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Jan 09

Detroit Public Schools Teacher Responds to Emergency Manager Comments

DarnellEarly

Photo Credit: Steve Perez, The Detroit News

Mr. Darnell Earley was appointed in January 2013 as the “Emergency Manager” (EM) of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R). If the name “Darnell Earley” sounds familiar, it may be because Mr. Earley was also appointed by Gov. Snyder to be the EM of the City of Flint Michigan; it was during that tenure that Mr. Earley and Mr. Snyder made the decision to switch Flint’s water supply from the Detroit Water Department to the Flint River “to save money”. As we now know, hundreds of thousands of residents in Flint have permanent lead poisoning damage due to the unsafe water conditions ignored by Messers Earley and Snyder and caused by their “money-saving” decision.

So now Mr. Earley (whose DPS salary is $225,000 a year) is in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, an unelected overseer who has proven that his previous decisions are unsound at best. The Detroit Public Schools are in such a dire financial condition (the EM was supposed to “fix” the finances) that they district says it will run out of money by April 2016. The working conditions of the schools are so deplorable that DPS teachers have been staging rotating “sick-ins” at different schools in the District (strikes by public school teachers are illegal).

Mr. Earley has commented that the teachers are the ones who are using DPS students as “political pawns” and “endangering their education” and are being self-centered and putting the District at further financial risk. Oh really?

Pam Namyslowski, a 4h grade teacher with 24 years of classroom experience at DPS, had some choice words for Mr. Earley. As you read her words, keep in mind that Ms. Namyslowski is a veteran EDUCATOR, as opposed to a carpetbagger “businessman” who has never spent a day in a public school classroom.

(Disclaimer: I am a retired public school teacher and college professor with over 30 years of experience teaching all grade levels from PreK through community college. Just in case you are wondering “whose side” I am on for this issue…)

 

I have been a teacher in Detroit Public Schools for 24 years. I feel the need to respond to some of the comments you made during your press conference this week. You described the actions of protesting teachers as “unethical”. I’m curious, then, how you would characterize the learning conditions of the children of Detroit Public Schools that have existed for years. These deplorable learning conditions happen to also be the teachers’ working conditions. We deal with unsafe environments – both in the neighborhoods surrounding our schools and often within the schools themselves. Unlike you, students and teachers do not have a driver and security guards. Students who travel to and from school pass numerous abandoned, dangerous buildings and have been robbed, assaulted, and raped. Teachers have been victims of violent crimes and have had their vehicles and personal property damaged and/or stolen, sometimes repeatedly. They suffer verbal abuse and some have been assaulted by angry students or parents. Many schools have numerous plumbing problems in the lavatories, drinking fountains, and sinks. Many outdated school buildings are crumbling – roofs, floors, windows, doors, and locks that are broken or in desperate need of repair. Far too many classrooms are overcrowded, creating conditions that are not even safe, let alone conducive to learning. I’m wondering where the concern and outrage over that is? In the past decade, teachers have lent the district almost $10,000 that we now fear we may never get back. We have taken a 10% paycut in a salary that was already significantly lower than surrounding districts.
You called upon the mayor, the city council, the clergy of Detroit to “be the voice of the children.” Mr. Earley, rest assured there is no one in this city, other than the parents, who care more about the education, happiness, and well being of the students of Detroit Public Schools, than we teachers do. We ARE their voice. We are on the front line, working side by side with them every day, trying our best to overcome numerous obstacles. In the winter, we often work in freezing rooms with our coats on with them. In the summertime , we survive with them in stifling heat and humidity in temperatures that no one should have to work in. We wipe their tears and listen when they are upset. We send food home with them. We encourage them to persevere and to be hopeful about their futures. We celebrate their successes. We comfort them when they experience loss and tragedy. We give up time with our own children to support our students, who we also consider our children. We spend our own money to buy not only learning materials, but things such as uniforms, hand soap, sanitizer, and Kleenex.
You accuse us of drowning out the voices of our students. You stated we are “using students as pawns to advance a political position.” You have it backwards. The children of Detroit HAVE been used as pawns. Their voices have indeed been drowned out. But make no mistake, this has not been done by the teachers. Educational decisions are now being made by politicians. Schools are being run like businesses. We have been vilified by these politicians. We have been made accountable for things we have no control over. We have been forced to administer numerous developmentally inappropriate tests to our students and then we and our students are judged by the meaningless scores. We have watched the debt increase to ridiculous, unsustainable levels under state appointed emergency managers, while the conditions we teach in have deteriorated alarmingly. We have been set up to fail in every way. The successes that happen in classrooms every day, both academic and emotional, largely go unseen, and most cannot be measured or displayed on a data wall. We, as teachers, know our students and what they need. It is heartbreaking to see that our students don’t have what they need and certainly not what they deserve.
The recent action of teachers is not an attempt to drown out the voices of the students. It is an attempt to finally make their voices heard.

Sincerely,
Pam Namyslowski
4th Grade Teacher
Mann Elementary School