Interview: Moira Kaleida on the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools at Ten Years

Moira Kaleida AROS

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) was founded a decade ago as a unique social movement vehicle that could unite the many different movement organizations working to protect and transform public education: parents, youth, educators, and community. Schott has been part of AROS’s founding and journey from day one, and they are one of our longest-standing grantee partners.

AROS was born out of the need to shift the narrative around public education, highlighting the successes within education justice networks, but also elevating community solutions over corporate or legislative edicts. Over the years, the coalition has hosted walk-ins, presented in numerous Congressional hearings, hosted a presidential forum, and helped to form countless community coalitions who fight each day for public education.

AROS National Coalition Director Moira Kaleida has been leading the group for the past year, and we sat down with her to discuss her work and the trajectory AROS is on for the next ten years.

What was your journey to education justice work, and what brought you to AROS?

First off, I am a public school kid. I went through twelve years of public school and for my whole life I’ve been passionate about it. I considered teaching — my degree is actually in education — but I really wanted to play a more active role in shaping education. I started doing education organizing work with our local coalition, Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, which formed through AROS. From there I was elected to the Pittsburgh School Board, where I served a term.

We were able to achieve a lot on the school board with an inside-outside strategy: the outside coalition working in tandem with efforts happening within the board. We passed Pennsylvania’s first gender nonconforming transgender policy to affirm students rights to identify how they wish. We were able to create a sanctuary schools policy. We established a new community schools policy. Bringing community schools model to Pittsburgh is one of the most exciting things we were able to do. After my board term I worked elsewhere in politics, but I was really missing the education work. And that’s when AROS called.

How has this first year treated you? What have been your priorities for the organization?

In the first year there has been a lot of rebuilding, a lot of putting new systems in place: developing our mission and vision statement, our theory of change, and a strategic plan. We’re working to grow our coordinating committee, too. This year, we’ve added HEAL Together and CJSF to the committee. We’ve put structures in place so that we can be successful in the future. And we have a new website!

We recently had a convening in North Carolina with our groups to work through some national messaging and to hear what folks on the ground really needed. We heard a need for popular education around privatization and its history, because it seems like we repeat the same cycle of attempts at privatization every ten years, and every ten years we have to fight back against it anew. From that our next step is to figure out what that looks like, and how we localize it to specific conditions. What does this look like in Columbus? What does this look like in Miami?

In an education justice movement full of groups, alliances, and coalitions, what role does AROS best play?

AROS’ unique role is the ability to bring many different groups into one space. We don’t typically have spaces where NEA and AFT organizers can come together — let alone in collaboration with community organizations, faith leaders, parents, and students. We all have differences in perspectives, but what unites us is a goal of protecting and transforming public education. And we do that by looping in labor, community, parents, and students and creating a coalition led by the people on the ground. One way AROS can assist this work is nationalizing their issues, asking how do we bring up the voices of folks like students and teachers and the issues that they’re experiencing, and make them part of the national conversation? Inherent to this kind of coalitional work is a comprehensive vision of what public education could be. Our public school systems should be non-biased and proactively anti-racist and should consider community factors like economic justice, housing, and all of the issues that encompass healthy societies.

Where is AROS most active, and where are you growing?

So right now, we have about 25 states with at least one table that is either a long-standing table or that we are working to help build. Two of our most robust tables are Reclaim Our Schools Los Angeles and the Baltimore AROS table, which are thriving. We also have tables that might come in and out of work, maybe around election school board elections or a bond issue. That’s how Pittsburgh’s table works. We work with our tables to build up their capacity, and then, crucially, connect them to each other and build statewide and ultimately national power.

Of all the places with an AROS presence, are there states you are paying particularly close attention to?

We’re paying a lot of attention right now to Florida and Texas. It’s important that we stay supportive to the folks on the ground who are still fighting there, even when others feel that there’s nothing left to do. We see a lot of abandonment of groups by funders and national organizations when things get hard, when people feel like they’ve been defeated. Part of AROS’ strategy is supporting those groups that are building in places like Arkansas, or Florida, or Texas to make sure that they know that they’re still supported by the national folks, even if they’re not feeling the love locally.

On the positive side, I’d say keep an eye on Michigan. I think they’re doing some great organizing there and have a statewide strategy. They are staffed and supported enough to really start making some inroads there on education.

How would you like to see AROS grow and evolve over the next ten years?

My hope would be that we grow both AROS and the combined networks of all our partners. I hope we continue to work to bring folks together, share ideas, and share best practices based on what we’ve all learned. The more people who enter into this movement in this space and find a home here, the better we’ll all be.

I would love to see AROS tables in every state, and to be building toward strong statewide tables to then help move our national and federal policies.

But ultimately? I’d like to see us be put out of work. I’d like to see us not have to have these same fights all the time, not be constantly fighting fires around the latest terrible thing that’s happening that we must stop right now. We need the space and energy to push for proactive things, like supporting and expanding things like community schools and restorative discipline policies. So ideally, we would organize ourselves out of all these jobs.

But for now, there’s more than enough for all of us to do! So I encourage everyone who cares about the future of public education to get involved. The only way we’ll win is by working together.