media
April 07, 2011

Award winners honored at NYSUT’s 39th annual Representative Assembly

Source: NYSUT Media Relations


Jeff Peneston, a 25-year earth science teacher at Liverpool High School, has been named 2011 New York State Teacher of the Year.

"Jeff has motivated his students to succeed with a variety of field experiences and hands-on science exploration," said Regent Anthony Bottar, who represents the Syracuse area on the state education policy-making board. "He is a collaborative teacher who has generously shared his expertise with colleagues and mentored many student teachers." Peneston was introduced to the Board of Regents at their September meeting as a lifelong learner who takes part in extensive professional development, including a seven-week National Science Foundation Polar Trek to Antarctica for hands-on research in 2008. Peneston made the most of his experience, sharing his voyage via a series of webcasts and lessons that enabled his students to follow his activities and learn through this unique opportunity.

Bottar cited Peneston's community involvement and activities, serving as long-time summer program director and natural history educator director for Camp Talooli in Penneleville. He also has had leadership roles for the American Camp Association, Chorus and Drama Organization, Marching Band and Color Guard Booster Groups and Science Fairs.

Peneston poignantly described his view of teaching: "Today, teachers across New York state feel unprecedented and growing pressures from a howling storm of simultaneous and often conflicting demands," Peneston told the Regents. "We respond to a global economic downturn, school budget cuts, staff reductions, high stakes testing and the increasing use of technology inside and outside the classroom."

Yet ironically, at a time when technology has enabled people to communicate instantly and constantly, Peneston noted studies show the current generation of children has less contact with and understanding of the natural world than any generation in the history of the species."

To combat this, he urged teachers to "take kids outside into nature. Give them reason to play, experiment and explore."

The Regents also honored last year's Teacher of the Year, Valley Central math teacher Debbie Calvino and four finalists for the 2011 honor. The four finalists are:

  • Michael Elliot, a social studies teacher in grades 7 and 8 at North Albany Academy in Albany;
  • Michael Jeziorslo, a social studies teacher at Commack High School;
  • Jodi Sobczak, a first-grade teacher at Brocton Elementary School; and
  • Martha Strever, an eighth-grade math and computer science teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook.

NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira congratulated the honorees and thanked the Regents for making room on their agenda for Peneston and Calvino to share their throughts.

After all these years of Teacher of the Year receptions and ceremonies, this has been the most meaningful, Neira said. "It's been most gratifying to have you listen to the voice of practitioners," she said.  


Rondout Valley stenographer named NYSUT School-Related Professional of the Year

NEW YORK CITY, April 6, 2011 — Janis Bianco, a senior stenographer at Rondout Valley Central Schools, will be honored as New York State United Teachers’ School-Related Professional of the Year.

Nearly 3,000 NYSUT delegates, guests and staff are in New York City this week for the annual policy-making convention.

Bianco, a Hurley resident, is a 30-year veteran of Rondout Valley schools. She is the third-vice President of the Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Professionals, where she is active on the Negotiating Team. In her career, she has contributed big-picture thinking and creativity to the successful merger of secretarial, paraprofessional and teacher units into an umbrella local union at Rondout Valley.

“School-Related Professionals are integral to all the state’s schools, and Exhibit A is Janis Bianco,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “She is a role model for school professionals, students and unionists alike.”

Known to many in the schools as “Mary Poppins,” Bianco is quick to take responsibility when new tasks arise out of events at school, whether initiated by the school district or the union. And she is known for deflecting the credit to others for successes in these tasks.
She helped organize the Project Elf program at the middle school, in which staff donate holiday gifts to needy families.

“Janis sees the possibilities in everyone, in every situation,” said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue. “She is an example of compassion informing unionism.”

The tenacious Bianco has provided leadership even as he she has battled cancer. She is a survivor of Stage 3 ovarian cancer in the late 1990s. She volunteers for the local hospital and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

“Her ability to place others before herself, her honesty, ethical character and her unique way of leaving her work environment, school, union as well as her community better for having her in it is what makes Janis the School-Related Professional of the Year,” said Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers and School-Related Professionals President Sheryl Delano.


NYSUT honors Nassau Community College Professor

NEW YORK CITY, April 6, 2011 — Frank Frisenda, an associate professor of general science studies at Nassau Community College, will be honored as New York State United Teachers’ Higher Education Member of the Year.

Frisenda, of Middle Island, has 26 years of experience as a college instructor. He is the vice president of classroom faculty and formerly the president of the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers. For 26 years, he was the Engineering/Physics/Technology Department representative for the federation. A passionate unionist, Frisenda has a sterling record of solidarity with colleagues on Long Island and around the state, applying his practical knowledge through years of building a stronger faculty federation.
Nearly 3,000 NYSUT delegates, guests and staff are in New York City this week for the union’s annual policy-making convention.

