When I think about the debacle facing the School District of Philadelphia, the quote by anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller springs to mind:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I wonder who will speak out for all of the assistant principals, counselors, librarians, secretaries, teachers and paraprofessionals who have been told they are losing their jobs.
I am one of them.
I have worked in the field for 20 years as a teacher and school counselor. I have definitely found my passion in working as a counselor to support and guide students who need a positive influence in their lives.
Each day, I pour my heart and soul into helping students with personal and academic needs. The counselors in Philadelphia’s public schools assist students who are grappling with issues such as suicidal ideation, depression, physical and sexual abuse, academic difficulties, personality conflicts with teachers, sexual orientation, conflicts with parents/guardians, completing college applications, applying for scholarships — the list goes on and on.
My caseload consists of more than 400 students. On countless days, I have felt utterly overwhelmed as I continually strive to make my students feel heard and understood. Some students lack parental guidance and support, so a school counselor might be the only adult to provide them with unconditional encouragement and reliable direction.
Given the magnitude of a counselor’s job, you can imagine my shock and outrage when on May 30, after many weeks of outcry regarding the lack of funding and the abysmal proposed budget, the School Reform Commission passed the 2013-2014 budget, eliminating all positions except one principal for each school and retaining only enough teachers for classes at the maximum size allowed by the contract. That’s it.
All assistant principals, all counselors, all librarians, all secretaries, and numerous teachers and paraprofessionals are being cut. I already received my letter from the school district stating that my position will be eliminated at the end of this school year.
I wonder who will speak out for the children in the School District of Philadelphia as they sit poised to lose not only these vital adults who nurture them in numerous ways on a daily basis but also the programs and activities that help them to grow and become well-rounded adults — the music, sports and extracurricular activities that have all been eliminated as well.
Some Philadelphians don’t have children so they might not join our fight. Residents of the suburbs might stay silent because their children don’t attend our schools. Educators in the suburbs might believe that they are secure in their positions so they don’t need to voice their opinions.
Unfortunately, that type of thinking is incredibly erroneous. Today it’s the school district of Philadelphia, but tomorrow it could be your school district — or another cut in funding that hits closer to home for you.
The only hope for the district is that the city and state will provide additional funding so these cutbacks can be rescinded.
Our local and state representatives need to hear everyone’s voices. We are all members of a community. Education has always been important to the Jewish community. The Jewish values of tikkun olam, healing the world, and l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, should compel all members of the Jewish community to help the children in the School District of Philadelphia because they are part of our collective future.
They need to receive these integral supports, services and programs. Without them, we could see a ripple effect that may include an increase in local crime, a decrease in the number of students who attend college, and scores of young men and women who are woefully unprepared for what lies ahead.
George Santayana declared, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must heed his words as well as Pastor Niemöller’s and remember that it is necessary for us to stand together. If you are silent, the children in the Philadelphia school district will suffer. Please speak out by contacting your local and state representatives to demand more funding for our children. Speak out before it’s too late for them — and too late for all of us.
Heather Marcus is a school counselor at J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School.