The Second Line Blog

Congratulations to Washington Elementary Teacher of the Year! Melissa Bagneris

I was recently honored by my peers with the highest recognition of my 11 year career so far. I was nominated and voted by my faculty and staff as the winner of the 2019-2020 Teacher of the Year for my elementary school in Jefferson Parish, Washington Elementary.

They say do what you love and you’ll never truly work a day in your life and though I couldn’t love what I get to do in life more than I love teaching my students…it’s a whole lot of work. As a single mom, and a Kindergarten teacher, I am no stranger to “thankless” jobs with incomparable rewards, but to have the people around you take notice, and take the time to stop and lift you up in recognition that what you do with passion and purpose is having a significant impact…there is no greater feeling!

I get to encourage, and empower our babies at their foundation as well as help build their character. I am a part of a faculty and a community in Kenner that over the past decade have become my true family and friends, and I cry every year at the fifth grade graduation when I watch class after class of my former Kindergarteners leave my school and go out to face the world. I am still in shock and surprised by this honor, but mostly I am humbled and so incredibly grateful to do this work that I love and will continue to give it everything I have, because I was called to do so.


Liberation in Education: Why Don’t We Just Tear the Whole Fence Down?

As I sat in an Alexandria, Virginia conference room along with other powerful, thought-provoking, expert parent-leaders, strategizing and organizing upcoming movements in the world of parent advocacy, the topic came up about the equality/equity picture. Yes, you know the one that has been used and circulated more times than any of us could probably name. The ballgame, the fence, and three individuals being affected by their positions as it related to the fence. Then UPLAN parent leader, mother, wife, and child-expert, Bianca Scott, said one of the most revolutionary and groundbreaking ideas I have heard in a while, “Why don’t we just tear the whole fence down”?

Eureka! The breath of fresh air that a simple question gave to a room was exhilarating. In fact, the thoughts birthed in me from that challenge are of a new and progressive way to address matters that have been stewing in the education swamp for quite a while and with no fresh or innovative ways to rectify the issues

First, let’s start with the repeated use of ‘equality’ and ‘equity’ in pictures, sentence, articles, and blog posts.  I am also a perpetrator of this act as I used the picture and dialogue in a previous blog on the topic. But, this was before my liberation, something most keepers of the gate don’t want. Why? Because it would be an end to their reign, dominance, and in many cases their financial flow. What the use of both of these words simultaneously does is aid in the confusion of the very groups of people (families) that it is intended to help. Many of us have pondered about this topic. Written on this topic. Listened to panels and explanations on the topic, which frankly means to me that its use is not sufficient and vastly outdated. If you have to go through the trouble of explaining this topic to education professionals, then imagine the exclusion that it causes to students, parents, and families.

I actually found another picture and story that added the use of the word liberation to the same “equality/equity” picture and story. That addition speaks of reimagining the idea and in fact tearing down the fence, subsequently freeing everyone one who was blocked, while also opening up the dialogue to ideas by the very people affected by the topic of fairness. Literal liberation and a voice.

Still, education entities promote the equality vs. equity model. This clearly states to me that the broad education village is satisfied with repeatedly supporting an idea of providing a service that would keep students, parents, and families dependent on them rather than empowering families or celebrating the power families already possess.

The convening in Alexandria, Virginia of strong and capable parent leaders was supported by NAFSCE as a way to not only engage but to empower and partner with powerful parents. If the education system in America is going to be better, then the leadership has to understand that any decisions, plans or goals will never be met as long as family engagement doesn’t seek to empower families and as long as families are seen as tokens in these plans. Without a significant admission that forward progress will only be accomplished by inviting and welcoming the very people who are being served, the education system in America is nothing more than a dog chasing its own tail. You are going in circles and will never go anywhere.

I believe the failure to acknowledge that the conversation about equality and equity is outdated and needs to be totally overhauled is a blatant attempt by the powers that be to keep families dependent. They know exactly what they are doing. It amazes me that in 2018 there aren’t any creative or innovative ideas coming from education leaders and that they fail to hear the voices of a large body of child-experts, the parents. 2019 offers a renewed chance to move forward in a new light but the switch has to be turned on first. If the switch is never turned, nothing will be accomplished. But, we as parents have our flashlights and we will keep presenting our demands!

Meet Gina Womack, A powerful advocate for Juvenile Justice reform

Gina Womack, the executive director of Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) went on to lead the campaign to close the country’s most notorious juvenile prison and continues to fight for services and treatment for Louisiana’s children.

This video is about families who were looking for help for their children and being unable to find the help they so desperately needed.

