By Scott McLennan
P ublic schools, unlike many of their private and charter counterparts, do not exist apart from the communities they serve. Their doors
are open to all families, and public school educators
welcome all students into their classrooms.
As a result, public schools must be prepared to
tackle a full range of complex issues.
Across Massachusetts, that understanding is
helping MTA members develop alliances seeking to
ensure that schools have the support and resources
they need to serve their communities. It is also
fostering the creation of partnerships that extend
beyond traditional education boundaries.
Families new to this country, for example, are
often effective advocates for public schools, since
they know that education will be crucial to their
children’s success in life. That’s a point that Everett
High School teacher and MTA Senate District
Coordinator Peter Lahey touched on when he spoke
at the Massachusetts Jobs With Justice annual dinner
in early April.
Lahey noted that the business-driven forces that
champion charter schools and advocate for the use of
standardized tests to determine the fates of students,
educators and schools are often the same groups that
actively campaign against workers’ rights and make
social mobility especially difficult for immigrants.
“This is why coalitions of another kind — of
people who believe in equality, a decent wage, strong
public schools and in social justice — are essential to
defending democracy,” Lahey said.
O ver the past couple of years, MTA locals and JWJ organizers have been uniting with parents and others to strengthen grassroots
advocacy, promote social justice and strengthen
In Holyoke, such a coalition is helping local
residents fight a threatened state takeover of the
In Everett, community organizations have
formed a web that better connects immigrant parents
to the schools.
In Framingham, a parents’ group nurtured by the
local teachers association and Jobs With Justice is
erasing boundaries between immigration issues and
Efforts are also underway in communities
including Cambridge, Leominster, Fitchburg,
Springfield, Taunton, Fall River and Worcester.
Members of the Framingham Teachers
Association gathered one recent evening to talk
about how things are going.
Not long ago, families arriving in Framingham
from Central and South America were too often
absent from meetings in which school policies were
being made. They were missing opportunities to
be heard on decisions about which schools their
children would be attending and what services would
be available to English language learners.
“Not everybody is on Facebook, which is where
people spread the word,” said FTA Co-President
Sarah McKeon. “We’ve had some really important
debates. Just recently we were talking about what to
do about all of the snow days we’ve had. And only
one group of voices was being heard. Other groups
were not even aware the debate was happening.”
Middle school teacher Maria Rosaura Quirarte-
Perez saw how some of her students would push
themselves to do better in school if they realized
that their parents and teachers were talking to one
“When their parents are engaged, the children
know it,” Quirarte-Perez said. “They are motivated
to do well because they know their parents and
teachers do care.”
Other teachers in Framingham grappled with
the struggles of their students, some of whom
would arrive in the middle of the year and might be
unfamiliar with the language or school practices.
“Some of these students have gone through
emotional trauma,” said Ruthie M. Ortiz Collazo,
a teacher at the Brophy Elementary School. “Then
there is the language issue. You have to deal with
the whole child before you can even start in on the
curriculum. Some of the parents don’t know how to
handle the situation.”
From these concerns grew Voz de la Comunidad.
The small group of parents has blossomed into an
organization of more than 20 families after just
six months and a few meetings, according to Lily
Huang of Jobs With Justice. Voz de la Comunidad
is becoming a network of new families and a
clearinghouse for information on immigration and
“They become better advocates for themselves
and for their children,” Huang said.
Continued on next page
Above, Nelson Hernandez looks at pictures
from a Voz de la Comunidad meeting with
Lily Huang of Jobs With Justice and his
son, Nelson Gabriel Hernandez. Hernandez
has two daughters in the Framingham
Public Schools and has found that being
active in Voz de la Comunidad helps him
stay connected to what is going on. At
left, teacher Maria Rosaura Quirarte-Perez
discusses how students tend to do better
academically when they know their parents
are involved in the schools. “When their
parents are engaged, the children know it,”
Quirarte-Perez told MTA Today. “They are
motivated to do well because they know
their parents and teachers do care.”
Photos by Chris Christo