Defend Public Education

Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on May 10, 2015

Teaching While Black: Exposing Institutional Racism at Claremont Middle School.


The Shock Doctrine- Alive and Well in Michigan

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on February 23, 2015


Symptomatic of what is occurring in education across the nation, Detroit Public Schools are deep in debt.

Detroit, though, is somewhat unique in that they have in place an autocratic and unilateral leader appointed by the Governor of Michigan.  They have an Emergency Manager, a person appointed at the governor’s behest to alleviate a financial situation that has been deemed by such governor to be an “emergency.”

DPS Financial HistoryIn Detroit Public Schools, this has led to the marginalization of a perfectly capable and democratically elected school board.  It has promoted the market fundamentalists’ premier value of economic efficiency over democracy, and it has done so at the expense of the economic health of the district, the academics of the students affected, and the community’s agency as expressed via the accountability of a democratically elected school board. It is no small thing to again point out the irony of the fact that Emergency Management has…

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Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015

Fellow educators,

I have called us together for this meeting to address what I believe
is the most urgent crisis in the history of our union and our public
school system. Today, I hope to initiate a plan of action to confront that
crisis, and I ask for your support in facing the monumental challenges
in front of us. While our politicians are delivering speeches on the state
of our nation, I wish to deliver an address on the state of our own union,
and to tell the truth that our politicians will not admit.

Our lives as teachers are built upon our commitment to the
young people of Detroit. We all embarked upon that commitment
knowing that we would face great difficulties, but also believing in the
possibility that our hard work could make a difference. Some of us are
old survivors who chose to endure the many years of hardships. Others
are new to the district, and have been tested from the very beginning by
what are now some of the most degraded school conditions in the nation.
All of us, young and old, live under the constant threat that our
jobs could be the next to disappear and that our students could be further
deprived of the few resources they have left. Many are here today
seeking answers to what can be done.

My pledge to you today is not that we will find every answer or
sweep aside all obstacles at once, but that we will begin a collective
fight for our students and our schools—a fight to save public education,
to save our union, and to realize the promise of hope and progress that
our city truly deserves. I believe that our strength and our potential extend
far beyond our own numbers, because the struggle for our union is
united with the needs of our students and community. As I have said
before, I will say again: the struggle for our union is, and must be, a civil
rights struggle for the people of Detroit. We will not march alone.
In the week since my election as DFT president, I have made
regular visits to schools and talked with many teachers about where we
go from here. It was a pleasure to be greeted by the enthusiasm and
smiles of old friends and new, and all of the teachers I met raised their
own concerns and demands. Class size, job security, frozen pay, principal
harassment, special education resources and ancillary services were
regular topics. And although the challenges required to confront these
issues are immense, there is clearly an awakening sentiment that something can be done. With your active leadership and support, yes, something will be done.

We find ourselves in the vortex of a national attack on public
education. From Lansing to the White House, all of the nation’s leading
policy makers advocate cutting resources from the public schools and
diverting the funds towards charter school experiments. But the charter
mania among the elite has not been shared by the rest of the population—
out of the 49 million students attending schools that receive public
funds, 96% of the students continue to attend traditional public
schools; only 4% attend charters. In fact, in the few places where charter
schools have become widespread, their introduction was foisted
against the will of the local population. In places like Detroit and Oakland,
the outright state takeover of the district was necessary in order to
impose the new system.

The results have been catastrophic: in every charter-imposed
district, the resource deficits have decimated the public schools, while
the charters have underperformed their public counterparts in spite of
every rigged financial advantage. Instead of benefitting from the supposed
“market competition” between public and charter, the real outcome
has been to lower the quality of education across the board.
Teachers’ unions—which had been the traditional line of defense for
public education—largely capitulated in the face of the attacks, causing
membership numbers and morale to plummet. The advocates for
greater resources for our most impoverished public schools are now
mocked as “waiting for Superman”—we are told to accept the corporate
schemes of Lex Luthor, instead.

