Picket in the Pines: How one person is finding his power

Saranac Lake student Will Miemis and teacher Jason Smith, Saranac Lake, show their support for public education. Photo by Karen Miemis.

Saranac Lake student Will Miemis and teacher Jason Smith, Saranac Lake, show their support for public education. Photo by Karen Miemis.

UPDATE: Jason Smith, whose call-to-action is featured in this blog post, appears on the cover of the May/June 2014 edition of NYSUT United in a photo taken at the Picket in the Pines event.

If you’re tired of for-profit companies making money off of testing students and generating anxiety as they generate cash; if you are frustrated by students losing librarians and social workers, along with art, theater, music, language and sports; if you are exhausted by teaching to the test — then you might want to change your plans this Sunday.  You might want to come to Picket in the Pines in Lake Placid.  It’s a starting place to take your power back.

It’s time to bring the hedge-fund managers to task as they meet in the pines this coming weekend.

And, if you’ve never picketed before or never considered yourself a union activist, well, here again, you might want to change your plans — and your ideas about what an activist is.

It’s what makes you decide you’ve had enough, and decide to take action about it, says Jason Smith, a teacher with the Saranac Lake Teachers Association.

“Not too long ago, I had very little interest in the union and what the union did. I paid my dues and figured that someone else would do whatever it was that had to be done. I was definitely an observer, a witness, a minimal participant. Well, a lot has changed in not a lot of time. After grading the horror show of an ELA test created by a for-profit company, by for-profit people, for a not-for-profit entity (it’s a PUBLIC SCHOOL, for the love of Pete) my wheels started turning, and turning, and turning.

“‘How did it come to this?’ I asked myself that over and over while grading a test to clearly designed to show failure … They would like the public, living in a crappy economy… to swallow the rhetoric of how teachers are failing students, how unions are the problem, how if only there were better teachers then the kids would perform better on the tests made by corporations who want the public to embrace their message of blame and accountability. It’s sickening. It’s wretched, cruel and so nefariously designed that only a comic book story writer could identify with it.”

“So I have turned the corner and am excited to become a voice in this choir of voices. There is a clear message where once was a cloudy one. For me, I am appalled and disgusted by how this state, this governor and this country treats its children.We have stooped so low as to now allow corporate America to rob these beautiful young people of real creative flow (Cut art! Cut music! Cut sports!) We are allowing corporations to take the tax dollars of hard-working parents (and grandparents, and friends of parents, and aunts, uncles, etc) and squander it on corrupted, convoluted testing materials and centers. Worse, we allowing these beasts of greed to use CHILDREN as a means to make money, in the only last vestige of hope that they have … school.”

School, Smith concluded, is not supposed to be a place that can be invaded by “corruptive and manipulative companies using any means they can to rob these kids of forming their real and true identities.”

Want to come meet Jason Smith? Do you want to hold a sign up for your students? Do you want to take your power back?

Start here.  Picket in the Pines begins at the Comfort Inn in Lake Placid, where you can have lunch from 1-2; hear a presentation by Sabrina Stevens of Integrity in Education from 2-3:30; and make picket signs from 3-4.

Or you can just come to the rally, which is from 4-5 at Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid. This is where a group of so-called reformers are meeting. Education Reform Now, which is run by Wall Street hedge fund managers, is hosting its Political Action Committee — Democrats for Education Reform. They promote non-union charter schools, overreliance on standardized tests and Common Core, students-data collection, vouchers, merit pay, test-based teacher evaluations, privatization, and removing unions from almost any role in shaping curriculum or determining working conditions.

You can register here. We’ll see you in the pines.

picket in the pines


  1. Don Carlisto May 1, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    I’m proud of Jason, the Spencerport TA, the NYSUT Long Island locals and all others who have spoken up and spoken out against the corporate reform agenda being pushed by the governor, NYS Board of Regents, etc. The tide is turning; organize, educate, agitate.

  2. Lisa Kollmer May 1, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Very well said Jason. Together we can make a difference! Come one come all this Sunday. If teachers don’t stand up for the children who will?

  3. Greg McCrea May 1, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Grassroots activism is alive and well all across New York. The North Country makes us all proud – they have stayed the course and are fully committed to responsible stewardship of public education. New York’s children, from the Bronx to Buffalo, Plattsburgh to Port Jefferson, deserve a system that is free of privatization by millionaire opportunists. It’s time we sent the education carpet-baggers packing. Don’t sell our schools to the highest bidder.

