National Action Co-Coordinator
Bess is a founding member of Save Our Schools, a current Steering Committee member, and a key organizer of the summer 2011 SOS rally, march and conference in Washington, DC. As a former elementary teacher, longtime teacher educator/researcher, and lifelong education activist, Bess has devoted her life’s work to exposing and opposing the inequities and injustices of U.S. public education. She has worked with teachers on the Navajo reservation, in the barrios of NM and AZ, and in urban school districts in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states to support multicultural/multilingual, democratic and child-centered education. Bess has published and presented widely on the negative impact of federal policies on our schools and classrooms, particularly in the area of literacy. Her books include Reading for Profit: How the Bottom Line Leaves Kids Behind, which exposes the corporate agenda behind federal literacy policies and the negative impact of mandated curriculum on the literacy development of young children in urban schools.
Teaching is my life’s work. Whether I am working with 4 years olds, as I did when I began formal instruction, or with 45 year olds who I mentored during their educational endeavors, I teach as I breathe. Nurturing growth in the people I work with, and in my self, is my want. While I could check any or all of the above boxes, the one missing is as I see myself; I am a gardener. I nurture growth.
- Low Income School
- Urban City School
- Certification/ Recognition
My work has been in urban settings throughout the United States. Almost all of my work has been with minority students and with children of poverty. As an Educator, I yearn to bring a love of learning to life in children. As a parent, I am able to relate to a Mom or Dad’s desire to provide their offspring with the best education. I believe that that last statement must not be followed with the words “money can buy.” For all of my life I have been out on the streets fighting for equality and equity. I do this within schools too.
Current and Previous Involvement in the Movement
I first volunteered to work with SOS in November of 2010. I became an active member of the executive committee, and took the lead on fundraising. I was integral in the overall planning and operations for the 2011 March and Rally. Subsequently, I served on the interim Steering Committee selection group. I was elected and served on the 2011-2012 Steering Committee. My focus throughout the early part of this term was to have a meaningful, well-run, and stimulating National Convention; however, I never lost sight of the broader vision. I think it essential to grow the Save Our Schools movement! It is for this reason I serve on committees within SOS. On-the-ground, daily, I talk to people about the need to preserve and transform public education. I work to expand awareness for the SOS Guiding Principles. I attend and speak at events that promote authentic education and assessment.
Through our relationships with each other and our communities, I trust change can and will come.
I am most interested in working at the national level to grow the organization. My background and experience with Save Our Schools demonstrates my ability to work with a diverse group of people to accomplish specific goals while affirming Save Our Schools core principles. I would bring an even handed, thoughtful, and empathetic attitude to the administration of my responsibilities as the national director. I am grounded in day-to-day grassroots work in Chicago, and have raised funds for SOS. I helped organize many large events, the two SOS conferences among these.
National Action Co-Coordinator
My family was and remains a family of activists. The intense, loud, and passionate conversations around our dinner table, often including aunts, uncles, and cousins, were where we solved the problems of our individual lives, other family members, the community, and the world. It was at this table that we engaged about the roles that we should play in the various movements that were growing around us. This focus on activism was the center of my life growing up in the 1960s and truly coming of age in the late 1960s and 1970s. When I was fourteen, I took a train from New York City to Washington DC to attend my first national action event, a protest of the ways in which Jews were excluded form emigrating to the United States and left to suffer at the hands of Soviet oppressors. This was a time of grave and important consciousness raising about the environment, workers’ rights, LGBTQI rights, civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and more. I went to Washington DC and took to the streets of my campus in New York to protest the war in Vietnam and remain convinced to this day that our work then pushed the war to end sooner that it may have had we not spoken and acted up.
When I decided to become a teacher, I did not initially consider my work to be political, but learned very quickly how wrong I was. I learned to teach using the open classroom philosophy and spent a year in various outstanding progressive classrooms throughout New York City and the surrounding area. It was in those classrooms that I became conscious of the politicization of teaching and learning. Where I’d thought that our work in classrooms was safe and at the discretion of teachers, I soon learned that behaviorist views of teaching and learning were quite attractive to those in power, including politicians and other policy makers. I learned that our children are vulnerable and often live at the discretion of those in power. Yet, increasingly I learned that those in power quite often and quite easily lied about what they wanted for our children, their teachers, and the communities in which they lived. I learned that differences in language and culture were easily and mistakenly viewed as deficits that must be fixed rather than richnesses that should be tapped as the central lifeblood to lives in schools.
Thus began a lifetime of resistance, opposition, and activism focused on having classrooms become safe places for teachers and children to think and learn. Yet that simple statement—safe places for teachers and children to think and learn—upsets, challenges, and intimidates those in power who claim to know what’s best for children and teachers. I began joining and gradually assuming leadership roles in national organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English and the Whole Language Umbrella. I was on the executive council of the first and president of the second. I was president of the Center for the Expansion of Language and Thinking, a progressive literacy think tank that helped us with the financial organization of the 2011 SOS march on DC. And I was one of the key organizers of the 2011 action, working with others to have a conference, march, rally, and congress in order to initiate, motivate, and make plans to sustain our work.
Suddenly, it is 2015 and I am in my 42nd year of teaching. I’ve taught almost every grade from graduate classes up to Headstart. Time moves quickly now and it seems that the two years since Washington DC have flown by with little action from SOS. But now we are reinvigorated. We are back, ready to continue the fight, and willing to work with events on the tiniest or largest of scales. We thrive on working as a coalition, which is not always easy but is rooted in the idea that many different groups and individuals with unique voices can work together for the good of the lives of children, teachers, schools, and communities. I remain open to other’s ideas and suggestions and encourage individuals and groups to reach out to members of the SOS structure to get support for actions and events.
