Doing the Work: Columbus Education Justice Coalition
Bringing the community back to schools
Last year, teachers, parents, students and other community advocates showed what they can do when they come together in solidarity. Due to years of underfunding and disinvestment, Columbus City Schools (CCS) were full of unsafe school facilities with leaking or missing ceiling tiles, lead-based paint, and broken playground equipment. Like many districts around the state, CCS also had widespread teacher and staff shortages. The Columbus Education Association (CEA), wanted better pay for teachers’ essential work, expanded music, arts, and physical education programs, smaller class sizes, and proper heating and cooling systems in buildings. When the Columbus Board of Education (CBOE) refused, 94% of CEA’s 4,500 members voted to go on strike. After a 3-day strike, both sides reached an agreement. The new contract improved conditions for students and educators by raising pay by 4%, reducing class sizes, and guaranteeing that all schools have proper HVAC systems by the 2025-2026 school year.
But the fight for high-quality public education for every Columbus student was far from over.
Energized by the CEA’s contract campaign, educators, parents and community members formed the Columbus Education Justice Coalition (CEJC) to take power back for the people too often left out of the district’s decision-making process: our students, parents, & educators.
Izetta Thomas (she/her) co-founded the CEJC. Izetta is proudly from Columbus and a product of Columbus City Schools. Attending Sullivant and Deshler elementary schools and graduating from East High School, Izetta developed a deep passion for her city and the schools that are a part of it. Izetta was raised by a single mother and became a first-generation college student when she attended The Ohio State University through OSU’s Young Scholars Program. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education and a master’s degree in Early Childhood Intervention, which further fueled her passion for ensuring that the students who need it most receive the education they deserve. In 2004, Izetta returned to the district she loves, as an Early Intervention Specialist for Columbus City Schools. Since then she has held several other support positions in the district, working with teachers, parents and kids on social emotional learning (SEL), coping, and communication skills.
Outside of her work fighting for education justice in the city, Izetta is an award-winning poet and entertainer. In 2013 Izetta was the Columbus Arts Festival featured poet, performing a poem she wrote about Trayvon Martin for Trayvon’s father at the 2022 Columbus State MLK week event. She is a member of the sorority Zeta Phi Beta, Incorporated and she is the founder of Black Girls Plan: Columbus, a collective of BIPOC women and femmes who come together to share visions and dreams, as well as practice functional and decorative planning for self-care and success. Izetta lives in Columbus with the love of her life Tiffani Smith (owner of Sankofa Arts) and their dog Willo.
Izetta’s passion for organizing and fighting for change began in 1995 while she was attending East High School. The school had instituted a dress code and the students were not happy about it. She worked with members of the class cabinet to organize a rally against the dress code. She stated that “this was the first time I realized my power,” and the rest is history. Around the same time, East High School desegregation bussing ended, and the district went back to neighborhood schools, which made clear the inequities of the district and city, and the need to keep fighting for the education students needed to thrive.
That same drive to fight for what is right deepened after the CEA strike, which led to the formation of the CEJC, a coalition of like-minded individuals who want to connect the community back to Columbus schools, include everyone in conversations about our schools, and ensure equitable, high-quality public education for all. Led by a core team of Izetta along with Courtney Johnson (librarian at Fort Hayes), Allison Volz (5th grade teacher at Highland Elementary), Marty Flood (Kindergarten teacher at Indian Springs), Melodie Agnew (Ohio Organizing Collaborative), Derek Burtch (Erase the Space), and Stuart McIntyre (community member, Columbus resident). Along with the CEA, the coalition includes other advocates, such as the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, All in For Ohio Kids, OPAWL Kaleidoscope Youth Center, Pint Size Protestors, and Erase the Space.
CEJC is always looking to partner with other organizations with a shared interest in empowering community members and holding decision-makers accountable for the Columbus community and schools. The coalition is kicking off 2023 with a listening campaign, “Our City, Our Schools.” This will be an opportunity to hear from parents and community members about how to create more inclusive schools and engaged learning communities, so the coalition can develop an action plan for sustainable changes in our schools and our city. The campaign will run from February 15th through June 14th. If you are interested in making your voice heard or serving as a volunteer for the listening campaign, please fill out this form.
The coalition meets via Zoom, on the 1st Wednesday of every month, at 6:00 p.m. Register here.
You can also keep up with CEJC Follow on Social Media: