April 2016 Advocate: Schools Our Children Deserve Conference


Schools Our Children Deserve:
Tri-union education conference was unprecedented

by Michelle Kern, CSM Part-Timer Rep. and SCI Organizer

“I did not even know Jeff Duncan-Andrade.  I’m so glad I came to this conference for many reasons, but to see my values reflected and valued is really supportive and encouraging.  I love meeting people who want to serve students and the community!”  –comment from Schools Our Children Deserve attendee

What is the future of quality education and community for North San Mateo County?  

This was one of the questions grappled with by three American Federation of Teachers unions in Schools Our Children Deserve, a comprehensive education conference planned and executed by San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers, Jefferson High School Federation of Teachers, and the Jefferson Elementary Federation of Teachers.

The Schools Our Children Deserve conference was held at Skyline College on Saturday, March 19th, and featured speakers and panelists from all over San Mateo, the greater Bay Area, and from the national union based in Washington DC.  The conference planners were assisted by staff from the California Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as with vital input and resources from Skyline College’s staff and administration, and volunteers from all of the locals.

K-12 & community college teachers work together to build community alliances

The conference sprung out of collaboration with organizers from all three locals, with an eye toward putting a spotlight on the need to gain more resources and support for neighborhoods and schools in North San Mateo County.  Jefferson High and Jefferson Elementary locals represent educators and staff from schools in Daly City, Brisbane, Colma, and Pacifica.  Skyline College in particular is a destination school for students from North County, making it a natural fit to round out the trio, with the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers.

Melinda Dart and Elaine Francisco, SCI organizers of Jefferson Elementary Federation, AFT 3267, have been holding workshops for parents in their schools, which are very popular and well-attended, and have gained community support for their union.  Sergio Robledo-Maderazo, of Jefferson High Federation, AFT 1481, and Katharine Harer and Michelle Kern of San Mateo Community College Federation, AFT 1493, were inspired by the incredible work of AFT 3267, and all three locals worked for nearly a year on putting the conference program together.  Skyline College generously co-sponsored the event and lent considerable aid to the success of the conference.


Katharine Harer, Melinda Dart, Elaine Francisco, Michelle Kern and Sergio Robledo-Maderazo (left-to-right) at a planning meeting for the conference

Over 300 people registered for the conference, which was offered for free, and provided child-care, free gifts and school supplies, and meals. There was a great mix of attendees, which included families, students, teachers, school staff, and local school board members.

Pushing for equity for underserved students

The morning session featured magnetizing speakers, which included inspiring words from Skyline President Regina Stanback Stroud, California Assemblymember (and AFT 1493 member) Tom Ammiano, and well-loved SFSU Ethnic Studies educator and community education activist Jeff Duncan-Andrade as keynote speaker.  All three speakers spoke passionately on behalf of the need for greater equity for students in underserved communities.  Duncan-Andrade spoke brilliantly on the theme of the difference between equality and equity, and the role educators and schools should play in healing trauma in children as part of education and creating community.

Conference-Duncan-Andrade-webJeff Duncan-Andrade spoke about how educators should work for student equity

Wide range of workshops & forums

After the morning speakers, attendees moved on to a choice of 14 different workshops, which covered topics spanning all age groups, from pre-K to college.  Community forums on education funding, early childhood workforce issues, and the housing crisis in San Mateo were also offered and were very popular.  The early childhood workforce Town Hall was helmed by panelists SMCOE Superintendent, Anne Campbell, State Senator Jerry Hill, Senior Program Associate for the WestEd E3 Institute, George C. Philipp, and San Mateo County Supervisor, David Pine and was very well-attended.

“Live & Learn: The Effects of the Housing Crisis on Education & Educators” was presented by two community housing activist agencies, 4 North County and Fair Rents 4 Pacifica, and attracted great attention from attendees.  All three unions are looking at ways to get membership involved in helping to solve issues of housing in San Mateo County next year, as the current crisis also impacts education and quality of life for both our students and workforce.

Students looking to transition to community college had a generous choice of workshops to attend, including “College Survival Skills 101”, facilitated by Suzanne Poma, “Coming & Going:  Making the Transition To & From Community College”, facilitated by Lavinia Zanassi, “Keeping the Community in Community College: The Value of Life-long Learning”, facilitated by Denise Erickson, and “Meet Your Academic Family: The Benefits of Learning Communities & Academies”, facilitated by Lucia Lachmayer.

Skyline students present spoken word poetry

Conference-HipHopPoetry1-webAfter the breakout sessions, attendees returned to hear poetry by Skyline CIPHER students, Nate Umagat (in photo at left) and Mina Yazdani, who were introduced by their teacher, Janice Sapigao, who is also on the Executive Committee of AFT 1493.

Josh Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers, gave an outstanding ending keynote, which presented a state-wide perspective on how the union is working to support education in regions like North San Mateo County.  Pechthalt also spoke on the political issues in 2016 to increase education funding for the state schools, like the renewal of Proposition 30, the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax” which will be expiring soon, and has been vital to preserving quality education in California.

After the conference, the organizers all discussed ways to build on the relationships created by the community engagement brought about by the conference, including plans to establish a new website, hold forums on focused community issues in education in San Mateo, and get public involvement in the upcoming local and state education funding measures on the 2016 ballot.  The positive response from our community shows potential for grassroots and union partnership to move the needle in the upcoming year on our shared regional concerns and issues.

Conference-ServingPizza-webAFT 1493 Executive Committee members Janice Sapigao & Najla Abrao helped serve lunch to conference attendees