This social experiment has long since failed in Detroit and in
numerous other highly segregated, majority-black and Latino districts,
and is now perpetuated only on the basis of completely circular arguments.
They say that the takeover is needed to balance the budget, but
when the takeover only makes financial matters worse, they say that
this makes it necessary to continue the takeover. They say that the
takeover is needed to improve academic performance, but when the
takeover diminishes academic performance, they insist on applying the
same bad remedy: more takeover. They say that charters are needed to
innovate education, but when the charters only exacerbate the crisis of
education, they say that this crisis necessitates the creation of more
charters. They say that school closings and layoffs are necessary to
eliminate the deficit, but when these policies force thousands of students
to leave the district along with their per-pupil funding, we are
then told that this requires even more school closings and more layoffs.
For over fifteen years, we have weathered this continuous cycle of destruction.

There is a common saying that the definition of insanity is
doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results—we
are living in a cyclone of insanity.

Our union can and must stand against this destructive cycle;
the human cost is too high a price for our society to afford. In every segregated school district where educational opportunities have crumbled,
the claimed reduction in government spending has in fact been completely
offset by the collateral expenses of social decay. In place of the
obligation to invest in the futures of our young people, we have witnessed
instead the counterposed investment in an increasingly militarized
police force and a titanic prison industry. We have witnessed the
proliferation of urban blight and unemployment. In places like Ferguson,
Missouri, we have witnessed new urban uprisings, echoing the
same social discontent that led to the Detroit upheaval in 1967 and
many disturbances across the nation. Authorities tell us that we are too
poor to invest in quality educational conditions; the reality is that we
can’t afford not to invest in the futures of our young people. Never again
can we afford to accept the argument that there is not enough money.
Either the nation will invest in teachers and text books, or it will pay a
terrible price for urban warfare and destruction. Let us be a united
voice for hope and progress.

Because we are educators, we also care deeply about the philosophy
of the education system in which we work. We are practitioners
of pedagogical theory, and earned our positions through careful study
of the accumulated methods for facilitating learning. We cannot ignore
the fact that the governing philosophy being imposed on our district is
not based in any tested educational method, but instead derives from
crude economics. The current regime is almost entirely based on the
privatized, cheap and narrow schemes of the conservative economist
Milton Friedman, rather than the proven science of traditional pedagogy.
The cheap and narrow focus is not only a theory for reducing government
spending, but it is also a theory about the position in society
for which our students are being trained.

The current regime in Detroit has stripped from the schools
nearly all humanities, creative arts and music programs—the hallmarks
of a liberal arts education. In their place, technical and vocational training
have taken priority. The theory of the regime has been to guide the
hopes of students away from the attainment of a top university education,
instead fixing their career paths towards lower-paying, less-educated
sectors of the workforce. Even the prescribed teaching schemes
cater to these backwards priorities, replacing creativity and critical
thinking with rote memorization and scripted test preparation. In the
EAA schools, many students barely receive any education at all—they
spend all day in front of a computer screen, following mindless instructions
like robots. Soaring class size also transforms schools into sweatshops,
diverting attention away from learning and squandering time
and energy on the taxing maintenance of discipline and order.
History teachers should recognize this regressive shift in priority
as an extension of the philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Over one
hundred years ago, Washington argued that the pursuit of full equality
in black education had been an error. “It is at the bottom of life we must
begin, and not at the top,” he said. His pragmatist theory governed the
Tuskegee education machine in the South, training young black men to
enter only those occupations which were acceptable to the old Jim
Crow system. Many thousands of black Americans fled the South, migrating
to Northern cities like Detroit in search of better jobs and education.
This was the origin of the black community that still resides in
Detroit to this day. But now, in the face of a national wave of attacks on
education, there is no North to which our community can escape. With
our backs to the wall, our only choice today is to stand and fight.
If our community is to thrive, this will require restoring the
promise of equal, quality education and Martin Luther King’s dream of
an integrated America. Education is the cornerstone of a democratic
society. Education is the litmus test for the democratic principle of
equal opportunity. Education ought to be a sacred obligation to the future
of our young people, and not a tool for private profit for the benefit
of today’s robber barons. Our role is not simply to prepare our students
for a career, but to enable our students to exercise their freedom and to
pursue their happiness as equal, educated citizens. In order to fulfill
that role, we must be better organized together to defend our students
and ourselves.

