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LETTER: I teach at the 'Central Falls High School' of Miami, Florida, and we won't let you scapegoat us for your problems

I teach at a school just like Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. I am a teacher just like those summarily fired at Central Falls. Speaking to the US Chamber of Commerce this week, President Barack Obama gave his stamp of approval to the mass firings. He said it was just. He said it was right.

The greatest trauma of my otherwise glorious quarter century long teaching experience at Miami Carol City High School has been the violent deaths of several of my students. Among their murders, unspeakable tragedies all, none was more affecting than the killing of Jeffrey Johnson, Jr..

Along with many others, I have since been very protective of the legacy of Jeffrey Johnson, Jr. Today I feel compelled to apologize to all who knew and cherished him. In a moment of euphoria days after he was elected President of the United States, I foolishly compared Barack Obama favorably to Jeffrey.

It was in town hall testimony and in a defense of Jeffrey's school and my school at a time it was being threatened with the kind of "turnaround" that has wrought so much pain at Central Falls High. I had been taken in by Barack Obama's campaign rhetoric and the Grant Park victory speech. I thought change was really soon to come. Time has proven the lie and my poor judgment has sullied the memory of this precious young man.

FUND THE SCHOOLS, CLOSE PRISONS! One teacher's testimony, Town Hall Meeting, Miami Carol City Senior High School Auditorium, November 10, 2008.

My name is Paul Moore and I have been teaching social studies here at Carol City High for 26 years. The testimony I will give comes from my own experience here at this great school. I do believe though that it reflects the experience of educators in great schools across the country.

Even though you come here not to praise us but rather to threaten us with state sanctions, welcome to our home Mr. Hernandez (a representative of the Florida Department of Education). You are here today because you have looked at scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and based on those scores alone, decided that Miami Carol City High is a failing school. I must tell you that I could not care less about changing your mind. You are just carrying water for much more powerful men. But I do want to tell you some things about us and ask you to relay a message to your bosses.

Three of our graduates have died in Iraq. When Donnie Dixon, Class of '88 was killed he left behind a wife and their four children. Joe Polo, Class of '95 was younger than Donnie when he died in combat. Joe didn't have any children but he was engaged to be married when he returned to this community after his second tour of duty in the war zone. Charles Sims, Class of '03 was the youngest of our fallen warriors. He was a fresh faced 19-year-old, less than six months out of this school's JROTC classes when he gave his life for you and me and this country. How many young men like Donnie, Joe, and Charles would a school have to produce to get off your list of failing schools?

A teacher was shot at Miami Carol City High last year. In fact we just observed the anniversary, Nov. 6, 2007, when Sergio Miranda and Maria Vives went across the street to smoke a cigarette during their lunch break. Someone came out of the public housing there and shot Mr. Miranda. The bullet lodged near his spine and, as you might imagine, the whole incident severely traumatized Ms. Vives. To this day our colleague undergoes difficult rehabilitation sessions several times a week. But when he is well again Mr. Miranda has pledged to return to this school! When he comes back he will be reunited with Ms. Vives who returned to her students in a matter of days. How much courage and dedication must teachers demonstrate to get off your list of failing schools?

Many of our students live in or near the 33054. A local newspaper recently analyzed crime statistics and made a startling announcement about the neighborhood adjacent to our school. The 33054 is the most dangerous place to be young in all of Florida. The Miami Herald found that inside the boundaries of zip code 33054 the children and young people live under the most severe threat of violence to be found anywhere in this state. Are there any schools in those upscale suburban neighborhoods on your list of failing schools?

Two of my brothers in the teaching fraternity here at Carol City, Mr. Hafter and Mr. Adler, joined me to teach two and three social studies classes at a time in this auditorium in recent years. All our senior students would pass through here during the week. Let me tell you about just five from the Class of 2006. A particularly quiet young man named Evan Page used to come in here for class. A few days after Thanksgiving 2005 Evan was shot to death outside the Checkers where he worked after school. Anthony Elias attended class in this auditorium. The other students called him "Yellowman" because of his light complexion. He was quite popular with the girls. I don't know, something about him being "fine". Anthony was killed with an assault rifle. Sherika Wilson Lynch took her social studies class in this auditorium. She was a student and the beautiful young mother of a baby she named Ahmani. Her baby was 16-months-old when she died. One day Sherika was coming out of a convenience store in the 33054. When she was gunned down a carton of milk for Ahmani fell to the sidewalk beside her. Brian Dupree was once a fun-loving jovial presence in this auditorium. His father is a security monitor in the school. Brian was shot and died just outside his father's home.

