I am voting for Jia Lee in the spring 2016 UFT elections. I am campaigning for her. I am convincing everyone I can to vote for her.
My caucus, New Action/UFT, is running a joint slate with MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators). Part of our agreement was that the presidential candidate would come MORE’s ranks, subject to mutual agreement. A few weeks ago MORE told us that their only nominee was Jia. New Action’s Executive Board quietly and unanimously approved. Thus MORE’s big announcement at their October 24 Conference: Jia Lee voted in as MORE/New Action’s Presidential Challenger to Michael Mulgrew and his Passive Unity Caucus.
Jia Lee is a UFT Chapter Leader at her school, The Earth School in District 1, where she teaches special education in grades 4/5. She is a leader of the opt-out movement, the parent/teacher/community fight back against standardized testing. She has taught a lot of parents and teachers about opt-out, and changed many minds. She also went to Washington and told a bunch of senators about opt out. I’m not sure if she changed any minds there, but it’s a good a photo and a good headline, and testament to her leadership role at the local level.
Jia’s teaching career began in 2001, teaching high school in District 75.
I’ve just met Jia twice, she’s certainly personable, there’s not much more I can say. But I’ve seen her speak several times at the Delegate Assembly, most recently advocating that the union try to stop the DoE from screwing mom’s on maternity leave. (She spoke well, but the woman Michael Mulgrew chose to respond argued against helping mom’s on maternity leave, since they can get paid two year’s later than everyone else and they made a choice….)
Anyway, my announcement’s not really news. But if I am going to get back to writing, this announcement needed to be in this space.
Last night I walked into Warby Parker and ordered up some nice frames. Rowan, if you are curious. In “graphite fog” which we know really isn’t a color, but we get the idea, right?
So I’ve got one clerk helping me, and as I’m narrowing choices I’m asking another two clerks opinions, and we are chatting, and they are trying to figure how where I am on the old fogey / boring / interesting / brash / conservative / whatever spectrum, and I’ve chosen and they are putting in the order, and one guy, seemingly in charge, says he taught for a while, too.
“Where?” I ask. “An after school program.” “Where?” I ask. “California.” “Northern? or Southern?” “Central, actually.”
Now I find that surprising. Central California? I only know one guy from Central California.
“I only know one guy from Central California – back when I used to blog” (I don’t think I am actually back. We will see) “about math, among other things, there was this professor in one of the lesser known colleges in the UC system, Portuguese, off a dairy farm in Central California” “I’m Portuguese off a dairy farm” “Well, actually, I think this guy was Azorean” “Me too! My grandparents!” “And he wrote a funny book about growing up on the farm, family rivalries, old country stuff. It was a lot of fun. Land of Milk and Money I think it was called”
And the other clerk is checking me out, and this guy asks – “is he –” and he says I name that I think is right. “Oh man, these are my people, I need to get this book”
And I hope he does.
I need to do, should have done long ago, a plug for Land of Milk and Money. Zeno Ferox is the pseudonym of a math professor in the UC system, blogging at Halfway There (yes, for my mathy friends, the pseudo+blog are a joke).
The book is about an immigrant family, from the Azores, finding success in the Central Valley of California as dairy farmers. Funny stories and bits of family history are woven into an arc, where the success of the first generation leads to bickering amongst the second and the third – a tale familiar to some other immigrant groups in the US as well. In fact, I have a few stories… but I’m no writer.
Anyhow, Land of Milk and Money is an easy read, well-written, thoroughly enjoyable. I encourage you to find a copy.
I attended this past Saturday’s State of our Union conference. It was the first official MORE event I had ever been to.
I missed the opening plenary. What a shame! There was an official announcement that Jia Lee would be the presidential candidate of the joint MORE/New Action slate. I would have liked to have been there. Then there was Jia’s speech, which I caught on line, but would have liked to see in person.
But I got there in time for two of the three workshops. There was a good group of New Action supporters. But there were A LOT of people. Every room I visited was full. Not everyone else there were MORE supporters. Some were from caucuses from other cities. There were the curious. The third caucus. And people who were parts of other progressive organizations doing work in the NYC Public Schools.
The discussions I stayed for – discontinued probationers and integrating our schools – had fairly wide-ranging discussions. I agreed with a lot, disagreed with some, found some fascinating. But that’s what discussion’s supposed to be like, right? What a contrast to the UFT Executive Board, where a handful of people speak, but most members sit silently meeting after meeting, only speaking to vote “Aye” or “Nay” in unison.
We were greeted warmly. There was genuine appreciation that we are working together on this election – even from people who were incredibly hostile to us in the past. Of course, some of them might have said the same about me. Maybe there was a vague air of self-satisfaction from a few of the organizers – but I can’t imagine having double the planned turnout without feeling at least a little satisfied. Two plenaries, fifteen workshops, all full? Hell, I’d be smug about that.
In the rooms all ideas were taken seriously – MORE’s goal was to assemble/work on program. This was their outreach to their supporters, and they got a lot of input. And while the two groups will sit down later and go through finer points, I think they appreciated some of our input at this stage as well.