I intend to rebuild our union from top to bottom. Among my
first initiatives as your president, I will immediately begin the recruitment
and training of building representatives at every school where
there is a vacancy. I will work to ensure that teacher grievances receive
effective responses, and I will commit the weight of union leadership to
defend our representatives against all forms of principal harassment
and subversion. Under my presidency, teacher grievances will no longer
be swept under the rug; they will take priority and go to arbitration. Although
our contract is weak, we can do much more to enforce its provisions
that can offer some relief to our members. Building representatives
will be trained to conduct grievance campaigns and rebuild
teacher leadership in every building. Achieving smaller class size is absolutely critical—so many teachers labor under truly flagrant excesses,
and this problem compromises teaching and learning throughout the
district. The subjective and capricious evaluation system must also be
challenged. Teachers must receive their evaluation results and fall
teaching assignments before the end of the school year in June, with
appeals to be heard immediately afterwards. I pledge to restore monthly
meetings for our members, and to restore our union office as a professional
and functioning resource. I further intend to build organizing
campaigns to bring the EAA and charter school teachers into the DFT,
rebuilding our numbers and repairing the fragmented state of education.

I intend to rebuild our active capacity such that, in the event that
our members wish to use our most powerful weapon—the strike—we
will be in a strong enough position to win.

At all times, I will maintain an unwavering connection to our
students and community members, as well as to fellow union activists
across the nation. It is my hope that we can serve as a national model
for the defense of public education, inspiring teachers everywhere of
the possibility to stand up for our schools.

Today is a new beginning for the Detroit Federation of Teachers.
At a time when the very existence of our union is at stake, today is also
the most important turning point in our union history. We face a difficult
road ahead. I hope that today we can begin discussing and voting
on a program of demands, and that our members can now thrive as active
participants and leaders in a democratic decision-making process. I
accept your mandate to lead this union to fight for the quality learning
conditions that our students and teachers deserve. But I cannot succeed
without your help. Join this fight, and together we can strive for
the brightest future for the city we love.

Steve Conn delivers State of the Union Address to Detroit Federation of TEachers

How We Won Catherine Ferguson Academy

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 26, 2011

Catherine Ferguson Academy is staying open! Summer school starts tomorrow.

The school will continue to exist, not as A DPS school, but as a charter run by Detroit charter operator Evans Solutions. Some argue this isn’t a victory because it wil be a charter. Try telling that to the students of CFA. This is a complete victory for them. They still have their school, their “safehouse”. And they have it because of thier determination to keep it, because they organized themselves and supporters, because – as Danny Glover said at our rally – of those among them who “put their bodies on the line” and be arrested rather than let their school be taken away. This is a real victory, and our Demands for CFA Remain the same.

The victory could not have been achieved without leadership and organization. Below is the BAMN perspective on how this victory was won.

Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) will stay open. The announcement could come as early as today at this rally. (June 16, 2011) The announcement that someone has come through with money to keep Catherine Ferguson open could be made by actor Danny Glover, or Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, or a prominent Detroit pastor, or a Foundation spokesperson, or even the new Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, the man Governor Snyder appointed to destroy public education in Detroit without sparking a riot. If CFA is kept open, we win. Yes, to prevent the closing of our school in the future, or its transformation into something very different from the CFA we are fighting to keep open; we will have to maintain our struggle and continue to build the power of our new movement for civil rights and social justice that created the basis for victory.

The people who offer the funding will demand as a condition to receive the money, that every student, teacher, staff person and administrator have nothing more to do with BAMN, and that BAMN is barred from the school. But that policy can only be enforced if we chose to abide by it. No one who wants to see Catherine Ferguson survive will enforce a ban on BAMN or betray their own leaders. We will have to make sure that the brave and bold BAMN student leaders- teens, babies and toddlers- and BAMN leader Nicole Conaway, the one Catherine Ferguson teacher who stood with us, are not expelled, fired, transferred or jailed. Our leaders, like Rosa Parks, sat down so that we could all stand up. They are not just the pride of Detroit; they are for literally millions of women worldwide who are following this struggle, heroes and role models.

