Monday, April 23, 2007

Dear Dr. Vigil

Peggy Peabody chose to write a message to Dale. We happen to be lucky enough to read along.

Dear Dr. Vigil,

As I tried to sleep in on this Saturday morning, I felt compelled to drag my exhausted body out of bed.  My mind is now clocked in to rise at 5:00 a.m. so that I can meet my fellow staff members on the picket line at Longwood. This morning I cannot shut off my mind, so since I have no staff members to meet on the weekend, you are the next best thing.  We need to talk, or maybe I just have a lot to say to you.

Yesterday, April 20, the day of the Families in Action March to the District Office, became a day I will never forget in my life.  I witnessed before me the most powerful and the most positive union of people I have ever had the privilege to see.  Standing among them was a priceless gift.

Did you see us?  Did you see the thousands of people before you?  I saw you there.  We were beautiful.  We were respectful.  We had a positive message, even under the understandable anger and frustration. We were considerate of others. We were united.

Did you hear us?  Did you hear the parents speak?  Did you hear the voices of many who until now have been silent?  I saw you there.  I heard voices firm in their resolve.  I heard laughter and care amid cries for change.  I heard an empathetic moment of silence and
sympathy for the Virginia Tech family right in the middle of a heated protest.  In both the noise and the silence, we clearly demonstrated that we know and value, not only what is going on in the bigger world.  We showed that we know what is important in Virginia and we know what is important in Hayward.  We were united and empathetic.  

Did you understand us?  Did you get beyond the discomfort we all were feeling to find a place where the needs of the parents and their children, of our students, of the teachers, could fit in to this current disagreement among adults?  I saw you there.  I heard parents demand that students get back to school.  I heard them demand teachers get fair pay.  I heard them ask us if we were ready to settle it today…and we said yes!  We said yes! We were united, empathetic, and focused.

We pulled out our phones wanting to call our HEA bargaining team to tell them the great news.  It was great news that we had chanted, that we wanted to talk, to negotiate again.  Of course HUSD would bargain too, right?  Then we stopped, remembering that HEA efforts were currently focused on fighting a possible injunction from HUSD.  What were we to do?  We waited to see what would happen next.

Parents raised their hands, many of them for the first time in such an environment.  They chose to take a stand, to step outside of their comfort zone, to be come a part of the change they desired in their district.  They marched one by one into the conference room.   We left to go back to our sites.

For the first time since early April, I walked away hopeful, hopeful that this would be the turning point.  I trusted that you had really seen and listened.  How could this gathering of people not move you?  I miss my students.  They miss me, but… we have been negotiating while we were in the classroom.  THAT DID NOT WORK…REMEMBER!  I waited and watched for the next move.

Later from home I saw the parent meeting clips on TV.  You were there yourself.  You saw them there right before you.  You heard them speak directly to you. Did you understand what they were trying to say?

Then the news mentioned that the injunction had been filed.  The district is quoted as saying it felt it had no choice!  I was shocked.  Had t oday just been a dream?  You might as well have stuck me in the heart with my picket sign.  I was so disappointed.  And just when we were all sending such a clear and unified message.  You were there!  I thought you asked those parents to meet with you for a good reason! 

I don’t understand how this injunction could still be filed in the light of the events of the day.

I am actually a product of Catholic Schools from first grade through college.  I received my credential as an undergraduate still in a Catholic college.  As a student, I only attended public schools for Kindergarten and to do my Administrative Services Credential to clear my Multiple Subjects Certificate.  It took me a long time to learn the “union way.”  It was very different from my own experience.  Initially I did not understand it, but I paid attention and learned.  I trusted the people around me, ba sed on the integrity I witnessed in their everyday actions.  I am so glad I paid attention.

I need to tell you that I get it now!  I stand together with some of the most committed professionals around.  I am honored to be in their presence.  I commend their ability to do what they do on everyone’s behalf.  I know of your opinions of unions.  Apparently, we have had far different experiences.  If only you could be in my shoes right now, worn as they are, they feel good.

Remember my little Shawnee?  I am sure you must.  I miss her terribly and worry about her reading progress during the strike.  It took so much for her family to begin her education just in January.  You don’t know Marisol.  She cries.  She came to the march yesterday withboth of her parents.  They took the day off work.  Marisol bravely searched for me in the crowd.  We cried together on the grass.  Max came to visit us on the picket line earlier in the week.  His mom has been calling and calling your office for an appointment.  She hasn’t
been called back yet.  It has been over a week.  He misses me too.  I have many more just like these three.

There are a whole lot more of these little faces wanting to be back in the classroom.  But did you notice?  They have been staying home.  They have been staying home because they are a key part of this struggle and their parents understand that.  Their parents are not denying them an education.  They are just getting a different one right now. 

We are on the picket lines, not just for money, but also for respect.  The attendance numbers at our sites have been the parents’ way of showing us that respect.

Yes, the injunction, if successful, will bring us back together in the classroom.  Of course I will knock myself out to clean up the mess the scabs made and let the few students make in my classroom.  I hope the student reports of thefts in our classrooms, sanctioned by scabs, according to them, are false.  I doubt the students just made it up!  Of course I will get real curriculum flowing immediately, not the packets my students had already done prior to the strike, once again.  We were ready for the STAR Test before the strike.  We will resume their education, but at what real cost?

We have all received a different sort of education during all this.  My students now better understand integrity and standing up for what is right.  Their parents have demonstrated how to take action when they feel they have been misrepresented.  Our teachers have felt their love and support in the form of food, visits, discussions on the driveways and picket lines.  There is tangible proof everyw here that we have all learned something new.

Injunction or not, teachers deserve their COLA.  My sign says, “I’d share my COLA if I had one!”  I never drink soda much, anyways. It is not very good for you, anyhow!  However, I would really prefer it on my paycheck!  So would my colleagues.

I am very disappointed in HUSD’s choice and timing to file this injunction.  Didn’t you see us, the thousands of us? I saw us.  I looked at every face I could as we guided them in your direction. 

We will always remember April 20, 2007.  This is the day parents, students, teachers, and the community sent you a clear message.  Settle our contract!  Stop wasting our time stalling with an injunction.  We deserve respect.

Peggy Peabody
Longwood School
Striking Teacher


Anonymous said...

What a great letter Peggy! I'm proud to be out on the frontlines with you!
Que viva los maestros! Que viva los estudiantes! Que viva HEA!

Yucaipa-Calimesa Teachers said...

Well said!