CSA President Mark Cannizzaro’s State of the Union Address at the 52nd Leadership Conference
On behalf of myself and my partners — Executive Vice President Henry Rubio, First Vice President Rosemarie Sinclair, and everyone here at CSA, welcome to our 52nd annual leadership conference. We remain absolutely humbled by your support, truly honored to represent you, and more inspired than ever to do right by you in our negotiations, which, as you know, are still underway. And looking out in this ballroom today, realizing how many of you turned out in solidarity with your union, I say thank you and give you my word that we will continue fighting for you with all our strength.
Here you are on a Saturday, even though you have jobs that almost never allow you a free moment for yourselves and your families. I’m reminded of my thoughts a few days ago when we rallied outside of City Hall. You understand that in unity, there is strength, and that strength allows us to fight for you so that you can continue to give all to your students and staff. And I’m guessing that based on your presence here today, that you have finally completed the new streamlined CEP, with its user-friendly portal. Congratulations on that achievement, folks, and all the carefree moments that’s sure to bring you!
But seriously, looking out on this crowd of over 1500 strong, thanks to your commitment, CSA has grown stronger — not weaker — since the Supreme Court’s anti-union Janus decision. And we are stronger than ever today as you raise your voices for a just contract from a mayor and a city who say nice things about you, but thus far have refused to act on them. Of course, you do deserve their accolades, but you deserve a contract.
Before I go further there, I want to thank you for the incredible work that you do every day. You are the amazing active and retired CSA members who have been carrying the banner for educational excellence and equity for generations. You lead all types of schools and daycare centers, or you provide critical support to those who do. And I feel this gratitude for you more deeply today than I did just a few years ago. Because when I left my school in June of 2012, I did not think your jobs could get any more complex, any more demanding, or any more difficult, but they have. And what’s truly remarkable is that you are still able to do so much for the children and young adults in your care. You arrive at work in the dark and you leave work in the dark. And you make sure that students have supplies, proper clothing, and food for the holidays. The ‘thank you’ messages that you receive, sometimes several years later, are priceless treasures that you hold dear.
You are also the ones with the institutional knowledge of this system. You have been through several administrations and at least as many reorganizations. You are the ones who have unpacked each new version of learning standards, new approaches to literacy, math, and general pedagogy. You have managed insufficient budgets and experienced several methods of evaluating students, teachers, and administrators. You have endured PASS reviews, quality reviews, state reviews, PPOs, more plans, rubrics, frameworks, surveys, iterations of the CEP, and policy manuals than anyone can count. You have participated on more teams and committees than people would think physically possible. You have been told what to do and how to do it, by people who have never walked in your shoes, and know nothing about your school.
You have dealt with PCBs, measles, lice, lead paint, empowerment, disempowerment, zero tolerance, total tolerance, early voting, release time for voting, changes to regulations and protocols that may be counterproductive, advances, advanced ceases, I tried to combine those two, ATS, Galaxy, N.E.I.S. You have seen your schools labeled as lacking by the whims of federal, state, and city statisticians. And you have completed the ridiculous accompanying plans for improvement.
Your workload is insane.
Confucius once said, “A man who chases two rabbits catches none.” If only we could chase just two! And while everyone acknowledges your workload and promises relief, it just keeps getting worse. It’s not possible to do it all.
We need more assistant principals in schools! And more EAs and supervisors of to carry the load in central and borough offices!
But through it all, you somehow make it work. You find time for the important things. You observe classes and offer feedback. You support your colleagues and make time for families in need. You celebrate staff and student success, offer discipline with love, and embrace diversity and inclusion. You are mentors, coaches and therapists. You never give up on students and you convince them not to give up on themselves. You make this system work because you love your kids and won’t allow it to fail them.
A recent Pew Research Center study indicates that Americans have more faith in school principals than any other group who hold positions of power and responsibility. And I maintain that by extension, that includes everyone in this room.
To his credit, our chancellor recognizes this also. Sometimes, we discuss your strong and steady hands during times of tragedy and hardship. Other times, it’s the partnerships you have forged or the climate you have created. And most recently, he and I have spoken about those willing to share their expertise. In other words, those exceptional leaders who mentor others, formally and informally, those who pay it forward. You know the kind of person I’m talking about, that person that taught you so much, through what they did, and said, and how they conducted themselves and treated others, and how passionate they were, and they did one other very important thing. They took an interest in you and played a key role in your leadership development.
For me, that person was Frank Moschella. Frank was my principal for eight years. He came to our school with over 25 years of experience as a master math teacher and assistant principal. He is skilled at programming, organization, and motivating people. He is a man of high integrity and to this day, has a work ethic that has to be seen to be believed. In 1990, Frank came to me and asked me to become a part-time dean. I was so honored. As a young teacher with a mostly senior staff, I felt like I had been chosen.
Looking back now, I know no one else wanted that job.