We know that there will be new attempts to sell off our school, cut back our programs and classes, etc. All civil rights victories are partial until the oppressed take power. The pact that Dr. King signed to end the 1963 struggle in Birmingham that we attribute today to breaking the back of the old Jim Crow was very limited in scope. Dr. King’s real victory from Birmingham was that it provided millions of people who had lived as second-class citizens for decades, with the inspiration to fight and the belief that poor black people could beat the whole white establishment. Keeping CFA open is likely to be that same kind of victory, imperfect and incomplete in form, but for all those who have followed the struggle, vindication of BAMN’s assertion that the black, Latina/o and other oppressed communities have tremendous social power, that we can start winning real victories now if we just organize and act.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to defeat the attack against public education here and across the nation. Detroit, the city we love and are proud to represent, has faced the most concerted, bi-partisan, racist political attack of any city in America since Radical Reconstruction ended in the late 1800’s. Detroit is the testing ground for the new Jim Crow. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has designated our city ground zero. The continued decimation of Detroit is pressed by both the Democrats and Republicans.

The proponents of the new Jim Crow and their billionaire backers hate everything about Catherine Ferguson. Catherine Ferguson faces and will continue to face threats of closure precisely because everything about the school, from its educational philosophy to its brilliant and successful black teens, babies and toddlers, proves the lie of every racist, sexist , anti-gay and anti-youth stereotype needed to buttress and to further the implementation of the New Jim Crow. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

Describing Catherine Ferguson to a stranger, it is possible to list a number of its assets and strengths, the day care, the farm, the group discussions, etc. But the school is more than just its parts, it is a place filled with hope, a place where we learn to believe in ourselves and feel safe to experiment, where we learn that nothing is set in stone or pre-determined. Keeping Catherine Ferguson open is just another way of saying to all the bigots and Detroit-haters that the fight can never be taken out of Detroit, and with a few more movement victories, we will lead the nation again and defeat the New Jim Crow just like we defeated the old Jim Crow.

If the decision to keep CFA open is not announced today, either before or after the rally, it will occur sometime in the near future, because, we, the BAMN student, teacher and community leaders of this struggle, believe that losing CFA is not an option, and we know that it is possible to win this fight. Our support is growing across the city and across the nation.

Our rally today is a great opportunity to take our struggle a step further. We need to build on the policy that has put us within a heartbeat of saving our school. Most mass demonstrations today are treated like funerals. Many activists, even those who sound very militant, are scared to put down the coffin and pick up the struggle. We cannot allow today’s demonstration to become a memorial service for Catherine Ferguson, or a day when everybody talks the talk and nobody walks the walk.

Catherine Ferguson students are prepared to do another sit-down/occupation of the school. If hundreds of other people join them on the inside and on the outside of the school we can take the next step forward to victory. We must not allow anyone’s fear of organization, of action, of thinking big or being associated with the “BAMN radicals” to hold back what we all know we need to do to win.

When Dr. King arrived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, he was condemned by both the black and white leaders of the city. Most of the black churches in Birmingham opposed his tactics and denounced him as an outsider. When Dr. King began the Birmingham campaign in April 1963, there was no children’s crusade or even a clearly formulated plan of how the movement could win. For long stretches of time it looked like he would lose. But the one thing Dr. King knew for sure was that the only way to discover the road to victory was to stay in the fight and to keep on acting. We can win this fight for Catherine Ferguson and build on our victory if we just maintain the fight and keep moving forward.