I stayed for the final plenary. Good idea. The speakers from Seattle and Philly were interesting, though I didn’t take notes, and don’t have great recollection of what they said. I think Megan Moskop spoke, maybe organizational stuff? wrapping up? In fact, there is only one thing I really remember from the end: Lauren Cohen gave the most amazing, moving talk. I had no idea. It was personal, it was emotional, it was brave, and it drove home why we need to stand up for every single member, why we need to change “business as usual” and sweep away every ounce of Bloomberg/Klein dreck in the New York City Department of Education.
Today my caucus announced that New Action and MORE are running together in the spring UFT elections. I fully support this move.
Some people will be happy. Others will be angry. But some will ask, “why now?”
Now, because the time is right.
Now, because on the two biggest issues facing members – abusive administrators and teacher evaluation – the two groups are in agreement. Our leadership has dropped the ball on abusive administrators, even as far as dropping the Principals in Need of Improvement (PINI) program when it was needed more than ever. I hope they rethink this, and step up for members facing horrible principals. But today too many of our members are on their own. Our leadership partly favors the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. I hope they change this position. And in time I believe they must. But today they stand on the wrong side.
We are no longer facing a hostile City Hall, forcing us to lock arms on a daily basis. This is the time we should be doing the members business. This is the time we should be advocating for teachers, schools, education. The joint MORE/New Action campaign will be doing exactly that.
After walking 2 1/2 miles around Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier, Alan and I were left with no signal, and no real way of knowing exactly how long our drive was. Except we knew at 7 that we would not make it to Choteau before dark. We are avoiding night driving because 1) we want to see the country, and 2) it’s not so comfortable driving in the dark over unknown roads. This turned out to be an unanticipated adventure.
And there was fire. No, no leaping flames. But freshly burnt forest. And forest recovering from a several-years-old burn. And smoke. Thick enough to block the sun. Thin enough to look light an 0ff-white cloud. And sometimes missing. Close enough to burn eyes and noses. Far enough to give a faint woodfire smell to everything. And sometimes, no surprise, absent.
I’ve been on the road with my friend Alan. Utah, Idaho, Montana. We are still headed for Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Colorado.
800 miles or so done. Yesterday was Glacier National Park, spectacular, even with the smoke. We had 2 hikes, one on each side of the continental divide. We had spectacular views. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was so breathtakingly majestic AND scary that we are doing laundry today….
Alan and I have been staying in little motels, no chains. Marble Motel, Trementon UT. DK Motel, Arco ID. Mountain Spirit Inn, Darby MT. Hungry Horse Motel, Columbia Falls MT. Some very nice, some adequate, no problems. All $60-$80. I didn’t do it to be cheap, but they have worked out in every respect, including $$.
But the timing across Montana is tricky – we are covering a lot of ground in just a couple of days. And I booked in advance. And the right distance from Glacier led me to look towards Great Falls, but not as far as Great Falls. And the perfect spot was $100. But it had laundry facilities (we packed knowing that we’d do laundry midway, not realizing how perfect that would be), and included breakfast.
As it turned out, US 89 out of Many Glacier was narrow, deserted, and in two significant chunks, unpaved. Half our ride passed through a Blackfoot Reservation, which seemed even emptier. And we enjoyed Glacier so late, that darkness fell as we drove. And the smoke from the forest fires got a bit thicker and more acrid. And we drove with long silent stretches. The smoke, dark, narrow, empty and unpredictable were weighing on us, and on Alan, who was driving (thank you) more than on me.
So when we got to Choteau Stage Stop Inn, and saw that it was a small hotel, not a motel, we were relieved. And when Alan saw it had a bar, and learned it was open until 2, he could have shed a tear.
In Unity there is Strength. It’s why we negotiate as a union, instead of, for example, as math teachers. Or as high school teachers. Or as special ed teachers. Or as art teachers. It’s also why we do not negotiate one school at a time.
Except in Prose schools.
Now, some Prose schools got a pass on Danielson. They like Prose, some have told me. Honestly, we should all get the pass on Danielson. We should not have to sacrifice our union principals to get a good concession for all the teachers of NYC.
NYC Educator is writing more about Prose. He includes a shameful quote from a former UFT leader:
“PROSE … empowers teachers to make positive change”
It seems that some of our leaders forget that negotiating TOGETHER is a victory. Negotiating as isolated units would be, and is, a loss. But I guess it takes a real commitment to the idea of “union” to understand that.
Or maybe, reading our contract. I quote the contract negotiated between the New York City Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers:
It is understood that all collective bargaining is to be conducted at Board headquarters level. There shall be no negotiation with the Union chapter or with any other employee group or organization at the school level. It is further understood that there shall not be established or continued in any school a Staff Relations Committee as described in the Staff Relations Plan issued by the Board on October 23, 1956.
No school by school negotiations. This is Article 1, seventh paragraph.
Photo Credit: Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives,Cornell University Library,Group Photo, Placards, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Rally