Blind father starts movement to support Warwick teachers
The ongoing dispute between the Warwick school administration and the Warwick Teachers’ Union has created a polarizing situation for residents.
On one end are people who think the teachers need to quit complaining, accept a contract offer and put the issue behind them. On the other are people who believe a majority of the school committee and superintendent’s office personnel don’t care about educating children, and that the teachers must resist harmful changes to their contractual language as long as is necessary until they are satisfied with an agreement.
While he doesn’t sit on either end of those extremes and feels both sides have room to make concessions, Warwick resident and father of six, three who are still in school, Michael Pella-Sabourin, definitely knows whom he stands in solidarity with.
“We’re behind the teachers,” he said with his youngest son, doing math homework at the kitchen table next to him. “We support them in what they’re doing. We support the teachers because they take care of our children. They’re the future.”
Pella-Sabourin is blind and has a host of health complications that could have killed him at various points in his life, but he has found enough passion in this position to draft up lawn signs emblazoned with “I Support Warwick Teachers” and go door-to-door around his neighborhood inquiring if anybody is interested in displaying the show of support in front of their houses as well.
The movement has taken off in his neighborhood, with signs visible on Main Avenue, Buttonwoods Avenue and his home street of Cameron Court, with signs popping up sporadically throughout the city. He said he has already garnered the support of the Warwick Teachers’ Union – president Darlene Netcoh has offered to help him print more signs – and the police and fire unions. He said he was also reaching out to various Warwick businesses for their support as well.
“I just want people to be educated,” he said. “This could be a much better community. We need to revitalize Warwick, and the only way we're going to do that is by educating people. I'm not asking for money. I'm asking for you to get involved in your community.”
Though he is not currently fundraising or asking for money via this campaign, Pella-Sabourin said he had hypothetically asked people during his door-to-door walks if they would be interested in donating $5 a week to go towards bettering educational standards for teachers in the city.
“Every one of them said yes,” he said. “How can you say no? Some of them didn’t even have kids. It’s common sense. You need to take care of the people who take care of your children.”
Although Pella-Sabourin gave Governor Gina Raimondo credit for showing initiative in funding programs to provide college education to more high school graduates, he said that unless this investment is started at the foundational levels of schooling, it will all be for naught.
“You can’t reinvest into Rhode Island if you don’t start at the beginning,” he said. “Children are going to colleges and they’re not prepared. You need to prepare them. You can reinvest all you want into college, but if the kids don’t complete it, what are you reinvesting in?”
Pella-Sabourin started a Facebook page, “We Support the Teachers” in September and is closing in on 500 likes. He hopes to continue growing this campaign and rallying support for teachers, and said he will continue his activism in various forms even after the teachers finally agree to a contract, if and when that happens.
As for getting to that contract, Pella-Sabourin summarized what many are feeling in regards to being exasperated by the whole situation after more than two years of disputes.
“There’s no set plan right now in the schools,” he said. “Everyone is angry at the same time and we need more listening. We’re all getting tired of it.”