We urge everyone who stands for equality and justice and is tired of being scared- – scared to defy some authority figure, scared of going to jail and having no back-up, scared that being yourself is not good enough, scared of who knows what — to join us in making this fight. On April 15 when we sat down or picketed outside we were different people. When we stood together and fought, even when we sat handcuffed in the back of police squad car, we felt free for the first time. Those of us on the outside felt our fears slip away, as we took bolder and bolder actions to defend our brothers and sisters who were arrested. By the end of the evening the fear was gone, and joy and love filled the void. We became the people we looked up to and respected. None of us were born leaders; we just made a decision to take a stand and stuck to it. We are learning how to lead through the process of just trying to always stand on the truth and never doubt the certainty of our cause. It is a decision we will be proud of for the rest of lives. We urge every person who wants to be free and to see the best side of themselves come out, to join us in this fight. We intend to win, and we would be so happy if you would come along.

June 16, 2011


Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)     855-ASK-BAMN (855-275-2266) Twitter @followBAMN

Why We Need YOU at the Rally to Save Catherine Ferguson Academy -Video Statement from Aluma Tiffini Baldwin

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 15, 2011

Detroit Free Press Online Commentary: Don’t close Catherine Ferguson Academy, a lifeline for teen moms in Detroit

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 14, 2011

As published on the Detroit Free Press Opinion Page:

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with  teachers, supporters  and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb's office,  Detroit Public School's then Emergency Financial  Manager.

Briana Patton, 16, a 10th grader at Catherine Ferguson Academy and her baby Marianna , 1, along with teachers, supporters and other students march and rally to keep all Detroit Public schools open in May in front of Robert Bobb’s office, Detroit Public School’s then Emergency Financial Manager. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press


Nicole Conaway is a Detroiter, teacher at the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women, activist in the Detroit Federation of Teachers, author of the blog and member of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.


For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA), a Detroit Public School for pregnant and parenting students. CFA offers small classes, a modified schedule and dual enrollment for recovering lost credit and a head start on college, healthcare for moms and babies, birth through pre-K early education and more. CFA teaches students they have worth, and their lives aren’t over because they’ve become mothers. All graduates are accepted to college and assisted in obtaining financial aid.

Because they value CFA so much, six students and their supporters held a sit-in at the school and were arrested for their efforts to defend their education.

State-controlled DPS claims the “extras” CFA provides are too costly. But, most funding for CFA comes from separate funding for at-risk and low-income students, not the DPS general fund. Want more ways to reduce the deficit? Forgive the debt incurred under state-takeovers, don’t cut corporate taxes, and create a regional, integrated school system operating on economies of scale. There is money for whatever we value as a society.

In the March 31 guest column “Improve lives and city by keeping young moms in school,” Benita Miller described Detroit’s lack of services for pregnant and parenting teens. She was right — more services are needed. Pregnancy is the number-one reason women drop out of school. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 70% of teen moms do. However, for more than 20 years, Detroit has had one the nation’s best resources for teen mothers. Now it is on the verge of being taken away

In 2004, Michigan spent $115 million imprisoning sons of teen parents. We spend $35,000 per prisoner annually. Children of teens are 13% more likely to be incarcerated, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The money spent on early childhood care at CFA is a wise investment in their future and ours. It provides the foundation they need and deserve.

One CFA graduate just completed medical school. Another is about to have her first art show. If CFA closes, thousands more young women with this same potential will dropout. All of them and all their children deserve the chance to achieve that potential. For this they need CFA, and so does Detroit. And right now, they need us to stand with them by joining them on June 16, starting at noon, as they rally to keep CFA open. The collective action taken at CFA this spring helped to keep several schools open. Hundreds of supporters had planned to attend the hearing for CFA that ultimately was canceled. If all of those supporters and more show up on Thursday at noon too express our collective power, we can win a great victory for the CFA students and for our community.

Miller was right. Keeping Detroit’s young moms in school is key to improving our city. We need CFA to stay open to provide the best possible chance for a real future for them, and for all of us.



All out to Catherine Ferguson Academy June 16

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 8, 2011

Unite in Action with The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women (CFA)!