Parents Who Teach- Two Everyday Moms Who Stopped Their Kids’ School from Closing

Latoya Douglas and Dana Wade refused to sit idly by and allow test scores and hasty community/political leaders to decide the fate of their kids’ school. Without prior training, these two mothers organized and mobilized what is today called the ‘Parent Advocators’. This group was not only successful in keeping their kids’ “failing” New Orleans charter school from closing, they also led the charge to improve its letter grade and the overall culture of the school.

Listen to the podcast here

This post was first published on


Can Black Men Afford to Teach? We Can’t Afford for Them Not To.

For the record, I’m not certain teachers can really afford to teach if speaking in terms of financial compensation.  After spending so much time criticizing the limited representation of teachers of color, especially males (1.81% nationally), in New Orleans schools, I’ve had to seriously question whether or not teaching is even a career that would allow black men to adequately take care of their families, as society subscribes men to do.

A recent report concluded a significant reduction in the probability of high school dropout of economically disadvantaged males occurred when black male teachers are assigned to black male students during grades 3-5. Persistent inequities within our culturally diverse and nationally attractive city, make our schools more than just an engine for the instruction of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our schools are home. Our staff is family. Both, often providing the basic needs (food, security, belongingness, etc.) that some students, unfortunately, are unable to receive from their families within their homes due to varying circumstances.  More often than not, we immediately respond to the oppression of black women within our society, frequently overlooking the stress black males experience based upon the expectation(s) to carry the weight of the world because men are supposed to be strong. This shows up in our society either as men financially supporting the household or physically responsible for laborious tasks or emotionally bearing the burden of the fear and pain associated with just being a black man in America, especially within the country’s current racial climate of overt injustice and racism.

As stated in an NEA TODAY report, “Where Are All the Black Male Teachers?”, featuring African American first-grade teacher Robert Ellis’(CA) and Latinx math teacher José Luis, Vilson’s(NYC) there are concerns on the limited representation of educators of color and compensation:

He is a believer that teaching is still noble work. But when the conversation turns to teacher salaries, he can understand their reluctance. Since becoming a teacher, Ellis has learned to live frugally and take in occasional renters to make ends meet. It’s what makes doing the work he loves possible. In society, money matters, says Vilson, whose mother wonders why he doesn’t leave teaching to become a computer programmer, a job that would pay him more.

Much like my impact as a woman of color within schools where the staff demographic is predominately made up of white women, it doesn’t take long for these men to establish and build rapport and trust with students, particularly students who struggle behaviorally and/or academically and support them in achieving more opportunities for success.  If representation is too limited, the likelihood of becoming exhausted from the expectations to provide so much support to so many students can result in walking away from a career that is vital to our youth and community.

Our black and brown men face and overcome insurmountable odds and their journeys need to be shared and connected to students of color to aid in their growth and development. They need to be supported by school networks and leaders in order for this to not just happen, but to persist. Additionally, black males need to be recognized as more than behavior interventionists and/or paraprofessionals, because quite often, the male presence is often desired to act as a disciplinarian for misbehavior.

Limited support to foster these professionals is why local education recruitment organizations like Brothers Empowered to Teach BE2T are so critical to our community.

BE2T’s mission:

We recruit people of color–particularly black men–to explore careers in education, utilizing a formula that tackles the two key factors that keep black men from such a path. As much as 33% of college-bound black men will drop out by sophomore year. Of those who go on to graduate, they are not considering the teacher programs that are available because they do not resonate with them and they are too short and insufficient in preparing teachers that are culturally competent and content strong. We have to concurrently attach them to school, working with kids, and train them to be incredible teachers.

I have recently had an opportunity to see some fellows’ engagement with my students, and their presence and impact is felt immediately. As math instructor, Douglas Butler of L.B. Landry- O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School in New Orleans explained to me,

I believe men can afford to teach because teaching is bigger than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Teaching from a male’s perspective enhances the craft with survival skills. What I like to call, How To: How to provide for your family.  How to protect your identity. How to pay bills. How to raise a child. And lastly, how to be a better man in America.”

Until politicians and schools make improvements in teachers’ compensation and support,

perhaps, what one may lack in compensation and support, can be gained through the satisfaction of the output of necessary service work within a community where our future leaders need it the most.

Click here to read more about BE2T and their efforts within the community.


Holding the Highest Political Office Doesn’t Give You the Right to Disrespect Black Women

When the President of the United States rudely attacks and attempts to belittle three tenured White House correspondents, who happen to all be Black Women, then we have a problem. He lashed out at two of the women for asking professional and reputable questions. He disrespectfully called a question by Abby Phillip, the CNN White House correspondent, stupid. At the same question and answer session, he brought up a long time and respected White House correspondent April Ryan and called her a loser. If that wasn’t bad enough, out of pure immaturity and lack of professionalism, he told PBS NEWS White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor that her question about emboldened White Nationalists was ‘racist’. His tone, words, and body language were all an act of verbal assault. If we allow any man to talk to any woman in that manner, then I know we obviously have a problem. This is a problem that needs fixing really fast, and an attitude adjustment should be in the works. I owe everything to the Black Woman, and her protection is at the forefront of what I believe I must do in life. Black women are the most important women in my life; they are my wife, my mother, and my daughter. Their well being isn’t something I take for granted.