But in this role, I observed Frank as he spoke with students and corrected them while showing them respect, how he conducted meetings with parents without ever making them feel like they were being judged. And I learned that if the best classroom management strategy was a well-planned lesson based on the needs, interests, and entry points of students, then the same goes for organizing a school and creating a successful climate. Frank modeled genuine respect for all, long before any of us had to submit a plan for it.
And in 1995, I was honored again as Frank asked me to temporarily fill in as an assistant principal. He told me that I should not expect to get the permanent position because I was too young, but that this would be a good learning experience for me. And one other thing, as this was an acting position, I would not be part of the CSA and would not be getting a salary increase. I was a relatively young teacher at that time, so the salary increase I wasn’t getting was significant. This was an injustice that CSA has since corrected.
Now working even closer with Frank, I continued learning. We spoke about programming each student as an individual, allowing them to choose their elective and foreign language courses, and paying attention to which students should and shouldn’t be placed together. And then matching them to the teachers with whom they would work best. We spoke of celebrating success, involving parents, honoring labor contracts, and respecting everyone while always making student-based decisions. Frank embodied the mantra that this is a people business. Getting good people who genuinely care on board is more important than anything else to the long-term success of a school. And perhaps most importantly, Frank never missed an opportunity to check in to see how things were going, both professionally and personally. He genuinely cared and would go out of his way to offer a hand. Leaders like Frank, those who pay it forward, have a profound and lasting effect on this system.
In fact, I really believe that they are the key to the ongoing success of public education. So it makes me smile when I see leaders who remind me of him. Leaders like Kevin Froner from Hunter Science High School. He created the Gray Fellowship for school leaders. If you haven’t heard of that yet, check it out. And Alexa Sorden from PS 359 in the Bronx. Some of you know her. She graciously invites others to visit her amazing school, and they all leave having learned something and very, very impressed. And Nora De Rosa from IS 7. That’s right, 17 years as a principal. She doesn’t look like she’s 17, but 17 years as a principal. She quietly and confidentially mentors other colleagues simply because she knows it’s the right thing to do. And countless others, our union chairs and executive board members and heads of associations, and caucuses who give up what’s left of their time to engage members and advocate for them individually and collectively.
And then there are those superheroes among you, those who go home at night totally exhausted, but somehow, you muster the strength to give your own families the attention they deserve. I don’t know how you do it. The superhero at my home is my wife of 29 years, Barbara. She has managed her own career, been a supermom, and always encouraged me to move forward. Thank you, Barbara, for your love and support. There is no way I could do this without it or without you.
But brothers and sisters, I have to tell you, there’s a price to pay for your heroism. In the words of recently retired principal Sam Sochet, ‘This job takes its toll health-wise. The stress level starts to accumulate. The job can kill you.’ As a result, many members are retiring as soon as they are eligible, and fewer are applying for vacancies. We need to do more to attract quality candidates into all of our ranks, and make the job of principal a goal that most of our members aspire to, rather than a sentence to avoid.
You have my word that CSA will redouble our efforts and continue to work with Chancellor Carranza and our elected education leaders to find common-sense solutions, but please remember how important it is to take good care of yourselves. And while you make that time for healthy living, it’s also good medicine to slow down once in a while and look back with pride on some of your accomplishments, and also take stock of what we have recently accomplished as a union together. We are so proud that the state of this union remains strong. We have been able to maintain our quality pension, health and prescription drug benefits, as well as our unheard of, don’t say the number out loud, fixed-rate TDAs. And I’m sure you’re looking forward to another lump sum payment in February. For many of you, it’s significant.
And some of you recently received a payment from your time in the UFT. And I know that you know that CSA negotiated that for you. This year, our legal team secured pro-rata compensation for those who supervised three or more credit-bearing courses after the school day. And they negotiated principal salary for APs who fill that role on a temporary basis.
But now for something much more poignant. Sadly, between our conference last year and today, the CSA family has lost members, Paraskevi Demoleas, Paul Hoftyzer, Olivia Ellis, Darwin Smith, and Miriam Cruz. We honor them in death, and so should our city. In fact, we have insisted on it. Last year, I stood here and shared my disbelief with you over the city’s position that the families of those members who die in service were not entitled to the lump sum benefits that they had earned. I vowed to fight this outrageous injustice and I’m proud to report that after a long-fought battle, our legal team has prevailed. All of those families will receive the compensation that’s due to them. Now, this type of progress can only happen in conjunction with an informed and engaged membership. And on that front, we are stronger than ever.
Unionism itself is now supported by 64% of Americans, the highest percentage in recent memory. The working class wants its voice back. And that’s especially true in the field of education, where we have seen teachers from red states and blue begin to strike for decent pay and learning conditions for their students.
Locally, attendance is up at all of our union events, and the results of our survey indicate overwhelming satisfaction with CSA. The voice of our new members is being heard. They are more engaged than ever before, and their perspective is so important to our future. Last year, we delivered the first ever $10,000 college scholarship to the child of a CSA member. Do you have a senior in high school? Get ready, it’s coming out soon. We have begun seeding a disaster relief fund to assist members who have experienced devastating financial loss to disasters.