Throughout my professional career as a classroom teacher, family and community involvement coordinator, as well as political work, it has been my goal to work to help improve public education for all children. As a member of the SOS Steering Committee and past president of Citizens for Public Schools, I have continue to advocate for democratic public education.
I hold a BA in Social Work and did graduate studies in Bilingual Education at Boston University. I was a Community Fellow in the Urban Studies Department at MIT where I researched school violence. I have spent most of my career life in the field of education, as a kindergarten teacher, school/family and community coordinator, and supporter of parent/teacher collaboration. I am an admin for United Opt Out national and I sit on the Advisory Board of Citizens for Public Schools (CPS) in Boston, MA.
I served on MA Governor Deval Patrick’s Readiness Subcommittee on MCAS and Assessments, an initiative that brought together a diverse group of educators, to advise the governor on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MA high stakes exam for promotion and graduation requirement). Unfortunately, the governor did not accept the group’s recommendation, and I was disappointed when told by former State Secretary of Education, Paul Reville, “MCAS is here to stay, and you just have to live with it.”
As a member of MA Governor Deval Patrick’s Readiness Project, I highlighted the negative impact of MA’s requirement; it combined with the state’s most racist antibilingual referendum promoted by Mitt Romney and Ron Unz, which ended bilingual education, and forced English Language Learners to take the test after one year of English immersion.
At a Town Hall meeting held by the Governor, I challenged the governor to immerse himself in Spanish for one year, then take the MCAS in Spanish, for that is what the state is asking English Language Learners to do. This testing practice continued for thousands of English Language Learners, until a group filed a lawsuit, which resulted in the state being mandated to provide bilingual instruction to language learners. It is still an uphill battle, but the answer for us in MA is to continue to push for an end to MCAS for ALL students.
Becky is a teacher – parent – grad student – turned engaged/enraged citizen. She entered the teaching profession in 2002, and the longer she taught, the more she questioned the constraints that were placed upon teachers, students, and the inner workings of the classroom. As a third grade teacher in a Title I school, she became disheartened by how much her personal philosophy and moral compass were set into question by the educational policies and practices that were forced upon her school. Since then, she has become a parent and a grad student who finds her time best spent in the struggle to resist the corporatized and undemocratic deform movement. Her graduate research has been grounded in the philosophy of education, the history of schooling in America, and social theory as it applies to oppressive structures that confine teachers and students. Her passions for parenting, teaching, and learning have made SOS an excellent (and logical) place to merge her passions.
Like many, the SOS march in the summer of 2011 was a major catalyst for Becky’s participation in this movement. She attended Occupy DoE and soon became the volunteer staff person for SOS. Working behind the scenes is her forte. She served as the Project Coordinator for the People’s Education Platforms, organized and co-wrote the Student Voice Platform, and served as the Convention Planner for The People’s Education Convention 2012. She is currently curator for The National Gallery of Artful Resistance.
National Action Co-Coordinator
Ceresta Smith is a twenty-five-year veteran educator who has taught grades six through twelve reading, language arts, and beginning and advanced television production. She earned her National Board Certification in Adult/Young Adult English/language arts in 2002 and now serves as a teacher leader and mentor. In September of 2008, she moved from a school deemed “high performing” to serve as a teacher leader and literacy coach in a school deemed “low performing.” While there, she became a 2009 – 2010 recipient of a Jordan Fundamental Grant that facilitated the implementation of Text Titans, a literacy building initiative designed by her and funded by basketball great Michael Jordan’s philanthropic non-profit that honors teachers who motivate and inspire students toward achieving excellence. As a committed educator and activist, Ms. Smith founded the Concerned Teacher Coalition in 2009 to address the inequities in Miami-Dade County’s predominantly African-American public schools. This led to her involvement in the effort to end the implementation of market-based reforms that serve to dismantle public education. One of the original organizers of Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action and a sought after public speaker, she continues to champion for public education in her roles of steering committee member of Save Our Schools and administrator for United Opt Out National, an organization that serves to end punitive high stakes testing and the market-based reforms that are integral to privatizing education.
Labor and Diversity Advisor
He is currently the director of the UMass Dartmouth Arnold M. Dubin Labor Education Center that includes a minor in Labor Studies, a Labor Extension Program and Worker’s Education Program that includes GED and ESOL classes in New Bedford and work places throughout southeastern Massachusetts. The Center works with Workers Centers in southeastern Mass and Rhode Island and is a leading voice for transit justice and public education in the region.
José is a labor educator. His specialty in the field includes the role of people of color in the US Labor Movement, and the role of unions, in the US, Puerto Rico, and other countries in the social and economic justice movement. He also lectures and speaks on the media and labor, the worker’s education movement, and the history and culture of Puerto Rico. José has been a union and community organizer, as well as an award-winning labor journalist in New York (District 65, UAW- Distributive Worker) and New Jersey (CWA State Worker) . Committed to social justice he has worked with Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC) a national religious social justice organization, with various unions in the East, Puerto Rico, and the Southwest. He helped organize one of the first conferences in the US in support of the struggle against apartheid in Southern Africa (SOLSA Conference, Riverside Church, NYC) as well as a conference in Puerto Rico.
He testified in the UN against the apartheid regime in South Africa in support of the African National Congress and the Southwest African People’s Organization (Namibia). He also denounced the militarization of Puerto Rico in conferences in Europe and Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. He has been a lifelong activist for Puerto Rican Independence in Puerto Rico and the US.
José was also the UN representative for the International Organization of Journalists during the 1970s. He was a founding member of the Association of Third World Journalists in the US. He taught World History at the Immaculada Concepción High School in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
He has a BUS from the University of New Mexico and an MA in labor studies from Rutgers University in New Jersey.