Recently, there has been back and forth about whether the President is outwardly and strategically targeting black women. Does he have a reckless or uncaring attitude towards these women of color? My opinion is it doesn’t matter what he feels; we, the people, see his disrespect and quite frankly are done with his foul-mouthed negative existence. Keep Black women out of your mouth, Donald. That’s not a road you want to travel and as a citizen of these United States, I command you to tread lightly in these territories for your sake and mine. You work for the people, nothing more and nothing less.

What these acts of outward disrespect conjure up are bold and senseless acts by Donald’s base and his political allies. Over in Mississippi, the most disrespectful cases of stand by your man has reared its nasty head. Seating Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from Mississippi recently uttered these foolish words while addressing supporter Colin Hutchinson, a cattle rancher after he introduced her, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”  Wow. A statement so becoming of a United States Senator. How does one expect me to be respectful to an office when this appointed politician and seated Republican representative, currently in a runoff election, is comfortable with using language like this?

The fact of the matter is what Donald does and what his cronies follow isn’t at all surprising to me. What is reprehensible is that folks who claim to be good people of morals, values, and character are voting for these people. The same individuals who voted for Donald, are in support Cindy Hyde-Smith’s true beliefs, and who encourage policies that are detrimental to humanity are in close proximity to you. Look around. They are your neighbors, coworkers, church members, and fellow countrymen.

So yes, in conclusion, no political office deserves respect. Human beings deserve respect. Good people deserve respect. Good people who have earned it. Putting a political office, even the one of United States President above its citizens is inhumane. It is a disrespectful act that ruins our democracy and quite frankly it’s unpatriotic.

Take it From a Parent: Here Are 5 Ways To Engage Me in My Child’s Education

What we haven’t done is to figure out how to not just engage but to empower the people whose children are being impacted by the work we do.

                                                     -Dr. Howard Fuller

Parents, regardless of their financial situation or social status, want the best for their children, particularly when it comes to education. They also want to help their children at home with homework and projects. I know personally that, as a parent, these actions are part of a bigger picture that means navigating a parent’s work schedule, family life, and social life.

Educators, administrators, and district leaders need to meet parents where they are, in order to invite the partnership and assistance of parents and families. The74 recently published an article on ways to engage parents. That list has merit but leaves out some key points. Built on my past experiences with advocating for children and the relationships with other parents, here are five ways to make a school’s relationship with parents smoother, and more empowering:


  • Joint Ventures: Parents have some very astute and practical ideas that can be further developed with the right partnership bringing families and schools together. Many of these ideas would foster a greater relationship within the circle of education and would strengthen the idea of working for our children from school to home and back. Joint ventures between educators and parents builds trust.


  • In-School Activities: Setting aside a dedicated time within school hours, where the partner relationship of parent and teacher is reinforced to the students for their progressive development, is not only a great idea but should be mandatory. Our children live in a fast-paced society where human interaction is almost incidental. Sure I can text you, email you, and call you, but it won’t be as effective as a face to face meeting. Imagine a period of time during school where parents are welcomed to engage and communicate about what we want to accomplish with our children, thus modeling the kind of interactions we hope to see in the real world. Texting, emailing and calls at times have to be translated. In person, I can look someone in their eyes and experience their emotions.


  • Direct Support: The saying, “Put your money where your mouth is”, isn’t just a saying.. There are many groups of parents who are organized and organizing, but need financial support to realize their big ideas and act on them. There is no better way to engage families than to leverage the genuine and authentic help of another family. I’m not talking about selecting a few parents to be on a panel or a board.  Schools should provide real resources so that a group of dedicated parents can go out and rally other parents, not just in quantity, but quality. Parents inspire other parents and a little financial help to organize wouldn’t hurt along the way.


  • ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’: I have been through two parent training cohorts and sat on numerous panels. I have taken flights to engage with other parents, and I continue to engage citizens of my community about educational outcomes in my city. I believe I am qualified to train other parents to do this work. Many nonprofits that run parent leadership training in my city have not followed through on their commitments to those parents. If you want to successfully engage parents, support capable parents with the tools they need to train other parents, making that engagement far less cumbersome. Because parents believe in other parents and trust they will train them right, stay engaged, and then institute healthy relationships with education officials.