Brothers and sisters, you got together and sent over 2500 letters to our mayor and chancellor regarding our contract. Thank you.
And how about that rally? Over 2000 people stood outside of City Hall, to demand the respect that you have earned. We have been fighting hard for that contract for much too long. All of this is obvious in your passion and your response. Never did I expect that we would return to school this September, let alone come to this conference, without a contract. And there is some irony in the city’s obstinance in the face of a few reasonable requests. We are not asking for much.
But think about this. Our mayor recently made a play to become president of the United States. And he did this based mostly on your success in New York City’s public schools. He went coast to coast, and he touted the success of universal pre-K, reduced suspensions, lower dropout rates, and rising test scores. But instead of honoring, respecting, and rewarding you for doing that work, the mayor and the DOE right now are taking you for granted. Playing this game would not be as galling to me if the only thing at stake were the modest raises that this contract offers. And I realize that our concerns with micromanagement and workload and school safety will require ongoing collaboration regardless of how we address them in the contract.
But I cannot for the life of me accept that the city is trying to profit from a paid parental leave benefit. I hear from expectant parents among you regularly, many of whom have had to use their CAR days during high-risk pregnancies, or undergoing IVF treatments. And I hear from others who show up to work sick so that they can save their CAR days for maternity leave. Yet this city is asking us to overpay in givebacks, more than the benefit will cost them. You see, here’s what they say. Productivity is lost when our members go on leave. And therefore, we should pay significantly more for this benefit than our brothers and sisters in other unions. And we don’t mind paying for a benefit, but it is disgraceful for this city to try and profit from our members who wish to raise a family.
And how about that productivity argument? Can someone tell me exactly what we are excused from getting done when a member is out on leave? Productivity is not lost. When you are short-staffed for any reason, you work beyond what are already unhealthy hours, you endure unhealthy amounts of stress, and you sacrifice your personal relationships and your families, but the job gets done. Brothers and sisters, that keeps me up at night. However, that it seems that those on the other side of the bargaining table have no trouble sleeping. You see, they know that you will continue doing right by students. You are way too professional not to. And because you keep on producing, their bottom line doesn’t suffer. The mayor can continue bragging about your successes and claiming them as his own, taking credit for your accomplishments while paying no attention to the hours you keep or the toll that it takes. And I am not suggesting that you stop doing all you can for students. But if you miss a deadline or you refuse to attend a district function due to a family event, that won’t hurt students. Sometimes, you need to go home.
We are supposed to be living in the fairest and most progressive city in this nation. Yet, as we head into 2020, the mayor is playing hardball with those who have produced for him and given him his bragging rights. The mayor in this city are not putting their money where their mouths are. Instead of being beacons of progressive values and family values, they are behaving just like those they condemn. Being a realist, I will not expect to be treated fairly. I will instead take heed of these words from Frederick Douglass. “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted.” We will not quietly submit. Our endurance has again been underestimated. We who generally spend all of our time taking care of others must begin to take care of ourselves.
Our letter-writing campaign and rally were just the beginning. Over 2300 of you — the most ever — completed our survey. The results are troubling. While the majority of you are satisfied with the work of your superintendent or immediate supervisor (superintendents, you can smile now), and the overwhelming majority support your union, overall, your job satisfaction is down. You express deep concern that DOE policies, discipline code changes, and funding hinder your ability to provide a safe and conducive learning environment. You do not believe that we are headed in the right direction, and you have little confidence in our city leaders to right the ship.
While that’s scary, fortunately for our students, you do not let any of this affect the effort you put forth on their behalf. And it is your incredible efforts that keep us motivated at that bargaining table. We will use the results of this survey, not to point fingers or place blame — that’s not what we do — but as a springboard for change, and acknowledgment for the work that you do. Brothers and sisters, these are challenging times. But together, we have faced many challenging times. Our resolve was tested during our 2014 contract. We stood strong and supportive of our newest members, and we prevailed. We were tested again by the Janus decision, and we came out much stronger as a result. Then we ran an unlikely campaign to defeat the constitutional convention that threatened our pensions and benefits. And against all odds, we succeeded.
So today, we’re faced with yet another challenge and I’m calling on you to stand again, shoulder to shoulder with us. Together we will stand up and demand the respect that you deserve. Thus far, we have made a little bit of noise, but we have been reserved and respectful. Apparently, our tone has not been appreciated. So perhaps, reserved and respectful was the wrong approach.
We will do whatever it takes to remind our city leaders who it is that truly leads this system and keeps it afloat.
And because I know from experience that you’re all with me because I know that we will stand as one, I am more than just hopeful. I am certain that once again we will prevail. I am so proud to stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, the finest school leaders in the nation, and I am truly honored to represent you. Thank you all. God bless you.