May 2014
May 08, 2014

NYSUT's new leaders set the stage for an inspired generation of activism

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
nysut officers
Caption: NYSUT officers, elected by delegates at the Representative Assembly in April, from left, Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner, Vice President Catalina Fortino, President Karen E. Magee, Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Paul Pecorale.

NYSUT's new leadership team hit the ground running after the union's Representative Assembly.

One of the first orders of business? Present State Education Commissioner John King Jr. with the "no confidence" vote taken by RA delegates.

During a meeting with the commissioner at union headquarters, NYSUT President Karen E. Magee made King keenly aware of the membership's frustration and anger.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, left, accompanied by, at right, Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Catalino Fortino, delivers NYSUT’s vote of ‘no confidence’ to State Education Commissioner John King Jr., top left, at a meeting at NYSUT headquarters during Magee’s first days as union president.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee, left, accompanied by, at right, Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Catalino Fortino, delivers NYSUT’s vote of ‘no confidence’ to State Education Commissioner John King Jr., top left, at a meeting at NYSUT headquarters during Magee’s first days as union president. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.


"Our 'no confidence' resolution has delivered an unmistakable message," Magee said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also immediately reached out to Magee during her first days in office, offering congratulations and re-establishing communications with NYSUT.

"We are going to seize every opportunity to be the voice he can't ignore and this is a step in that direction," Magee told local leaders.

Magee repeated that message in interviews with numerous reporters around the state, including an extensive radio interview with Capitol Pressroom's Susan Arbetter.

Arbetter asked Magee about what came out of her conversation with Cuomo. "The governor is the head of this state and he's important to us," Magee said, "but we're important to him."

Magee also told reporters how important it is to stop the use of faulty student test scores to evaluate teachers.

"Albany is finally starting to respond to our concerns about testing. They've banned standardized tests for our youngest kids. Now our students can't be denied promotion or graduation because of these bungled state tests," Magee said. "But the job is only half done. If it's wrong to use these state tests to penalize students — and it is wrong — how is it possibly fair to use them to penalize teachers?"

Reporters asked Magee if teachers aren't just trying to avoid evaluations. Absolutely not, she said.

"Right now New York's teacher evaluation system is one-size-fits-all and broken. We need a system that is valid and legitimate and serves the different disciplines we represent," Magee said. "We need to hit the reset button."

The schedules for the other officers were similarly packed with transition meetings and activities.

Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta and Vice President Catalina Fortino worked together on a range of substantive policy issues, including APPR. Together with NYSUT's higher ed affiliates, they tackled concerns with edTPA, leading to a significant change in SED policy.

Vice President Paul Pecorale met with members of NYSUT's Health Care Professionals Council and attended the Professional Issues Forum on Health Care, where he participated in NYSUT tributes to nurses.

Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner is focused on maximizing NYSUT's resources, minimizing expenses and strengthening transparency as the union's budget is being prepared.

Over the next 100 days, NYSUT officers, vowing to lead from the bottom up, are taking to the road to hear directly from members about what they want from their union.

A far-reaching survey of members will gauge needs and identify ways the union can serve them even better.

The new leadership team is encouraging locally grown grass-roots efforts to engage members.

"That's the power of collective voice," Magee said. "Our shared commitment and passion, supported by solidarity, will carry us forward into a new generation of activism."

Your Voice

NYSUT's new officers are traveling the state to hear from you directly: What do you want from YOUR union? We got the conversation started on NYSUT United's Facebook page. Here's what some had to say:

You are openly invited to my school! I'm (South Lewis TA) vice president and I think if nothing else we want NYSUT to LISTEN TO ITS MEMBERS and realize that there is life outside the "Big 5" and north of the Thruway. If we are all in this together, don't forget us.

— Mike Comet

A sustained, multimedia education campaign aimed to help rank and file members and local leaders make sense of the corporate backed, privatizing reform agenda that is being pushed from the USDOE and NYSED.

— James C. McNair

Taking action on EXCESSIVE AND DESTRUCTIVE TESTING, and teacher evaluation based on illogically created tests. This is very important. We must speak up about the evaluation system which is poorly thought out.

— Tina Ferraro

In terms of practical solutions, support legislation which would change the Board of Regents selection process to an open, democratic vote. If they dictate policy for public education, they must be publicly selected and accountable with mandated term limits for continuous fresh perspective.

— Mike Struchen

Transparency. Real rural support. APPR revamp. NYSED revamp. Continued pressure on King and Tisch. Regents revamp to continue pushing for educators to be on the board next year. Building better alliances with grass-roots groups and support. Don't make locals do your work and then leave them out to dry without support.

— Lori Atkinson Griffin