toilets that didn’t flush and all of the bad things that happen to schools in low-income communities.
And so now here’s this lawsuit that addresses the most important part of learning, is a teaching core. If you don’t have good teachers you can’t learn. If you don’t have good teachers we’re just wasting your time sitting up here every day. If you don’t have good teachers you have been denied your civil rights, because the school is publicly funded. We fund education and we intend to have education at the same quality level all over this state. You can’t have a good education in Santa Monica and a bad one in Watts. (Applause)
So for some of us, for some of us who’ve tried everything to bring about a quality education — lawsuits, we’ve worked out in the field, we’ve worked with various organizations — we believe that you cannot wait three years to start getting a quality education. You have to start today. But we got to this point a little bit late in our careers, after we tried busing and we tried all kinds of things that we thought would improve the quality of education. Remember, it’s great to be in a diverse environment, it’s great to learn from each other. But African-Americans and Latino children, first and foremost, must have a quality education. I don’t care who you sit beside, it has to be a quality education. (Applause)
So it was never about integration. It was never about integration, it was about quality education. Don’t get mixed up on that. You can learn if you have a quality education, whether you’re in an all-black school or all-brown school, all-Asian school. We like for us to be mixed up but if you’re not mixed up and you’re in an all-black, all-brown school, you deserve the same resources that an all-white school deserves. (Applause)
And that starts with quality teachers — it starts with quality teachers. If you don’t have a quality teacher — you can have a great-looking school building. It’s like going to church. If you don’t have a good pastor and a good minister, you’re sitting up in a beautiful church, you’re just sitting up in a beautiful building. But that building has to be comprised of quality people. And so that’s why the teaching core is so important and that’s why this lawsuit is so important and that’s why the NAACP has joined in with ACLU and the Governor and Senator Romero and all of your civic leaders here. That’s why we’ve joined in. (Applause)
When this governor’s legacy is talked about, when he’s no longer governor, if I have to write the book I’m going to say he was a governor for the children, he was a governor for education. He was a governor for what really matters, the individuals and not just special interests and not all these other things that people are presiding over. He is presiding over bringing change in your life that will last forever, so I’m pleased to be with this governor. (Applause)
And you know, there are fighters — I’m going to introduce the next person — there are fighters in every walk of life. Just because you are a politician or because you’re a civic leader or whatever, not everybody is a quality leader. And we have with us today one of the people that I respect the most, who is working tirelessly, day and night, who’s taking a lot of abuse because of her stand on improving the quality of education. She is the most dynamic, the most fierce and one of the toughest women I know, Senator Gloria Romero. (Applause)
Good morning, students. Well, I’m very proud to stand with the Governor and Alice Huffman and Sweet Alice and Reverend Lee and so many of our civil rights leaders today and especially you and your teachers and your principal, because I’m here today to join with the others in calling upon the state of California and the Los Angeles Unified School District to settle this lawsuit once and for all. (Applause) That’s what we want.
And it’s very special that we gather here at Markham Middle School, because we know that you are a school with a purpose and a vision for educating all of our students. And this school is very special. It was founded on the principle of a partnership and that partnership was a very simple premise that said all children can learn. (Applause) And this promise, this partnership, attracted the best and the brightest, committed, quality teachers, who wanted to come to this school in this neighborhood. And I’ve got to tell you, there were a lot of teachers who, quite frankly, didn’t want to come here. They didn’t want to come. These teachers said, “I believe in you, I believe in the parents. I understand this community and I want to fight for the right for a quality education for the children at Markham Middle School.” That’s why they came here. (Applause)
But let me tell you, though, that that promise and the potential and the partnership, it has been broken. And you know why it was broken? Because of a law in our Education Code — a law in our Education Code. And there were students, Ayana Reynolds, Kenyatta Jones, Liliane Rodriguez and their parents, who stood up and said, “We are going to challenge the state of California and the education code.”
And that’s why we’re here today, because if you think about it, we’re here because we are sick and tired of being sued. We are sick and tired of having to have kids like you and your parents and the attorneys who believe in you and the community rights leaders, always have to go to the courts to find relief. There are three branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the courts. And I’m here today as a legislator because I believe it is about time that the legislature stops abdicating its responsibility and it finally stands up and does the right thing. (Applause) That’s why we’re here.