2750 Selden Street, two blocks north of MLK/Mack, one block east of I-96


Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit Public School. CFA is a JEWELL of DETROIT and it is about to be stolen from our community- we must defend it and defend ourselves.  CFA students are standing on their feet fighting to defend public education, fighting to stop the destruction of programs in all of our schools through class size increases and elimination of our teachers, and against the closing of all of the public schools on the closing list. CFA is on the list to be closed. It is a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls. At CFA, our sisters, cousins and friends, are not treated as outcasts, but are cared for and treated as fellow persons with value.  CFA is a regular comprehensive high school, where the students can bring their children.  There is early childhood development and pre-school, and nurseries.  There are doctors, nurses and others who come to the school to provide services for the students and their children to make sure that they are all successful.  There is also a wonderful farm with goats, ducks, chickens, honeybees, fruit trees, vegetables and even a horse.  In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.


We can save all of our schools and programs by uniting in action at CFA to make it clear that the new “Jim Crow”, second class treatment of black and Latina/o and other minority students has no place in our city.  On April 15, 2011, the brave students of CFA led Detroit and shook up the nation by sitting down and refusing to leave the school over spring break.  This action resulted in numerous schools coming off of the closing list.  However, CFA is still on the closing list and is being used as a “political football” between the Democrats and the Republicans, both of whom could keep the school open, but neither will without a fight led by the students to make them keep it open.  Next time at CFA, if hundreds, not just dozens of people are gathered outside to defend the school, we will save CFA and win more of our demands. Just like the auto workers forced the powerful auto companies to recognize their union in the 1930’s through sit-down strikes, and black high school and college students in the South broke the back of segregation by sitting down at lunch counters, and the hundreds of Northwestern High School students in Detroit kept their school open by walking out together and marching out last year, we must recognize, just as Dr. Martin Luther King did, that if young people act on “the fierce urgency of now,” we can move mountains.


In addition to closing CFA and numerous other schools, class sizes in all DPS high schools are being threatened to increase to forty-five (45) students per class starting in fall of 2012.  Schools that offer a college prep curriculum will no longer be able to effectively do so in reality.  And neighborhood schools will lose electives all together, as well as many extracurricular activities.  We must organize a massive mobilization to save CFA and preserve the quality of all DPS schools. Anyone and everyone can and should come – people of all ages, schools, cities, etc., but the students have to lead!


At this point, we have so much power at CFA because of the first set of actions. Students at Southeastern walked out three times and won the right to sing at the MSVMA choral festival, and led a successful campaign to defend the rights of a transgendered classmate. If more students and youth in Detroit stand up and fight, we will win much more. If all the community stands in support with them, we can win our demans. Join the movement and fight for our dignity, equality and hope for our future.

We are fighting for the following Demands:

  • Defend Public Education
  • Keep Catherine Ferguson Open
  • No School Closings
  • Keep All Detroit Public Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization
  • Reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art & music as well as counselors & social workers, AP classes, robotics, and other special programs at all schools
  • Student Control of Curriculum and School Character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all
  • No discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation or any other collective actions taken to defend public education

The enemies of public education know that their plan is not about balancing the district’s budget. They are fully aware that their statistics are wrong and fabricated and that this plan will make the district lose money.  For example, they say CFA costs the District $2.7 million* when it really only costs $750,000 and the rest comes from special federal and state funding, not the DPS general fund. The racist, white billionaires, who do not want to pay for public education anymore, believe that the people of Detroit do not have value and want to fulfill that prophecy through force. This is about implementing the New Jim Crow and forcing people to defer their dreams by blocking any opportunity for them to lead and shine.  It is their intention to destroy public education, and get away with it with only minimal objections from the community, without any serious consequences, without Detroiters organizing and raising total HELL to stop the destruction of our schools and our neighborhoods.