Then there was Jeffrey Johnson, Jr. No disrespect intended but he laughed at your FCAT. Jeffrey was a brilliant young man, one of our honor students, headed for a meaningful education at St. Thomas University on a full scholarship. An aspiring lawyer, he once wrote, "I have had a lot of exposure to the legal system and its ramifications. I do not agree with all of it. But I figure they need some good guys like me who do it from the heart, not for the money. I'm so passionate about my goals because I have a hunch that I can make a difference."

Jeffrey Johnson, Jr. perished violently three days before he was supposed to graduate from Carol City High. A street outside the school bears his name now. But as one of his teachers, there has been no consolation in the many tributes paid Jeffrey since his death, until something that happened last Tuesday Nov. 4, 2008 at 11:00 p.m. EST. For the first time it made me think of Jeffrey in a joyful way. A young man like Jeffrey who did graduate from high school, a young man like Jeffrey who did go to law school, a young man like Jeffrey who did get to live out his passion to make a difference, a young man like Jeffrey was elected President of the United States!

Mr. Hernandez, please take this message back to Florida's Commissioner of Education Eric J. Smith and Governor Crist. We are among the people who loved Jeffrey Johnson and who elected Barack Obama president. Any plans you may have had when George W. Bush was in the White House and pushing No Child Left Behind are canceled! Any plans that were drawn up under Jeb Bush's FCAT system are canceled! You will never close Miami Carol City Senior High School! You will never close Edison, Central, Holmes, Liberty City Elementary, Norland, North Miami or any of the other schools on your list! We won't let you!

Paul A. Moore, Teacher, Miami Carol City Senior High School, Home of the Chiefs since '63



Comments:

March 4, 2010 at 5:54 AM

By: Sharon Schmidt

Real students, real teachers

Paul, your piece is so moving. Thanks for writing about real people. How/why can people making education decisions focus on numbers instead of people?

School has always been about relationships. Thank God for the joys and sorrows we have working with complex and precious human beings!

So many of us in the schools celebrated in November 2008. But as soon as Obama appointed Arne Duncan and fully embraced of the Chicago model of school closings and high-stakes testing of children we knew another leader was going to be in love with numbers instead of people.

I hope your Florida schools don't get closed. It keeps happening in Chicago.

March 4, 2010 at 11:15 AM

By: kugler

Obama the Rat

remember back to the republic windows action and obama stated we needed to protect workers rights? what a two faced rat. he is no better than any other crook politician who will sell his soul to be elected.

March 7, 2010 at 4:45 PM

By: Terry

The schools don't need more money

Money doesn't equal education. The American people have been throwing money at schools for decades now and they have only grown to be expensive daycares that instill nothing in kids - especially inner-city kids..

Better to get rid of the unions, slash school budgets by 80%, and get back to teaching, to challenging these people.

You choose your profession for reason right or wrong, and like most good liberls you only end up making things worse.

March 7, 2010 at 6:55 PM

By: Margaret Wilson

retired teacher/parent

To: Schools don't need more money

If you compare the budget of most suburbs with those of inner city schools, you will see that the suburban schools have fewer students and more money available per student. My mom worked in Park Ridge while I worked in the inner city schools, you constantly gave me things that her school had a surplus of while I had to beg and borrow for the same basic material. NO MONEY DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN A GOOD EDUCATION but money is necessary to get students what they need. Most inner city teachers put a lot of their own money into supplies and materials that the students need which shows that they care and want students to learn. In 34 years, I only worked with a handful of teachers who didn't devote volunteer hours and purchase things for their students. STOP BLAMING TEACHERS FOR EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!

March 8, 2010 at 6:03 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

No 'spamahrrea' here. Right wing spammers not welcome at SubstanceNews unless they give real names

Below is a letter I just sent to the person who wrote the comment "The Schools Don't Need More Money" from "Terry."

In the future, since we are facing many deadlines, Substance may begin deleting all anonymous and pseudononymous "comments," since right wing nut cases like to waste all of our times with their spamarrhea and we don't need to hear from them unless they use real names and real e-mail addresses.

3/8/10

Dear 'Terry':

Please identify yourself by first name and last name in any current or future post you make to "Comments" at www.substancenews.net. Also, in order to allow your posts to continue, I will need a phone number (home; office; cell) to prove your existence.

If I do not hear from you by midnight on March 8, 2010, your recent (March 7) post in the name of "Terry" will be taken down.

SubstanceNews is not a blog. Our comment policy requires that those who post flames utilize their full names, not pseudonyms.

Thanks for your kind consideration in this matter. I look forward to knowing more about you,

George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

March 8, 2010 at 10:10 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Honor

This schools should get more money and resources, rather than be closed or turned-around. They could use these resources to continue working with the community and students to make it safer. It is interesting that schools that need the most are the ones closed. The teachers deserve our respect. This is very sad.

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