A Lesson with Eric Heins

President of California Teachers Association

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Are there any ballot initiatives or campaigns in the upcoming election that will have a significant effect on public education? What should we as voters and citizens be paying attention to?

First one is Proposition 55, which is the extension of taxes on the top 5% of the wealthiest of Californians. It doesn’t raise taxes but it continues the taxes that were voted on in Proposition 30 and that money goes into a special school account. That’s the foremost that could have a really big impact because if Prop 55 doesn’t go through, schools will immediately lose about 4 billion dollars in the first year and that would set us back in the chaos of recession.

Another one is Proposition 58 which is the Learner’s Initiative. What that would do is give students access to multilingual education. Not just bilingual but also dual immersion, which would be important if we are going to have our students be global citizens and not as insular as we have been.

The CTA has also supported Proposition 52 that brings medicare and healthcare to poor families, which obviously affects our students and their education.


Do you have suggestions for students, teachers and parents who would like to get more involved with public education in their localities?

Two years ago Governor Brown changed the school funding system so all the money goes to the districts. Districts are required under the law to involve the community as well as the teachers in building a local accountability plan that outlines how that money is being spent. As those plans are updated every other year  and as they are developed, people can definitely get involved in the process. The district doesn’t always have a meaningful way for the community to get involved and also engage with the teachers in the discussion about how best to spend that money to help the students we all know.

The second way for people to get involved is to vote.  Get to know the candidates, run for the school board if that’s what you want to do but engage in the process and don’t feel that you are aside from it because you really can make an impact. In California, one of the reasons we are actually doing much better than the rest of the country is because we have some of the right people elected in office. We are not like Louisiana or Florida where the state is in complete turmoil with the public education system. We are doing a lot of exciting things and it’s because we are actively engaging.

One of the things I found intriguing about the play was how Thomas was thinking about becoming a you-tuber and that’s how I think students can get involved. There is a whole new economy that these young kids can create. Old folks like me, we don’t even know what exists yet! If students see opportunities, they should go for it!  Learn about  what the world is like and create something new out of it. Who knew you could turn tweeting into a job?


A Lesson with Tovi Scruggs

Regional Executive Director for ‘Partners in School Innovation’

Having led a nonprofit private school that focuses on STEM education for underserved youth in the Bay Area, can you discuss some of the benefits and challenges of developing this program? 

STEM is extremely important for underrepresented youth because it really is the future of our work force in so many ways. We know that math is a foundation for both science and technology so the earlier we are able to introduce to it to underserved youth, the better. On top of that, youth of color are very kinesthetic in their learning, very hands on and experiential. When STEM is read about too much it doesn’t have that impact on youth of color that it does if they are able to experience it with materials.

One of the challenges is the digital divide. If children can’t transfer what they are learning in schools to their community, their home, their conversations with their family members, that digital divide (which varies in levels and modalities) can be a downfall. Also if they get to school and are doing too much virtual learning, that’s not good for them either. It is a fine balance.


As High School Principal, I am sure you have encountered difficulties obtaining funding for school programs. How can these difficulties be combated?

 We are just starting to get money again in the last two years in education and it still doesn’t seem to be enough. I feel like a lot of what is being criticized and complained about schools is really the result of creating poor conditions. It’s really our citizenship, our corporations and businesses that can help to fix the conditions of our schools. I don’t think they should privatize in terms of making choices about what is being learned and the expertise of teachers and educators because we are trained to do this work. For some reason people think that education is a ‘free for all’ in terms of who has the best opinion about how to do it. We don’t do that with medicine, we don’t do that with tech. To honor us as professionals is key yet give us the resources and access to the wealth that you are generating from who we serve so we can create better conditions to have better outcomes.  

A Lesson with Lita Blanc

President of United Educators of San Francisco


As someone who has taught in the Mission District for 29 years, what recent changes have public schools in the area undergone as a result of gentrification?

In my school – Moscone Elementary (I call it ‘my’ because I was there for 27 years, a long time!) interestingly enough the student population has always been the working class immigrant population; however, what we saw in the last few years, was a gradual out-flux of parents who were leaving the schools because they were forced to double or triple up in crowded housing spaces in the Mission. When families could get resources together they would move to the East bay.