“Frank represents the best of our union with his commitment to advancing his profession,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “His zeal for bettering the lives of his higher education colleagues symbolizes the professionalism that defines NYSUT.”

Frisenda served in the Navy during the Vietnam War era, then returned to attend Nassau Community College, where he was inspired by a history class taught by a newly hired, radical professor.

He became an air traffic controller, until the PATCO union was crushed by President Ronald Reagan. For a time, he drove a New York City cab. He found a job teaching at Nassau, when he was asked to attend a union meeting. He was delighted to find that meeting run by the history professor who had inspired Frisenda years ago.

For 17 years, Frisenda has attended (and led) the Nassau delegation to SUNY Lobby Days in Albany organized by NYSUT. He has recruited many faculty members to travel to Albany to give legislators the classroom perspective. He has also organized brunches for state and county leaders showcasing Nassau Community College programs such as hospitality, fashion design, and music and dance.

 “Decades of service are the foundation of Frank’s spirit of unionism,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta.  “He represents NYSUT’s gold standard of professionalism.”

“For Frank, it all comes down to a deep concern for social justice,” said M. Debra DeSanto, president of the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers. “He learned all that as a student at the very institution where he now protects the working conditions necessary for a new generation of faculty to instill in a new generation of students the sense of intellectual freedom and critical thinking skills needed to solve the social problems of their day.”


Wayne school counselor named NYSUT Health Care Professional of the Year

NEW YORK CITY, April 6, 2011 — Elizabeth “Beth” Peters, a school counselor in Wayne schools, will be honored as New York State United Teachers’ Health Care Professionals Member of the Year.

Peters, who lives in Rochester, has worked in schools in Wayne, Rochester and Pakistan since 1989. She has made presentations to the New York State School Counselor Association on collaborative comprehensive development, the use of data and networking. She was external vice president of the Wayne Teachers Association and serves on the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Council.

“Health care unionists are integral to the state’s schools, as well as hospitals and health facilities,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “Beth Peters is a role model for school professionals, students and unionists alike.”

Nearly 3,000 NYSUT delegates, guests and staff are in New York City this week for the union’s annual policy-making convention.

Peters was an effective advocate for the representation of school counselors in the process of NYSUT merging with NEA-New York several years ago. As a Wayne Teachers Association and NEA-New York delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly, she advocated and successfully amended resolutions to broaden national agendas for inclusion of school counselors.

She mentors Wayne Central students doing senior projects on mental health topics. Peters established “Wayne’s World,” the first union newsletter for the Wayne Teachers Association.

“Wherever good decisions are being made about professional development, political advocacy and mental health practices in the area of Wayne County and Rochester, Beth is there,” said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue. “Compassion informs unionism, and Beth’s career is a tremendous example.”

“She’s famous for her random acts of kindness throughout the building and the district,” added Jason Carter, president of the Wayne Teachers


NYSUT honors retired NYC teacher, George Caulfield

NEW YORK CITY, April 6, 2011 — Retired Harlem George Caulfield, for 23 years a teacher of science at Wadleigh Middle School in Harlem, has been named Retiree Member of the Year by New York State United Teachers.

Caulfield, a South Ozone Park resident is a chapter leader of the United Federation of Teachers — Retired Teachers Chapter.

Nearly 3,000 NYSUT delegates, guests and staff are in Manhattan this week for the union’s annual policy-making convention.

 “George represents the best of our union with his commitment to advancing his profession and giving of himself to benefit others,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “Since retirement, George has been spreading the union message in many, many states, where he has put to terrific use his experience in union organizing.”

As an inservice teacher, Caulfield was elected chapter leader. He was elected UFT District 3 representative in 1993, remaining in that position until his retirement from the Department of Education and the UFT in 2006.

For many summers, he worked with the American Federation of Teachers helping to organize local unions in Alabama, Kansas, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oregon. He also helped to organize state employees in Montana. In 2008, he worked alongside trade union sisters and brothers on political action for presidential and congressional campaigns in Nevada.

“Whenever the union has needed George to pack up his expertise and apply it somewhere, he has done so willingly and effectively,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta.


NYSUT honors retired Huntington teacher Eileen Darwin

NEW YORK CITY, April 6, 2011 — Eileen Darwin, a retired teacher in Huntington, will be honored as a New York State United Teachers Retired Member of the Year.

Darwin, a Huntington Station resident, is the president of Huntington Association of Retired Teachers/ Employees (HARTE). As a former building representative and vice president of the Associated Teachers of Huntington, she was instrumental in forming a retiree chapter of her local.

Nearly 3,000 NYSUT delegates, guests and staff are in New York City this week for the union’s annual policy-making convention.

“As an activist, leader and scholar, Eileen has devoted her academic and political life to promoting a vision of engaged, enlightened, socially committed unionism — and, now, to make sure that vision continues into retirement,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi.

