April 10, 2008

Local & Retiree Presidents: A leader shares insights, inspiration

Source: RA 2008
Caption: NYSUT officers, from left, Alan Lubin, Maria Neira, Kathleen Donahue and Dick Iannuzzi listen to Donna Brazile's strategies for supporting the Democratic candidate for U.S. president.

Donna Brazile is a "leaner" and — furthermore — a fighter.

The teacher and national political analyst is sometimes asked if she is leaning toward a specific Democratic candidate.

"I'm black so I lean," she said. "I'm a female so I lean. I don't want to just lean. I want to fight for public schools and I'm a proud product of our nation's public schools. I'm a product of a public college and university. And I want an education president in 2008."

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi introduced the political activist and television commentator to the Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference Thursday as one of the most influential women in American politics.

Brazile is a super-delegate to the Democratic convention, committed to supporting the nominee who emerges from the process.

Priscilla Campbell of the East Hampton TA asked if Brazile was concerned that primary campaign strife might cost Democrats the election.

Brazile said she hopes the strife doesn't overshadow what is in many ways a banner political season with record turnouts, registration, money raised and perhaps a benchmark in the number of young people energized.

"This is a moment we should not lose just because we feel passionate about one candidate or another," she said. "We need a majority. We need a president. We need a Congress that has a backbone.

"I want a president who knows that it is morally wrong to bail out Wall

Street and not be prepared to bail out Main Street," Brazile said.

The Louisiana native committed herself to public service 40 years ago on a day when her grandmother called the large family together and told the children to get on their knees to pray for Martin Luther King, who had just been shot in Memphis.

Her grandmother said, "I want you all to know he was a good man. He really preached non-violence. He taught us all that we could dream."

Other sessions

Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning at the presidents conference, attendees had opportunities to address NYSUT officers on state and local issues.

The officers provided detailed updates on the tenure amendment and appropriation levels in the state budget.

NYSUT Research and Educational Services offered a workshop on peer review programs that have been successfully negotiated. Local presidents used calculators to figure out how a tax cap would affect their districts.

Another session focused on preparations for NYSUT activism in the November national elections.

In another workshop, retirees shared success stories for organizing social action and outreach to their communities, such as fund-raising for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, scholarships for students and in-service grants to teachers, and the distribution of books and school supplies to students.

One session included a presentation by the College Board on the College Keys Initiative, a college readiness program.

Lee Jones, a senior vice president at the College Board, described how the board is addressing social learning and social integration at the middle level, while encouraging middle school teachers to see more students as college material.