Following a long line of women leaders who have made significant contributions to their locals, Deborah Collier and Aminda Gentile were awarded the "Not for Ourselves Alone:" The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award.
The lifetime achievement award marks the contributions of exemplary female NYSUT activists.
"This year brings to one dozen the number of women leaders who have been recognized for their extraordinary contributions to their locals, NYSUT and our national affiliates — and they are just the tip of the iceberg," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "For every one we have honored, there are dozens more who equally deserve to be recognized."
Gentile of the UFT, a longtime educator and unionist, called the award a great honor. "This award celebrates the self-sacrificing nature of our profession," she said. "Day in and day out, educators look at a child as more than a score and never forget why they entered the profession."
For the past 30 years Gentile, who directs the UFT Teacher Centers, has been deeply involved in school reform at the city, state and national levels with a focus on student achievement.
For special education teacher Deborah Collier, Thursday night at the convention was a red carpet affair.
"This to me is my Academy Award. To be acknowledged in the same sentence as Sandy Feldman it is indeed an honor," Collier said in accepting the award. "We must be committed as unionists to follow Sandy's banner."
Collier, a member of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers, was born into a union household and became a union steward before receiving tenure in her district. Now vice president of special areas for the local, Collier also spearheads community service events.
The Not For Ourselves Alone award commemorates Feldman, who died in 2005 after a valiant fight against breast cancer. Gentile and Collier recognized Feldman's contributions to the labor and civil rights movements, and to the teaching profession.
Michelle Pancoe, a member of the Williamsville Teachers Association, received the 2008 Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant. The $2,500 award, named in memory of the late AFT president, recognizes emerging women in the labor and social justice movements.
"I'm honored," said Pancoe, who serves as vice president of the Williamsville TA's Political Action Committee and runs the local's VOTE-COPE effort.