Darwin has been at the forefront of activism for retiree and pension issues in Albany, helping to organize lobbying bus trips from Long Island. She is Suffolk County co-president of the Coalition of Retired Teachers of Long Island.

In her community, Darwin hardly ever takes a break. She has been a volunteer activist for the Town of Huntington Parking Enforcement Program, checking for the proper use of handicapped parking spaces. She has been active in the preservation of farmland in Suffolk County, and a member of the Town Youth Board, serving on its gang prevention committee.

“As a community advocate and union leader, Eileen has been an exemplar of social activism,” said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue.


New York City union negotiator honored with NYSUT outstanding leadership award

NEW YORK, April 26, 2011 — Lucille Swaim of New York City, for a half-century a canny negotiator for the United Federation of Teachers, was awarded New York State United Teachers’ highest honor for leadership at the union’s 39th Representative Assembly in New York City.

Swaim received the “Not for Ourselves Alone” Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award, named for the former American Federation of Teachers and United Federation of Teachers president. A lifetime achievement award, “Not for Ourselves Alone” recognizes the contributions of women to the education union movement.

As a professor of economics in the 1950s, Swaim was assigned to New York in 1961 by the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department to assist in the UFT’s historic campaign to be voted as the collective bargaining representative of New York City teachers. The campaign was a winner. She and Al Shanker served as the “historians” on the UFT’s first negotiating committee.

Those negotiations resulted in the first comprehensive collective bargaining agreement for teachers anywhere in the United States. It catalyzed a national movement of education unionization.

In 1960, Swaim received a prestigious grant from the American Association of University Women to study union jurisdictional issues. In the 1960s, Swaim guided the early development of the Boston Teachers Union. She was an organizer and negotiator on Long Island for the Empire State Federation of Teachers, a precursor to NYSUT.

For 50 years, her advice has been instrumental in every UFT contract. She has served alongside four UFT presidents.

“Lucille was there at the beginning, and we stand on the shoulders of activists like Lucille,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “She has been there for every contract in the UFT’s history — that adds up to a lot of innovation and a deep legacy of social justice. We are all stronger, thanks to Lucille’s work through the years.”

“Sandy Feldman was known for the high standards she set for herself and her service to the UFT and NYSUT,” added NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. “Lucille’s long history of a deep commitment to our union makes her an ideal leader to receive this honor.”

More than 3,000 union delegates and guests traveled to Manhattan for NYSUT’s 39th annual Representative Assembly, a policy-making conference running April 6 – 9.


Sullivan County teacher honored as young leader in NYSUT

NEW YORK, April 26, 2011 — Michelle E. Brockner, an elementary teacher at Sullivan West Central Schools, was awarded a leadership scholarship in the name of union legend Sandy Feldman at New York State United Teachers’ 39th Representative Assembly in New York City.

Brockner, the president of Western Sullivan United Teachers and School-Related Professionals, received a Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant to further the development of emerging woman leaders in the union who are dedicated to Feldman’s principles of unionism, leadership, and human and civil rights. The $2,000 grant furthers Brockner’s development as a union leader, helping with expenses in union activities and training, or defraying costs associated with union involved, e.g. travel or child care.

Brockner has for a dozen years been an officer for of her local. She completed the NYSUT Leadership Institute in 2008, and the American Federation of Teachers Center for School Improvement Leadership Institute in January 2011.

“One of the favorite parts of my job is watching the growth, and encouraging it, of the next generation of union leadership,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “I have no doubt that Michelle Brockner will blaze a trail of innovation and social justice for her union sisters and brothers. She already has.”

For five years, Brockner has been a team leader in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Campaign — organizing, raising money and walking in the annual event.

 “I have two daughters, ages 10 and 13,” says Brockner. “When they have asked me why I do the ‘union stuff’ (as they call it), I always respond, ‘So I can help and protect others who need me.’ I hope to set an example of a strong and independent woman for my daughters and that some day they too will join a union and be a proud union member like their mother.”

“Sandy Feldman set very high standards for herself in serving the UFT and NYSUT,” added NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. “Michelle’s promise and enthusiasm combined with her commitment to our union makes her an ideal leader to receive this honor.”

Sandy Feldman (1939-2005) started as a second-grade teacher on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1960s. She rose quickly through the union ranks, organizing staff in her first job. A staunch advocate for social justice, she participated in the Freedom Rides for civil rights and the historic 1963 March on Washington. Feldman became United Federation of Teachers President in 1986. Eleven years later, she was elected to lead the national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers.

More than 3,000 union delegates and guests traveled to New York City for NYSUT’s 39th annual Representative Assembly, a policy-making conference running April 6 – 9.


NYSUT, the state’s largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees.  NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.