A Utica Student’s Open Letter to Cuomo

An Open Letter to Governor Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

My name is Trinh Truong and I am writing to share the sad but true story about the status of my public education. I’m a senior at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica, New York. My school is in a very urban area with a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic diversity. There are 2,800 students that attend my high school. There are over forty-two languages spoken at my school and forty-four percent of the students live at or below the poverty line. My high school is representative of the community in which I reside; there are 60,000 residents in Utica, with about 25% of them being refugees.

The poverty rate in my city is very high, so on top of having the double-edged sword of diversity we also have a weak tax base.

The population of our school district has increased by 900 students within the past decade. However, state funding has decreased, and continues to do so. We are in a unique situation—pervasive poverty, increasing enrollment, a weak tax base, and the emergence of charter schools. I cannot stress enough the importance that state aid plays in sustaining and fostering my local school district. Every student in New York State has the right to a “sound, basic education” as per the New York State constitution.

The state has an obligation—moral and constitutional—to step up and eliminate the disparities and deficits in education funding. Utica has done the best that it can to provide a world-class education to its students on dwindling resources, but will not be able to do so if these education cuts persist.

These education cuts have already cost my local school district enough, and yes—money does matter when it comes to education. There are over 34 students in a typical class in my high school. Sometimes, students have to stand because there aren’t desks for them to sit in. The same thing is occurring at the elementary level. Elementary teachers have even changed the seating every week so that each student has a chance to see the board.

The issue of class size is just going to be exacerbated by the imminent teacher cuts. Regarding supplies—my chemistry class, along with the physics and biology classes, has had to sell coupon books in order to pay for our science experiments. How is one supposed to learn chemistry without chemicals? I’m still trying to figure that one out.

In my English class, paperbacks are photocopied because we simply don’t have the money to order more. And some classes don’t even have textbooks because again, there is no money for them. This is inexcusable. But what’s truly inexcusable is that this issue of educational inequity isn’t limited to schools like Proctor or districts like Utica—it’s a crisis that many schools in New York State are facing.

Governor Cuomo swears all of this reform isn’t personal—but it is. My mother and I resettled here, in Utica, because of the opportunities that education can offer. It’s truly a socioeconomic equalizer in this country. The teachers and administrators of the Utica City School District do their best to bring everyone to their full potential, regardless of race, religion, class, and the many other categories in which the diverse students of Utica can be grouped in. And they’ve done it for me.

Sometimes people think that’s a feel-good sound byte that I include to make my district stand out, but I really mean it. In my personal experience, the value of the Utica City School District cannot be quantified. I literally came to this country with absolutely nothing, and public education has given me everything. The education I received has set me up to attend the top universities in this nation. Statistically, I wasn’t supposed to succeed. But because of a school district like Utica—I did. When the Governor is enacting policy that will directly affect my future and the futures of the 3 million students in this state, you bet it’s personal.

Governor Cuomo, I’ve been advocating for public education since my freshman year. I’m now a senior. After fighting tooth and nail for the simple idea of adequate funding for education, I’m angry. I’m angry that the Gap Elimination Adjustment and frozen foundation aid continue to deprive districts in my community of funds needed for teaching the next generation. And now I’m even angrier that you’re on a witch-hunt to fire some of the most respectable people in this country—teachers.

It’s amazing that 98.7% of teachers manage to be effective, especially when teachers like the ones in Utica are shaping students that struggle with broken families, poverty, language barriers, and special needs. I don’t think that making 50% of a teacher’s worth dependent on standardized test scores will weed out “ineffective” teachers. In reality, it will decrease interest in the field of teaching, discourage amazing educators, and perpetuate de facto segregation in public education.

I am a student who wants to succeed, learn, and be “career and college ready.” But how can I do these things when my education is shortchanged? When the people administering it are disrespected and discouraged? When my governor is forcing schools like mine into a fiscal corner so his flawed teacher evaluation system can be implemented? How can a teacher focus on fostering a love for learning when all that matters are numbers? How can any student succeed, learn, or care, when they are consigned to New York State’s underfunded education system?