So this lawsuit, it began my naming three schools and Markham is one of them. You are history. You’re history. You’re going to read about yourselves one day. But make no doubt about it, it’s going to go beyond three schools. This is just the opening. It’s like when we talk about that canary that’s sent into the mine to see what’s happening. But I will tell you, this canary of a lawsuit, it’s not going to die. It’s going to sing and it’s going to sing out for equality and dignity and justice for every child in California — Latino, African-American, Native American, white, Asian, you name it. It’s about all of us. (Applause)
So finally, let me just say that last weekend the Governor and I were together in East Los Angeles and the Secretary of Education. We were there to help bury a very important wonderful teacher, Jaime Escalante. (Applause) You might have seen the movie, “Stand and Deliver.” And we were there in East L.A. because — we are here today to say those are the teachers that we want to see. We know they’re there. We’ve got thousands of great teachers in California like the Jaime Escalante and they want to be here in your classrooms, unfettered by these arcane laws that simply say, just depending on how many years you’ve been on the job, that’s all that matters.
We will look at that, we will respect that. But good quality teaching and placement, it’s about a whole lot more. (Applause) And it’s about saying that if we really want our children to have access to a great education, it begins with a great teacher who believes in you and a state law that respects a principal’s and a district’s right to recognize that great teacher, to recruit that great teacher, to provide support for that great teacher and to retain that great teacher even when times are tough. (Applause)
So children, students — students, we’re going to march forward. Important day today, important day tomorrow. We’ll see you in the courthouse. And remember that we will all be marching together, arm in arm, fighting for equality. (Applause)
Now let me introduce a very powerful woman, a mother, a fighter. She has a voice that’s stronger than the Governor’s and mine combined, I will tell you. She is the lead organizer for the parent revolution here in Los Angeles. Welcome Shirley Ford. (Applause)
Good morning. I stand here today — and I’m so proud of what you’re doing — and I stand here today representing parents across California and actually across the state, to let you know that we support you 100 percent in this lawsuit. We will walk with you, we will do whatever, by any means necessary, to make this happen on your behalf, of your civil rights. (Applause)
And this is actually a personal thing for me because I was standing there and I was thinking about my one son, my middle son, that actually the turnaround in his life was a very young teacher in his high school years that he actually connected with and it made a difference in his life. So it’s very personal for me.
And I just want you to know, to go home and tell your parents — and I’m speaking to the parents that are here — the Parent Revolution is here for you. You need to come, you need to join forces with us. We have many things going on that’s going to change the way education is done to kids of color. So I just thank you. (Applause)
Good morning, students, how are you this morning? Good. Well, we’re not going to keep you too much longer. I’m Reverend Eric Lee and I’m the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference here in California.
Now, how many have heard of Dr. Martin Luther King? Good, good. (Applause) Dr. Martin Luther King was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and we are a civil rights organization that is committed to ensuring justice and equality is given to all of the residents of this nation and here in California. And so we’re proud to stand with all of these individuals and these organizations that are fighting for you. This is about you.
And what’s going on now is education reform. What I’ve been saying is that the wheels of education reform are turning towards justice, because if you do not have a quality education, if you do not have an equal education to your counterparts that are in Palisades or Beverly Hills, then it is an unjust system, an unjust system that we must correct. So education reform is not about politics but it’s about providing you with the best quality education because you are our future, you’re the next generation of our leaders. (Applause)
Now, what’s important about what’s going on with this lawsuit — and why I say it’s not politics, because when you have a Republican governor standing with the ACLU that is truly not about politics — it’s about providing you with the best possible education. But the NAACP in 1954 had to go to the Supreme Court so that they could make sure that schools would be integrated, so that there would be a quality education. It was the Brown versus Board of Education. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference fought in the streets to make sure that discrimination was eliminated from education, from housing and employment and we had legislation in 1964 with the Voter Rights Act, in 1965 with the Civil Rights Act.
You are on the brink of history with this lawsuit. You will be remembered like the Little Rock Nine. Do you know about the Little Rock Nine? (Applause) Where they integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas so that children could have the same quality education no matter what color their skin. You’re on the brink of history now because we’re going to make sure that you have the same quality education whether you’re African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American or white. That’s what you deserve and that’s what you shall have. (Applause)
Good morning, Markham Middle School. My name is Donald Lancaster and I’m president of 100 Black Men of Los Angeles and we stand here today with the Governor, Senator Romero, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and parents supporting reform and change. We want you to have the best tool that you can have for success and that is a quality teacher. (Applause)
I had the pleasure of meeting this young man that I’m going to bring forward, Mr. Nicholas Melvoin, Harvard educated but what impressed me most was his eyes. In his eyes it said, I’m committed to young people. His parents are here today. His parents are still part and parcel of his life and making sure that he’s doing the right thing and it translates into you as students. So with that said, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles is with you, we’re with the Governor, we’re with Senator Romero and we’d like to bring forward Mr. Melvoin. (Applause)
Thank you. It’s an honor to be here today with Governor Schwarzenegger, Principal Sullivan and our other distinguished guests. And it’s a particular privilege to speak on behalf of the extraordinary children that I teach.
After graduating from Harvard I chose to teach at Markham because I believe in educational equality. I believe a child’s zip code should not determine the quality of his or her schooling. Yet my experience has demonstrated that it often does. My students at Markham are not getting the teachers they deserve, they are not getting an equal opportunity to excel. As a result, their futures and the state’s future are at risk.
My story is typical. When the Los Angeles Unified School District laid off thousands of teachers last spring I was among the first to go. The last hired, first fired policy made it virtually impossible for a 23-year-old fresh out of college to keep teaching English in this district. But I was determined to come back to my students, so I began the school year as a long-term substitute at Markham until mid-January when I was rehired. This March I received another pink slip.
As I said, my story is not unusual here. Last year’s layoffs decimated our young staff. Already one of the lowest performing schools in the state, Markham lost more than half of its teachers. These excellent educators, whose record of student achievement had no bearing on the decision to lay them off, were committed to turning the school around. We lost three out of the four teachers on the school’s intervention curriculum team. We lost two department chairs. We lost school site council members and members of our school’s shared decision-making team.
We also lost money. Under new leadership Markham spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training our young staff, only to have that new staff fired months later. Teachers trained in the most recent methods to raise student achievement were let go and more money was needed to train this year’s staff. Unless something changes, that money too will have been wasted once this year’s layoffs take effect. (Applause)
The worst consequences, of course, are those that fall on the innocent shoulders of our students. As district and state policies shuffle teachers through their classrooms like visitors through a revolving door, these children are essentially left abandoned, taught little more than the lessons of disruption and disappointment. These students live in a state of constant upheaval, denied the stability not only vital for solid academic progress but for rewarding relationships with compassionate mentors. It’s not at all uncommon to hear a Markham student ask a new teacher, with a mixture of sadness and indignation, “How long are you going to be here?”
What makes this situation even worse is that this burden is falling disproportionately on the schools and students who can least absorb the blows. Yes, teachers are being laid off throughout the city and state but the shameful truth is that schools like Markham are being hit the hardest. Institutions with the highest concentrations of poor students of color receive the greatest number of layoffs. The reasons may be more complex and less deliberate than in the age of segregation but the effects are no less insidious and the injustice no less deplorable. It is simply and unconscionably wrong.
We hear a lot of talk about holding schools accountable for not leaving any children behind. My students know they are being left behind because they are not being provided with the teachers and stability they need to get ahead. In my experience here at Markham, behind every far below basic state test score is a child who wants to excel. (Applause) But our polices are making that quest into a struggle against overwhelming odds. It has to stop for our students’ sake and our own.
Thank you. (Applause)
Can’t we keep our teachers? Can we keep our teachers? Are you all going to help me?
You’re going to help me?
All right, let’s do it.
Thank you. It’s now my privilege to turn this back over to our fearless leader, Principal Tim Sullivan. (Applause)
Students, our civics lesson is almost over. But prior to that I want to give a special round of applause to a special team that has been with us from day one and without their support it makes what we do every day more tough. Please give a round of applause for Family School Leader Mr. “Doc” Urbin. (Applause) Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — also a huge round of applause for CEO for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Mr. Marshall Tuck. (Applause) And our fearless leader on a number of battlefronts, supporting us from day one, our Superintendent of Instruction, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Dr. Angela Bass. (Applause)
So students, I know at this point in time there are a lot of things going on in your head, wondering why you’re sitting in the audience. And I truly wanted to make this a civics lesson for you and for the teachers. A lot of this you will not understand until you get into high school, which goes right along with the California State Standards that are attached to this assignment. It comes as you will become a junior in high school, is when this standard will apply to you. So talking about sharing something with you, to reach a new level of academic excellence, today you learned something that high schools are learning.
So prior to closing I would like to give one more accolade to our outstanding teachers for your adjustments and making sure that our children are our most important thing here at Markham Middle School. (Applause)
Our message is truly being heard and we want you to know, students, that you are in our best interests and you are our future. The way we change the face of Watts, we know is through you and we know that it is you who will also change the face of California. (Applause)
We would like to say thank you to all of our outside supporters that came to attend this event today to listen to our message. We would like for everyone to, most importantly, give all of our leaders of tomorrow a big round of applause. (Applause) As we close out, I would truly like to give a huge thank you to the Governor for taking time out of his schedule to make this the most important part of this day. (Applause)
At this point in time this will bring out press conference to a close. Students, this will bring our civics lesson to a close today. Teachers, thank you for adjusting your schedules. Staff members, thank you for making this event an outstanding event. And students, we still have more school today, so please be patient and your teachers will escort you back to class. But to the rest of our community folks, parents, thank you very much for today. (Applause)