We have also seen an increase in the number of poor and homeless children coming to our schools. There were some kids who were coming to school without having used the restroom because their living spaces were so crowded!


Having watched ‘Schooled’ and having a protest history of activism, can you suggest ways in which parents teachers and students can control public education?

First of all, every parent is every child’s first teacher. Every school that has a sense of community has to be welcoming to the parents. Parents no matter their work schedules need to assert their right to be involved in their kid’s education.

Our teacher unions are working with parents and community groups in San Francisco but across the country there is a new coalition called ‘Alliance to Reclaim our Schools.’ It was formed in large part by teachers and parents in Chicago and in places like St Louis where charters were pushing and public schools were closing. It was formed on the notions that schools need be kept public, charters need to be kept out and resources need to be garnered for community schools. This alliance started a year ago and now they’ve started having National Days of Action under the same banner- ‘Fighting for the Schools our Children Deserve.’ There was a day of action last February with about 50 cities with student and parents who staged walk-ins. A walk-in is when the community gets together in front of their schools before the school day and has a little rally to say “This is why we love our schools and this is what we want for our children.” Everyone then goes together into the schools as opposed to walking out. There will be another day of action on October 6th and we hope to involve as many as 20 schools from San Francisco. The notion that these walk-ins are nationwide is important because policy makers in Washington and across the country will eventually pay attention if we make enough noise.

Here in California we also have to pass Prop 55!

A Lesson with Jeremiah Jeffries

Board Member and Founding Coordinator for ‘Teacher 4 Social Justice’


  ‘Teachers 4 Social Justice’ is centered less around local political activism and more on larger policy work. What larger education policies can help resolve the problems we saw in the play?

Recently we put out a statement around community grown local charter schools that serve a very specific need that the public schools are not addressing. For example ‘Five Keys’ in San Francisco is an excellent charter school and they serve people in the prison. Different decisions have to made than what would usually happen in a school context because of the nature of the prison complex and the relationship that has to exist between teachers and prison guards to make that a safe environment for schooling. This an appropriate case of where the private partner is really another government agency and also accountable in a different way than public schools. A long time ago there was a program called ‘Urban Pioneers’ which focused on outdoor education. Back in the early 2000’s there was a small school’s initiative within public schools which was a really effective. These types of programs really should be absorbed by the district.

But charters in general are not a good use of investment. They are not accountable in anyway to the public and ultimately do not serve as well. People should be investing their time, energy and efforts into public schools to make change and that’s the best way to move forward.


Have schools like Redding Elementary or other public schools in the area had to tackle similar issues as Eleanor Roosevelt High in ‘Schooled’?

Having to choose between spending money on a paraprofessional/someone who can work directly with a child or on infrastructure like computers so that kids can have access to technology is one of the constant tensions in schools given the funding cuts. The impact of Proposition 13 that the Mime Troupe brought up in ‘Schooled’ was spot on because that really transformed California schools from  one the best and most accessible public school systems to now rising tuition costs for higher education, deep cuts in public education and a loss of the arts for public school kids at younger ages.

A Lesson with Frank Adamson

Senior Policy and Research Analyst at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)

Frank Adamason

While researching public education reforms in Cuba, Finland and Canada in your recent book “Global Education Reform” what did you discover to be lessons that American educ can learn from schools in those countries?

The big lesson to take away from Finland is the investment in teacher preparation. The government pays for teachers to go to graduate schools and get Master’s degrees before they teach in classrooms. In terms of a more political environment, Canada is a great example, specifically Ontario, because initially the government did attempt to privatize the education system through vouchers in the mid 90’s but parents and teachers didn’t like the way the system was working. The entire government was democratically voted out on an education platform in 2003 and a public investment model was put in place that has been quite successful in the last decade. Cuba is a great example also because despite being a poor country from a GDP perspective, they too have invested heavily in their teacher labor force.

The main message here is that the countries can invest in teachers and that’s what most privatization models don’t want to do. They are seeking to have efficiency by de-professionalizing the teacher labor force, bringing uncertified or emergency credential teachers in the classroom because they are cheaper and taking home the profit from the difference of what the public pays or in tax dollars.


What advice would you give to students in the audience who relate to Thomas’s frustration in the show? How can students, teachers and parents take control of public education?

The show does a great job of capturing local politics at the school board level. School Board Elections in the United States are becoming very expensive because the money interest has seen that the school board influences who gets elected as Superintendent. Superintendents are the ones who control school closure in different districts. School closure is the initial way “along with austerity” to pave the path way for privatization models such as charter schools. The local control of the school board is pivotal in the direction of public education so there is an opportunity at the local level for teachers, parents and students to get involved in education politics.

A Lesson with Gregory Keech

Department Chair of the ESL (English as a Second Language) Program at City College of San Francisco


Since you have been the chair of the ESL department at City College, what have you seen to be the biggest obstacle to providing free public education?

One obstacle is seeing education as a business model rather than as a public service. We have a certain number of students and we get funded for that number of students. But if we don’t have that number, we don’t get that funding.  We in this country are forced to look at schools and think “We are not making enough profit, we are not getting enough students to make enough money.” If I don’t have 20 students in my class, they will want to cut the class in my department.


How do the events in the play reflect what happened at City College?

I think that in the attack on City College, there was some background of privatization. There was privatization thinking behind remodeling the school to act better but I don’t think it was a privatization scheme per se. The thing I see in the play that does parallel City College is educators being convinced that their job is transaction. I want to loosely quote Michael Funk  who is responsible for after school programs at the California Department of Education. He said at a conference I attended “Educators have been convinced that our job is transaction but our real job is transformation.” We saw transformation in the play with the hero of the story – Thomas Jones.  At the end what happened between his teacher and him allowed him to free himself. What he saw as boring became valuable because his teacher made a difference in his mind.

A Lesson with Trish Gorham

President of the Oakland Education Association


How do the events in the play reflect what’s happening in the Oakland school district?

The events in the play are eerily similar to what’s happening in Oakland right now. It’s spot on in terms of the conflicting interests coming into public schools. People come in with flim flam and it’s bought! You saw us hold up signs saying ‘beware of the philanthro-capitalists.’ It used be that schools would write a grant outlining their vision and philanthropists would fund the proposal.  Nowadays philanthropists will provide funding but only if schools follow their curriculum. Corporations will provide schools with these resources IF schools follow their curriculum without any kind of tinkering, that is without allowing a teacher to make professional decisions about  whether the curriculum is appropriate or not. The character of the mother in the play – Lavinia Jones absolutely portrays what we see among members of the political class today. They will accept money for their campaign from a corporation. They think they can control what will happen even though the money is from a source that can control them. That’s a big fallacy. The money will rule if people decide to take it.

Having watched ‘Schooled’ and having a protest history of advocating for public education, can you suggest ways in which we, the people, can protect our schools from being controlled by corporations and other individuals who may not know what is best for the students?

People need to get involved in the most boring level unfortunately. You have to get down to where the decisions are made. There are true democratic governance bodies in each school site in California and getting involved in those school site councils, knowing who funds the school board member elections, knowing where the money is coming from and really demanding at the local state and national level that the resources for schools are not adequate, is vital. For example, California is the 6th largest economy but 46th in funding for students! People also need to get out and pass proposition 55 which will maintain school funding.


Meet Keiko, one of our Actors!

19-year-old Keiko with her mom!

Is there any particular high school project or college assignment you recall struggling with?

Things sticking out in high school? Wow I have been involved in so many projects since then! During high school I was in Iowa and I worked on a campaign to pass the bottle bill. This was in the late 70’s so people didn’t recycle cans or bottles yet. My American History class went to the state capital and lobbied for passing the bottle bill. We had to research how it would help the environment and how many tons of waste were disposed every year. The project felt meaningful because that was the year that Iowa was one of the first states to pass the bottle bill. I think it was 5c/bottle!

Was there any high school professor who really inspired you?

I will cite one person. He was my American Humanities teacher and our debate coach. He ended up becoming a state representative but as a teacher he inspired individualistic thinking. Since I grew up in a traditional Japanese household, as a traditional Japanese daughter there were some things you didn’t really speak about. My mom would tell me “Don’t talk about politics and religion with boys!”But my teacher encouraged us to talk about politics. The debate topic that year was abortion and he encouraged the teenage girls in my class to talk about the pros and cons of the issue. He inspired me to read and research a topic and then argue about it.