Governor Cuomo, it’s time for you give credit where credit’s due. How did you get the education that you needed to become governor? From teachers. Come to my school. Come see how we’re dealing with a system that sets us up to fail. And please—respect public education. It works.

Trinh Truong
Thomas R. Proctor High School Senior

Trinh will be graduating in June 2015 and is currently awaiting to hear back from several Ivy League universities for the Fall 2015 semester. A high school senior, she has been involved with local activists and initiatives since the Occupy movement began. She currently serves as the Utica Youth Common Council President.

22 replies »

  1. Reblogged this on Valenti's Views and commented:
    As a former graduate of Thomas R. Proctor, I take delight in seeing someone that discerns a need and attempts to fix the matter. Asking Governor Cuomo for state assistance is not the answer, a local philanthropic solution for the school would be the best choice and the quickest way to solve the schools concerns.
    Involving the government always has its drawbacks and never ceases to press its concerns upon administrators. Budgetary issues will always run rampant unless an alternative process such as continual philanthropic help rises to the forefront with a plan for the maroon and white


    • This well-spoken young person is asking for something from our state government that is a right. She shouldn’t have to ask for it. The NYS Constitution guarantees a “sound, basic education.”. They are not living up to their promise to our state’s young people.

      Districts shouldn’t have to beg from philanthropists. It is a shame that our schools are lacking funding they need and so few are up in arms and demanding that funding be restored to our schools. It is taxpayer money and it is being withheld. That’s a problem!


    • I am certain that the school will be most appreciative of your donation! Please don’t hesitate to mail your check ASAP! The students are waiting…and please encourage all of your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same…unfortunately this won’t cover all of the expenses necessary. Perhaps you missed the part where the author talks about fundraising…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo! A well reason and duly presented presentation of the current situation written effectively by a student not a politician but a student displaying the positive results of public education in this state.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well written open letter from a young woman who obviously understands the plight of Utica City Schools. As an art teacher in the district I have seen tremendous increases in class sizes, less services for students that not only need to be taught general education but social values too. My students ask why I have to teach at two schools and why they cannot have more art time to actually be able to work with other materials that require more time.

    Specials have suffered greatly in the district taking away time from art, music and PE. Trinh is an exceptional student and is unfortunately an exception. She has been able to withstand the dwindling materials and services to rise above. Most in Utica are not quite able to do that.


  4. Great letter! Governor Cuomo has been ignoring the opinions of teachers and students for a long time. Let him know that education is not a temporary thing. Those 12 years we spend in school shape our lives more than we think.


  5. Reblogged this on M. Reed McCall, Author and commented:
    A wonderful and thoughtful letter, right from the mouth if one of those impacted most by the vendetta NY’s Governor sems to have against public educators and education. Well worth a read. I grew up 25 minutes from this student’s district, and my sweet mother was born and raised in Utica, NY.


  6. Bravo! Well said – Gov. Cuomo needs to wake up and smell the coffee – if he’s even capable of that.


  7. The letter is beautifully written expressing truth and conviction! Bravo to the Utica Public School System and their role is shaping this articulate young woman! If ever a proof that our public education system works in shaping our young people to be academically successful as well as becoming intelligible engaging citizens of this nation, just read this letter from a New York State public high school student! In my mind, there is not one exam that Cuomo and his cronies can develop that can inspire or measure such passion and devotion in any student, save a teacher, who cares to stoke the flames of fervor and ardor and belief in one’s self, in one’s convictions, and in one’s nation. God Bless her!