Roy Roberts and other pessimistic politicians, whom of which are backed by a tiny minority of billionaires, ARE NOT OUR “FRIENDS”.  They are overseers hired to implement and enforce the New Jim Crow system of education on black and Latino/a students – separate and completely unequal once again.  This means that special Detroit schools such as CFA, Renaissance and Cass and creative and loved programs in neighborhood schools like music and robotic programs, will all be in the past and no longer exist for black and Latino/a students in Detroit.  Then, wealthy white people can say to working class and poor white people, “you may have a poor education system that we refuse to pay for, but at least you are not black or Latino/a.”  They are closing schools and firing teachers to drive students out of the district and gentrify the city by race and class. A few middle-class students will go to private schools or leave the city, and the rest will be warehoused in inferior, overcrowded schools. Whether or not our schools stay open or teachers keep their jobs depends on whether we can overcome our fears and express our anger in a collective manner, and put our foot down and declare that Detroit students, our schools, our programs, our neighborhoods and our city are not for sale.  


 We can end the regime of overcrowded classrooms, police in the schools doling out repression and brutality, and turning what should be places of learning, where we can express and develop our full creativity and humanity, into cheap, stripped-down, prison-like holding cells. We want and deserve the full range of subjects and extracurriculars – art, music, dance, theatre, sports, AP and foreign language courses, chess, etc. – that a first-class comprehensive public education has to offer.  To the extent that any school becomes a charter, if they do not meet the full standards of the students and parents, they must lose their charter immediately!


We CAN defeat this plan, but only by getting off our knees and fighting back. It’s time to heed the words of Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest leaders in the history of our nation, who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”


Take action and organize your school– Join BAMN (The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, BAMN) at 855-ASK-BAMN  (855-275-2266), or email BAMN Coordinator Donna Stern at

Follow us on twitter: @followBAMN

 *The Detroit News, 05/27/2011                         


Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 2, 2011

On May 26, Detroit Public Schools Emergency manager Roy Roberts announced changes to the district’s school consolidation and closure plan.  Claiming it was in response to “broad community input” the modifications are ostensibly to “cut operating costs and align resources to maximize services to students.”  The plan euphemizes that Catherine Ferguson is one of the buildings  “coming off line”. Roberts also claims  to be “developing a transition plan for continuing the services” of  CFA and two other alternative high schools to “focus on remediation and return to traditional schools.” The other two schools, Hancock and Barsamian, serve students who have been expelled from other schools, usually for violent offenses. The objectives of those programs are completely different and it is completely inappropriate to put CFA in the same category. Students choose to attend CFA because they are committed to their education and to providing a better life for their children, and require the support services CFA provides in order to to so.

 The truth is that Roberts and his backers don’t have any real plan to continue the service CFA provides. They are trying to ride things out until the end of the school year when they think they will be safe from a public outcry. To date there has been no public meeting to regarding the future of the Catherine Ferguson Academy.  No one from the Emergency Manager’s office have even visited the school or met with school administration, staff, or students. No accurate information has been shared about the actual cost of operating CFA, the supposed reasons for closing the school, or any plan to continue services CFA provides. We must insist that our voices be heard and the truth be told. 

PETITION_FOR_A_PUBLIC_HEARING_ON_THE_FUTURE_OF_CATHERINE_FERGUSON_ACADEMY[1] (Click to download and circulate the print version)

CFA is a nationally renowned, successful high school that has provided a quality education for pregnant and parenting teen girls for twenty years. CFA offers;

  • small classes to provide a supportive learning environment
  • a modified schedule and dual enrollment night school to allow students to recover credits and get a head start on college
  • Support services like WIC, healthcare for moms and babies, and early education from birth through pre-K.
  • An organic farm and orchard that provide a unique outdoor learning  opportunityCFA is more than the sum of its programs; it is a lifeline for growth, development and a better future for the young women and their children.

Pregnancy is the number one reason girls drop out of school.  Approximately 70% of teenage girls who give birth leave school  (  All CFA graduates are accepted to community college or university and secured with financial aid.

In a recent press statement, the new EM, Roy Roberts, lumped CFA in with remedial programs at Barsamian and Hancock, but CFA is not a remedial program. Being pregnant is not a crime, and pregnant girls should be supported, not punished and degraded.

“Transition” back to a regular high school with no infant care and pre-school, no credit recovery program, no parenting classes, no support for the young mothers to continue their education and enhance the education of their children, will force these young women out of school. The community supports CFA, and deserves the transparency and accountability that its public school system should provide.


We the undersigned, call on EM Roy Roberts to attend a public hearing on the future of CFA, at a time and place convenient to the community, to hear from the CFA students, teachers and community about the importance of maintaining CFA as it currently exists, and to answer questions about the actual costs to DPS, how much is covered by federal funds, and the costs to the students, their children and the community if CFA is closed.

A Letter to Arne Duncan

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on May 12, 2011

Hats off to Sabrina of for her May 2 post: A Letter to Arne Duncan.

Sabrina points out Duncans lack of qualification as an educator and his complicity in the educational “deforms” aimed at privatization and profit for billionaires.

My only disagreement – Sabrina asks Duncan when teachers will recieve his apology letter for the disrespect he has shown us. I don’t want an apology letter from him. I want a resignation letter!


Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on May 3, 2011

Hundreds of Detroiters supported students of the Catherine Ferguson Academy’s peaceful sit-in protest to defend their school. They brought food, supplies, made t-shirts, rallied and chanted outside, and held of the police for several hours. Students read their demands (listed in the press release below) and gave inspiring speeches to the crowd via loudspeaker from inside. (Of course local media showed n



Following in the civil rights tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Catherine Ferguson students — along with their babies and toddlers, teachers and supporters — have begun a peaceful occupation of Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA). CFA, located at 2750 Selden, is a Detroit Public school that is slated to be closed in June. The students who are sitting down have five demands:

  • No School Closings
  • Keep All Detroit Schools Public – No More Charters or Privatization
  • Reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art & music as  well as counselors & social workers
  • Student Control of Curriculum and School Character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all
  • No discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation

Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a Detroit public high school for pregnant and parenting teen girls– the only one of its kind in the nation. Providing an excellent education and services for both the teen mothers and their children, CFA has received international attention, numerous awards and is the subject of several documentaries.

“When people at my regular high school realized that I was pregnant, I was told my chances of being a success in life were over. At Catherine Ferguson, they told me they wouldn’t allow me to be anything BUT a success. I love CFA, and I am prepared to fight to keep it open, not only for myself, but for all the girls who will come behind me,” said Ashley Matthews, a junior at CFA.

With approximately 200 students who come not only from Detroit, but also from the surrounding suburbs, every year Catherine Ferguson achieves a 90% graduation rate and 100% of those who graduate are accepted to two- or four-year colleges, most with financial aid.

“If this school closes, or if any of our services are eliminated, I believe that over half of CFA students will drop out of high school because they don’t have anyone to watch their baby while they attend classes,” said Dalana Gray, who is a senior at CFA. Also, this school benefits our children, because the early education program teaches them a lot that they wouldn’t learn if they were kept at home.”

The school provides pre-natal and parenting classes, and offers high school student mothers the opportunity to finish their high school education immediately after giving birth by providing on-site daycare, early childhood development services, and pre-school for their children, as well as on-site medical, dental and social services, so the young women don’t have to miss school to attend appointments. What also makes CFA unique is its organic garden and farm with chickens, goats and a horse, which the students maintain as part of their science education.

Nicole Conaway, a science teacher at CFA who decided to join her students in the occupation said, “As a teacher, I can find another job, but for my students, if Catherine Ferguson closes, there are no alternatives. The same can be said for many of the students at other schools on the closing list – the Day School for the Deaf; Rutherford, which is the home of two autistic programs; Moses Fields, which educates many learning disabled children, and several neighborhood schools that are the anchors for their communities. It’s time to say: no more. ”

”The massive school closures that have been carried out in DPS since 2004 have led to the depopulation of Detroit and to the deepening financial crisis of the district. Public schools are being closed to make way for charters and are part of the national attack on public education. Today Detroit– tomorrow, every city in America. The parents and students of Catherine Ferguson are fighting to maintain the right of every student in our nation to a free, quality public education. Every supporter of public education should do everything possible to support their fight and make sure they succeed”, said Shanta Driver, National Chairperson of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), which is helping to organize and coordinate the occupations.

For more information, call Monica Smith at 313-585-3637 or call 855-ASK-BAMN