From left, Roberta Bittel, Student
Government advisor; Canandaigua
TA President Cheryl Birx; and
special education teacher
Barb Morgan sign valentines
The Canandaigua Teachers Association teamed up with a local group, Love Your Schools, and sent thousands of valentines to lawmakers asking "We love our schools ... Albany lawmakers, do you?"
CTA members set up tables at sporting events, community events, NYSUT conferences, and in school to gather signatures for each valentine. They sent out electronic files of the valentines to neighboring teacher associations.
In the last four years, the district has lost about 90 teachers, aides, administrators and custodians, said Cheryl Birx, president of Canandaigua TA. And, "we haven't had a primary (K-2) librarian in a long time," she said. The elementary librarian serves 1,800 students.
Birx said the 500-member TA has made sacrifices in the last few contracts to help alleviate costs. Like other rural districts, Canandaigua, located in Ontario County, does not have a strong tax base, Birx said. The school is among the top five employers, along with the hospital.
Instead of chocolate on Valentine's Day, CTA members asked for some good common sense: aid for quality education; fairness in the state education formula so poor, rural districts don't suffer even more in budget cuts; and that the burden of unfunded mandates be eased.
Herricks Teachers Association members once again turned School-Related Professionals Recognition Day into a celebration of giving back to the community, with a hugely successful food and needs drive to help victims of Superstorm Sandy.
"Our whole district pitched in," said SRP Elizabeth Napolitano, vice president of the Clerical, Aides and Monitors unit. The two-month drive, in partnership with St. Aidan's Parish, raised more than $500 and received enough donations of food, coats, new clothing, toiletries and baby items to fill four vans.
HTA member Kathy Hoey organized and helped prepare hot food and bagged lunches for the storm victims in Broad Channel and Long Beach. "Kathy made deliveries every weekend to the areas hardest hit by the storm," Napolitano said.
The local was inspired to initiate the drive after attending the 2011 NYSUT SRP Leadership Conference. The local decided to use SRP Recognition Day "as an opportunity to reach out to our community in support," Napolitano said.
When the Malone Federation of Teachers examined the community assessment provided to them at NYSUT's Local Action Project last summer, they realized just how dominant poverty was in the region. So when considering how to reach out to their community as a union, Malone FT members embraced the idea of providing free community dinners.
About 50 people came to the first supper. Two hundred people attended the second supper, and more than 300 people showed up to eat at the most recent event. Families at each meal are given free books donated by the Malone FT.
"We had the librarians order 2,000 books," said Angela Spahr, Malone FT president. The union also purchased discounted books about the importance of reading from the American Federation of Teachers, NYSUT's national affiliate.
The first step in the local's outreach was meeting with the school board to explain how LAP is about "working with our community," said Spahr, a 12th-grade teacher.
A local newspaper reporter was at the school board meeting and wrote a story about the union's efforts. Then the reporter came to the dinners for a follow-up story. "It has really helped to build a link with our local newspaper."
The menu has included baked ziti, spaghetti, and chicken and biscuits, which were made by students in the culinary arts program. At each dinner, educators present helpful information: what type of activities to do with children in winter; why family meal time is important; and the importance of reading.
The Malone FT, located in Franklin County in the far north of New York, also sells license plate holders that say "I support the MFT." The holders are sold out.
"Everyone loves the teachers but didn't understand the union," said Spahr. "We've tried to get people to realize they're one and the same."