  4. Melissa Devit May 1, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    I am so proud of Jason! Teachers, parents and community members need to stand together and take back control of public education.

  5. Maria DeAngelo May 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    Yes!!Great job Jason! It is time for educators and parents to stand together and give voice to the needs of our children. Childhood should be a time of discovery and joy.

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

    **Our group won’t be small and our voice needs to be heard!**

  6. Debbie Dermady May 1, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Someone once said to me, “The one thing you always must remember you have is your voice, so use it.” It has been a hard thing for many of us to do in a time when so much is at stake if you do. But I believe it has been and always will be about the kids, so I do speak, using my opinion and using evidence researched by so many in the trenches. I congratulate anyone who does use his/her voice during this difficult time when teachers are being scrutinized for every little thing they say or do. For me, teaching has and always will be a journey. But these last few years my journey hasn’t met with what I, as one who loves teaching, can easily accept.

    Diane Ravitch has shared the truth and now I share it with as many as I can through Diane’s blog and her books. We must look at the truth to Common Core, right from how it started (By the way David Coleman, I do give a **** about what my kids think) and what it is doing throughout the country and state, not just in our own little community. We must stand firm. One size does not fit all. CC was not created by educators. We should not have the federal government interfering with our public education. I thought I knew about Common Core. I thought change was good. I was wrong. I admit it. It takes a bigger person to admit they are wrong. Diane Ravitch admitted she was wrong about Common Core. Why can’t others? Why can’t they see the huge problem with education is about poverty?

    “Picket in the Pines” is for the wrongdoings of Governor Cuomo as to how he is handling the entire nightmare. It’s for the kids. If Governor Cuomo really listened to the people in the trenches, we would never be in the place we are today and have to picket. But he hasn’t listened. Commissioner King and the Board of Regents have not listened either. Perhaps they will listen now, as it is not only we the educators speaking now, it’s the parents and grandparents. They are the ones who hear from their children and grandchildren what is transpiring in schools all over the state. They will be in Lake Placid, too. Governor Cuomo, you as well as Commissioner King have made the parents and grandparents upset. They as well as all of us are not going to take this. For the sake of all of our children.

    Kudos to all who have used their voices. I know it is hard at times, as I have had my voice tried to be quieted, but you are right. What is happening to our children is wrong. Look at their faces. Faces tell the truth. We were fine just the way we were before CC. Our children were learning and test scores were fine. There was nothing wrong with what we were doing, just some reformers deciding change would be good and let’s try and privatize public education. They have forgotten that we are a democracy. We will win this. I just know it.

    I will be wearing my green on Sunday as well as my BATS pin and NYSUT t-shirt and have my best buddy who has supported me by my side, even though he isn’t an educator as some make known, he and I have raised three great kids who know right from wrong and what it means to tell the truth. He has read and researched so much about Common Core over the last few years, that he is an expert I can turn to. He has been the one who has stayed up late nights with me, watched me fret over learning new module lessons and calms my fears when I think I can’t do something the correct way state ed wants it to be taught. He watches me spend Saturdays working hard to try and figure our what on Earth the next week’s lessons will be like and if I really can make connections for kids as so many items they need to know are missing pieces not given or addressed with what I must find a way to teach. He also spends restless nights with me trying to figure out answers to lessons I have not been given as they supposedly weren’t contracted and “good teachers should be able to figure out anyways.”

    If it weren’t for the Lace to the Top, BATS, NYBATS, NYSAPE, AQE, NYSUT (One Voice United in June 2013 was the best ever) groups over the last two years, I would have felt all hope was lost. But they have made me strong. They have made me realize I have a voice. Not a voice representing others opinions, only my own from what I myself after listening and researching, have found to be true.

    Strength is in numbers. We must all take the time to be there Sunday at “Picket in the Pines.”

    It has been and always will be about the kids.

    Always, always, always use your voice. It may be the only thing you have left, but it is yours.

  7. El May 2, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Unsung Hero, that is Bill!

  8. James Batts May 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Congratulations, Jason, for your father, mother, and I are greatly satisfied to see cognitive retaliation to the “testing for profit” companies. It is sad to think that the arts must suffer for this nonsense. The success of any “democratic” enterprise is based on a well informed electorate, That electorate needs adequate information processing, a persistent quest for logical analysis,
    opportunity for discourse, exposure to the fine arts, etc. Teachers MUST resist being transformed into heartless and mindless beings.

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