  8. What a wonderful letter to the Governor about the Utica Public School System. My daughter teachers in the Elmira Public School System and it is exactly the way you describe your district, word for word. What are we going to do to get this man to listen and visit our schools. He continues to ignore us. We are all so frustrated, depressed and losing hope. How can we get to this man ????? My daughter has taught for 28 years and can’t believe what is happening. She ( LOVES ) teaching !!!! She has worked her heart out to make all her students succeed but due to the increasing Welfare in our town, this is becoming impossible but our Governor will not listen and continues to blame teachers. My daughter doesn’t even see a lot of her students and the ones that do make it to class refuse too take part. It’s a mess and the teachers have had it. Cuomo hates public education and above all does not respect teachers !!!!!!!!! Very, very, very sad !!!


  9. This isn’t astonishing as most that grow up in the Utica school districts have had the same to report. I applaud this young one for speaking up! Even though this it is what it is, it still needs much improvement!


  10. Trinh – thank you for a wonderful letter. You are amazing and strong, and I hope you continue to keep up the good fight! I am also a product of CNY schools (though much smaller rural ones) and terrific teachers I still think of and am inspired by nearly 30 years later – and as a teacher myself (in IL) I feel your pain and the pain of the teachers who are fighting along with you and your schoolmates. I wish I could tell you it’s just NY being foolish and shortsighted…but it’s as bad or worse throughout the rest of the country as well. It takes all of us, everywhere – students, teachers, parents, citizens – standing up and speaking out to have a chance of righting these wrongs. Thank you for so articulately adding to the voices for good sense!


  11. you guys should build a green house ands grow food to buy books and stop wineing and get to work, at the end of your state education you will work for the banksters in some low life corporate job eating gmo and drinking floridated coffee and getting your mandated cancer causing vaccine shots.


  12. Great letter. Agree with it all, except the line, “We are in a unique situation—pervasive poverty, increasing enrollment, a weak tax base, and the emergence of charter schools.” This situation perfectly describes the situation in my District, Albany, and I imagine most other small urban districts throughout the state.

    For the commenter who said asking for more money isn’t the answer – New York State is ranked near the bottom in school funding equity. In the most recent report from the Education Law Center (2014), we received an F in funding distribution, even though we were ranked second in funding levels (Wyoming ranked first. Who knew?) So basically, yes, our state IS spending a lot on education, but it is not being distributed equitably, and poor schools are losing out. So the solution doesn’t even have to mean more money spent on education, just that the money be distributed more fairly.


  13. I applaud her for her passion but nothing is free including education. This situation is not all that unique. If we were to give all the districts additional funding it ultimately comes from your own pocket. Everyone wants the government to provide services but forgets who really pays for it.


  14. A great, strongly worded representation of the hardships that many districts in the state face.

    Speaking as a student hailing from Upstate, not far from Utica: My teachers were beyond fantastic, and absolutely shaped my mind to foster abstract, critical thinking; which is an attribute flirting with extinction with the way the education system is being remodeled. I was fortunate enough to not only graduate prior to this sad excuse of an official coming into office, but also fortunate enough to get out of the CNY area before his anti-public education plague really started to kick off.

    Self-funding can only go so far when education standards are ever-increasing. Sure you can fundraise to buy some books, but that only gets you so far. The people saying the district should stop whining and raise their own funds need to gently remove the silver spoon in their rectum, as if they had to raise all of the money that went in to their primary education. For the people saying the schools need to beg for philanthropic handouts over government assistance are simply being ludicrous. Philanthropy can only sustain anything for limited time. The tax money funneled into the government by the citizens residing in the district should absolutely be partially delegated to the education of their children, regardless of if the education is public or private.

    What I can specifically speak of:
    Great for you, as a student to take advantage of opportunities presented instead of succumbing to the regional issues that many other youths get dragged in to. It seems you did largely the same as myself- used it to fuel your fire of ambition to be successful and get out. Being a person that hails from a similar situation, and has been through the college process, now working on my doctoral thesis in developmental neuroscience, if you have questions I am more than receptive to do my best to help guide your successes.

    Best of luck with your college applications.


  15. William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Trinh, you are an excellent example of the “fire”. The fight must continue to protect our democracy from the avarice of corporations and hedge-funders who would put profit before education …profit before America


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