  • Accessibility: This last point comes from a fellow parent and devoted colleague in the journey to attain a great education for all of our kids. Benita Cochran is a parent first,   and she offers her advice for true family engagement, “Ease of access to information. Incorporating different methods to allow parent feedback at meetings when they are unable to attend, like video /Skype/ Facebook live. Doing a Saturday board meeting so parents can attend. I know if these things were considered as options more parents would be involved. I think many can’t, because they are working.”


What I am describing is feet on the ground, roll up your sleeves work. If you want to know what parents need, make the effort, and come to the source! This can be accomplished and is within reach. Let’s come together, engage, empower and then move forward. The future of our children literally depends upon our ability, as adults, to do this.


Immigration and Social Movements: What’s at Stake?

Truth be told, I’m rooting for the migrant caravan that is making its way to the U.S. border in defiance of our country’s administration and border policies. I feel like I’m cheering on the underdog team in the World Cup or the Resistance in Star Wars. There is something critical about these seemingly small battles that ultimately weaken the empire. I am enjoying the challenge it presents because it offers another opportunity for a moment of reckoning for our country. The caravan builds upon the momentum of #MarchforOurLives while we also continue to strengthen our alliances across social movements. We are beginning to see exactly what the caravan has in common with the Black Lives Matter movement and what we all have in common with the #WontBeErased and #MeToo campaigns. In other words, we can see what’s really at stake.

Namely, we are being asked to explore deep questions about who we are as a country and the promises we make about opportunities. These are questions that always have been beneath the surface of our dialogue, but we are now in a time where we are raising these truths and demanding a more honest conversation.  

The caravan and all of these movements ask us to look at our history. In reading one article, I couldn’t help but scoff at the headline, which asserted that the caravan is a “Challenge to the Integrity of U.S. Borders.” The word “integrity” was an oxymoron in light of the U.S.’s history of stealing the land from Mexico.  Where was the integrity when Congress passed a substitute protocol to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that required Mexicans to prove in U.S. courts that they had ‘legitimate’ title to their own lands? Any authentic discussion of our border security must acknowledge our history of theft and imperialism in the Americas. Otherwise, we continue to perpetuate the same dynamic of violence and oppression.

We also know that to look at the history would also bring to light another painful question – how does our history live on in our political systems? For example, if we acknowledge the history of genocide, or slavery, or the use of racist ideologies to set our immigration policy, we might also have to acknowledge the thread of continuing damage and take responsibility for it. In the case of immigration, the system itself was used to construct and maintain wealth and privilege based on whether one would be classified as white. One of the first major pieces of immigration legislation, The Johnson Reed Immigration Act of 1924, set restrictive quotas on immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Yet, in the immigration debate, we often hear the phrase “rule of law.” Anti-immigration advocates assert that immigrants aren’t following or respecting the law. What they do not acknowledge is that the laws themselves are rooted in racist ideologies. In the time of Jim Crow, many moderates also wanted black Americans to respect the “rule of law.” Now, the Central American immigrants are reminding us to question the laws and the systems themselves. This is exactly the message of all of our movements.  Earlier this year, the detention of children weakened our trust in the immigration system. The deaths of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland weakened our trust in the justice system. The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh—despite Dr. Ford’s testimony of sexual assault—has weakened our trust in our social values. While many U.S. citizens want to hold tightly to their fantasies of fairness, these movements are creating a chorus of voices that are becoming harder and harder to drown out. They are demanding that we change our systems.

Moreover, in a time of globalism, I find it very exciting that the newest challenge is coming from non-U.S. residents.  Just as our own neighborhoods in the U.S. are marked by tremendous amounts of segregation and economic disparity, our relationship with Mexico reflects the same issues on a larger scale. They are our neighbors too, and until we truly begin to see the ways we are interconnected, we will all suffer from the consequences of violence and disparity. We have created the conditions for poverty and violence in Central America through our imperialism, investment in war, and trade policies, and as a result, we see the proliferation of gun violence and drug epidemics in our own communities. Until we recognize that we are all in this together, we will continue to harm ourselves. We will continue to see the impact of our own narrow-mindedness, fear, and greed.

With each step towards the United States, these marchers are challenging the United States. But contrary to some claims, they are not challenging our “integrity,” but our lack thereof.  They are challenging us to face the gap between who we purport to be and who we actually are. With so many movements gaining traction, we truly are in a defining moment for us as a nation.  We will have to decide whether we will continue to attempt to deny and bury the country’s wretched history with even greater force and oppression. Or will we face it, as these movements are asking us to, in the hopes that facing the violence will begin the process of reconciliation and healing.  Either way, one thing is clear. Everyone is watching; because what we choose is going to impact not just Mexico and Central America, but the entire world.