In a letter to the editor, Jersey City Board of Education candidate Natalia Ioffe says “we cannot afford to be a house divided, or we will surely fall, and fail our children and their teachers in the process.”
At one particular School Board Meeting couple of years ago, in a fiery speech during public comments, JCEA President Ron Greco likened our Jersey City school district to the war-torn Ukraine, in the context of teachers working in a hostile climate.
Being from Ukraine myself, and knowing all too well its most recent struggles, I couldn’t help but reflect on this analogy and came to the same conclusion as Mr. Greco, albeit from an entirely different perspective.
When Ukraine was unexpectedly invaded over two years ago, its government was in shambles, its treasury depleted, and its army outnumbered, demoralized and impoverished.
While the Parliament scrambled to reassemble itself and politicians were busy getting elected and making grand promises, ordinary men were rushed to the front to defend their country, often armed only with WWII – issue weapons, expired medical kits and the clothes on their backs.
There was no time to wait for the elections to run their course, or for military budgets to be voted on and properly allocated. People had to act quickly, even if the high command was slow to fulfill its duty to them.
It meant going in with no resources, and no government support, and it seemed like a desperate mission doomed to failure. Until the extraordinary happened.
As one group of people went to defend their country, another group of people rushed in after them, obtaining necessary supplies on the way, by any means possible.
What started as family members purchasing kevlar vests, helmets and weather resistant clothing for their husband/brother/son and the men in his unit, quickly grew into a huge grassroots movement of volunteer networks that started supplying the nation’s army with protective gear and medical equipment faster and more efficiently than any of the government agencies.
College students and families of soldiers banded together, formed non-profit organizations and built partnerships with international human rights groups. Instead of wasting time shaking their fists at the establishment, ordinary people became their brothers’ keepers, and in that effort they became a society united.
Lives were saved and a nation was transformed by a common goal – to survive, to succeed, to see a better future for their children.
It shouldn’t have to take a war for people to band together and assume responsibility for one another.
As it applies to our school district today, curriculum reforms still need to be instituted, capital improvements for schools need to be completed, and a sound case needs to be presented to the state leadership in order to curb funding cuts. People in positions of power still have to be nudged to do their jobs.
Meanwhile, our children and their teachers are fighting their every day battles, and we feel that it is our job to make sure that their daily needs do not become forgotten in the grand scheme of things. That is where we come in – the volunteers, the parents, the community.
While the complex public sector bureaucracy often prevents our schools from getting the help they need via official channels quickly enough, we – as a volunteer community – can become a vital emergency resource for our schools.
It took a lot of hard work and meticulous research, a great deal of negotiations and compromises with our district administration, but we discovered that it is possible to help our schools in efficient and collaborative ways.
Whether it’s improving parent communications, increasing parent involvement, attracting much needed alternative sources of revenue to fund field trips and academic programs, or promoting other Jersey City public schools at our parent meetings, we know how to take responsibility for one another, and we, as parent council groups in this district, have been doing just that for years.
Sometimes it means coming in to help a teacher set up a classroom, before what is sure to be a difficult day with an average student-teacher ratio of 35:1, or it can be reading to the class to give the teacher a much needed bathroom break or a few extra minutes of prep time.
Or we may get a phone call about a giveaway of office supplies, because of a company move, and our volunteers rush across town to load their cars with free stationary items and bring them back to the school to distribute to the classrooms.
Sometimes it takes a thing as small as an extra stapler or as big as a new A/C unit to make a student’s day better, and a teacher’s life easier.
It can be a simple gesture of serving school staff an appreciation buffet or providing enrichment scholarships to students from low-income households. By doing these things we are becoming a part of the solution, and set the tone for positive change.
In anticipation of looming financial difficulties that our schools may face, we cannot afford to be a house divided, or we will surely fall, and fail our children and their teachers in the process.
However, if all of us start putting our money where our mouth is, replace slogans with solutions, and assume responsibility for every child who needs to succeed, and every teacher who needs to get through the day – we can make it.
It shouldn’t have to be done through war, or continuous vitriol, but through mutual support and a shared vision for our children’s future.
We teach our children the importance of getting along and working as a team, and do our best to instill in them the value of critical thinking, resourcefulness, innovation, flexibility, diplomacy and conflict resolution.
Candidate for the Jersey City Board of Education