Alumni Elevate Teacher Voice in DC

James Tandaric, Inspired Teaching Fellow (‘16), is a 2nd Grade teacher at Raymond Education Campus, and the Chair of EmpowerED’s School Integration committee. We spoke with James to learn more about his work with EmpowerED and his participation in the EmpowerED Teacher Voice Summit.

How did you get involved with EmpowerED?

I wanted to get more involved in DC education reform, beyond my work with Inspired Teaching, and knew about a few different education activist groups that I was interested in. I was considering what I wanted my next step to be when Scott Goldstein, founder of EmpowerED came to Inspired Teaching’s Changemakers in Action event looking for educators to join his group. Since he was taking the time to ask Inspired Teachers to join the group, I figured should give it a try!

I am now a member of EmpowerED’s Teacher Council, where I am the chair for the school integration group. The purpose of the action group is to talk about segregation in DC, and work to produce more diverse schools in all sectors (public, public charter, and private).

How does your work with EmpowerED connect to your experience as an Inspired Teacher?

When I was planning for the summit, I was recalling my experience as a Resident at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School (ITDS) and my first year as a teacher of record at Raymond Education Campus. Raymond and ITDS are very different, and they serve different demographics. I had also previously worked at a school in Ward 8. The different perspectives that I gained from working at different schools helped me a lot, and made me think critically about what I can do to create change in DC.

What is the EmpowerED Teacher Voice Summit?

The Teacher Voice Summit was an opportunity for teachers and policymakers meet to discuss key education issues in DC. The day was a great launching point for all of the action groups.The summit enabled education activists to network with other people who are passionate about creating change, and advocate for solutions to problems that the DC education landscape has struggled for a while.The day was unique because teachers are often coerced into not speaking up and this summit contradicts that.

What role did you play in the event?

We have been planning the summit since August. We established action groups divided by topic, andin each group the main agenda item has been preparing for the summit. We discussed our overall goals and values.

I had the opportunity to give remarks as part of the summit’s keynote presentation.  Usually in a keynote, there are one or two speakers, but in this case there were 10 speakers. We wanted to make sure a variety of students and teachers were able speak up about the issues that the action groups have been working on.

During my speech, I shared a moment I experienced that fueled my passion to advocate for school integration. Recently, I was talking to another teacher about how DC’s wards are very racially segregated, and he said that he hadn’t known that was an issue. This was shocking to me. As a person of color, and as a person who has worked in a variety of school settings, including Ward 8, I wondered, how can he not see this? The discussion made me more determined to help all teachers be more aware of these racial divides. 

What is something that surprised you about the summit?

Someone at my school was also a keynote speaker and I didn’t even know it until he came up on stage! He is a Literacy Lab tutor, who works in Preschool, and so we rarely cross paths. He gave an incredibly powerful speech. It was amazing to connect with another activist who works at my school.

Now that the summit is over, what comes next for you?

We want to focus on collaboration. There were many DC councilmembers and working with them that day set the stage for increased collaboration. I also met representatives from Live Together, Learn Together, which serves a very similar purpose as EmpowerED but is spearheaded by parents and community members. We want to partner with them as well, to leverage all of the social capital we can, to best serve students across DC.

We are still in the planning stages for what these partnerships might look like and my committee is continuing to meet to determine next steps. We’re always looking for new members – so if anyone reading is interested in getting involved you can sign up here!

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