YONKERS, N.Y. -- Teachers unions, politicians and parents congregated at Dodson Elementary School in Yonkers on Monday morning to call out state and federal education leaders on their decisions and how they affect the future of public education.
The event, led nationally by the American Federation of Teachers, joined teachers' unions together to call upon their elected officials at state and federal levels to decrease emphasis on test scores, and increase funding to schools that are struggling to get by.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, stopped at Dodson as part of a five school tour through Westchester and Rockland counties.
"This is a national day where we want to take back the promise of public education," said Pat Puleo, president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers.
Puleo emceed the event, calling up various community figures to speak to the cause.
Weingarten, who grew up in Westchester and Rockland counties, delivered a powerful speech.
She said, "We need a new direction that puts parents and teachers in the center of what children need because we are those closest to classrooms."
Weingarten added, "If we think education is the highway to the middle class, let's actually treat it that way, by funding it that way. Let's not have the crumbling schools in Yonkers that Pat brings me to visit over and over again."
She also touched on the Common Core, a controversial change in New York State curriculum that has been criticized as being too drastic too fast, saying teachers can, and should adapt to it, but they need to be given more time to test it and see if it works.
Mayor Mike Spano remarked on the general "illness" within New York's education system, saying similar cities like Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse are given funding that Yonkers is not.
"Yonkers is only school district out of all of those that is growing," he said, "Our funding stays the same or only goes up incrementally. We're not keeping pace, and if we're not keeping pace, our kids can't possibly keep pace."
Spano also said seventy-five percent of Yonkers children live at or below the rate of poverty, and that is something they have to address on the federal and state level.
Joe Mayhew, a parent of a special needs child in Yonkers schools, said, "You can sometimes see the anguish, the pain in (special needs childrens') faces when they try to prepare for these tests they know they can't pass."
He added, "My daughter, who is only 14, says 'Dad, Mom it doesn't matter. I'm not gonna ever pass this test.' Kids shouldn't feel that way when they're going to school every day, that's wrong."
He said children, especially special ed children, are not gingerbread people.
"Cookie-cutter approaches just don't work for them," he said.
Sen. George Latimer (D-37) spoke about his lower socioeconomic background growing up in Mount Vernon, and how it public schools affected his and his daughter's lives.
"Were it not for public education: the schools I went to, the teachers that taught me in the sixties and seventies, I don't know where I'd be in my life," he said.
Latimer said he realized parents in Yonkers are not being provided the same services he and his children were in the public school system, and that needed to change.