How strong were the arts in your school and how early on did you get involved with the arts?

I was really lucky because in the town that I grew up, schools received a lot of state funding. I’d say that my arts education from elementary school to high school was great. We had art and music class weekly. We did a school play every year. In middle school we had an after school drama class. We also had an arts studio. I actually ended up becoming interested in music when I learnt how to play flute in middle school.

Looking back, if you could say something to your student self, what would it be?

I graduated from high school a year early because I really didn’t enjoy the high school experience. I was very impatient to get out of  learning the basics of high school education. I wanted to get to university where I could focus on what I wanted to study, which was music at the time. I spent all my time at summer school and signed up for as many classes as possible. Looking back, I would tell my student self that maybe I didn’t have to be in such a hurry. But I can’t regret anything now, right?


Meet Ira, our Composer and Lyricist!

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Ira in his stylish Boris Badenov Tshirt with his girlfriend during his ‘Schooled’ days in 1988

Was there any high school teacher who had a profound impact on you?

Profound impact? Well, I was kind of raised by wolves. I went from an all boys public high school in Philadelphia to an alternative school in Richmond, Virginia, where I joke that I majored in pinball! The school’s basic attitude was that it was up to you to be motivated. I look back and think it was a cop out for the teachers because it was up to them to give us some limits, to care enough to see that we went to school and punish us when we didn’t.  I wish I’d had a teacher out of a movie who’d change everything and save my life, but that never happened!

So there was no teacher who affected you in any way?

The teacher who actually had the greatest impact on me was my first (and pretty much only) guitar teacher, who did not teach at my school. When I moved to Philadelphia at the age of 10, my parents picked an apartment building that was right next to this other building  where I would see this wild-looking guy walking around with a crowd of kids. He turned out to be a  guitar teacher! Had I not lived there, my life might have been completely different. I’d always wanted to play an instrument. Looking back, there’s a lot to be said for learning music intuitively.  It’s hard to say how different things would be if I’d had more formal training.

Can you recall one of your rebellious high school moments?

When I was in Philadelphia, my hoodlum friends and I were graffiti artists. We would walk through the subway tunnels at 2 in the morning with our little gym bags with spray cans and decorate the subway stations.

What was your signature name?

I had a couple of names. One of them was CZ that stood for Crazy Zebra. I would write out Zebra when I had enough time.

Looking back, if you could say something to your student self, what would it be?

There is such a temptation to rebel and go your own way. I took a typing class in high school and the only way I managed to get a passing grade was by looking at the keys. Now I am a horrible typist. I am now a writer and if I could write as fast as I could think  (like a lot of people can) it would benefit me. I was going to go to college but I had this band. My father told me “Be an ignoramus!” and that just made me dig my heels in even further. Had someone told me “You are a bright kid. College is where you  are going to meet other kids like yourself and develop relationships that you will treasure your whole life,” things  would have been different. Looking back, I wish I could tell myself that my schooling will be the time when I can build a foundation for everything I want to do with my life and if I blow it off I will be at a disadvantage.


Meet Daniel, our Musical Director!

Daniel’s High School Head-shot!

What social group were  you part of in high school and college?

In high school I was mostly with the theater kids because I was an actor and singer at the time. Or I varied between the theater kids and the outcasts. There was a substantial overlap between these two groups and I was somewhere in this overlap. In college, that was still true except that the outcasts were the groups that were in power so although I was still in those groups, it was no longer a bad thing.

Were you ever bullied?

There were times in high school when I was bullied for raising my hand too much in class. Being involved was frowned upon. I imagine that I was also a bully myself.

Towards who?

Towards people who I felt bullied by. So I’d try to get them back. I don’t know if it worked but there was definitely antagonism back and forth

Is there a song or a band you associate with your school days?

Smashing Pumpkins and the band was called Mellon Collie  and the Infinite Sadness.  I don’t remember the name of the song but there were a couple songs on that album that were specifically about being bullied.

Looking back, if you could say something to your student self, what would it be?

Work harder at the things you love because those  hours that you spend fooling around, playing video games and not doing things that you really want to be doing, are never going to come back.