Once in a while an event of vast consequence dominates a school year and overshadows everything. When Hurricane Sandy came ashore the night of Oct. 29, destroying thousands of homes and transforming many of our schools into sanctuaries, we all bore witness. School leaders worked around the clock to feed and shelter New Yorkers. Some of you lost what you owned. CSA’s new building at 40 Rector St. was damaged and closed for three months. Our union set up a fund to help stricken members and the contributions flowed in.
Weeks later, a madman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, slaughtering 20 tiny children and six educators including the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as she tried to disarm the killer. The rest of the school year was filled with heartfelt discussion and some empty rhetoric about how to control gun violence.
For our members, there were triumphs in the midst of tragedy: You helped develop your students’ minds, your schools won awards, you survived a school bus strike. You also dealt the best you could with the Common Core State Standards, a program with huge potential, which was unevenly implemented in NYC. Content development was mainly left up to schools and tests were poorly aligned to the standards. Nothing was piloted. Test results remain to be seen and will be of questionable value to students. Curiously, State Education Commissioner John King told you in advance that the results won’t be pretty but the stakes will be high.
Your lives didn’t improve under Mayor Bloomberg this year. It’s been obvious he never had any intention of negotiating our contract and has saved money on your backs. Nothing underscores the mayor’s unwillingness to deal with educator needs as much as the evaluation talks. Those screeched to a halt in January at the zero hour with a call from City Hall demanding that any agreement be held in perpetuity, and again, in April, when the city suddenly took its latest proposal off the table. Now, Dr. King is left to play Solomon.
With such a mayor, it wasn’t surprising that in March, just before test season, the DOE decided to pull Assistant Principals in excess out of schools where they’d been working all year and rotate them from school to school every week. CSA demanded to know who would take over the tasks they’d been performing since September. The outcry made so much sense that the DOE backed off at the last moment.
Luck was scarce for our Early Childhood Education members who ran city-funded day care centers. Before school reopened, the Mayor’s attempt to revamp day care – EarlyLearnNY – left many centers struggling to survive. Those members who held on saw the union salvage health care and vacation days for them, but it was tough going. I hope we can help more early childhood professionals when the mayor is gone.
The appetite to replace him with someone who really gets education was never more obvious than on Jan. 30 when CSA hosted a packed-house mayoral candidate forum moderated by NYU education professor Pedro Noguera and Liz Willen, director of the Hechinger Institute. It came through loud and clear that the audience thought that mayoral control should be reformed and the next chancellor should be an educator. We still await a clear education vision from all the candidates.
Speaking of elections: On the most local level, CSA had another one and I thank you for voting me in, uncontested, for the third time. With the retirement of Executive Vice President Peter McNally, Mark Cannizzaro was voted in as Executive VP, joining First Vice President Randi Herman and me. Mark has been our fiercest negotiator and also a vocal champion of our Educational Leadership Institute (ELI), which recently received its first state funding.
For all the solemnity of Sandy, we’ve never been discouraged from trying to make your lives better. Recently, we’ve offered you long-term disability and voluntary term life insurance, which members have told us are among their most cherished benefits. We’ve been able to do good and have fun at the same time, starting this year with a fundraising walk for the NYC Alzheimer’s Association, led by our Retiree Chapter, and ending with a robust partnership with the Children’s Health Fund to raise awareness of asthma and other health concerns in schools.
The wonder of life comes with not knowing what the future will bring. While I have hopes for next year, I have no predictions. Even when hope is realized as it was for many unionists, with one of the other momentous events of this school year – the re-election of Barack Obama – we can’t know in what ways the winner might disappoint us.
As I write this, the President is beleaguered by controversies concerning the IRS, the Associated Press and Benghazi. The same will be true if we elect a mayor who supports the union’s mission and your life’s work serving children. He or she will have shaky moments, but how much better off you will be to have as a leader someone who values and respects what you do and shows it with actions over rhetoric.