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Dec 17

NYSUT supports governor’s advocacy for workers

ALBANY, N.Y. Dec. 17, 2018 — New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta today reacted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s address laying out his priorities for the 2019 legislative session:

“While the details are, obviously, critical, many of the ideas the governor outlined today line up with our own legislative ‘to do’ list.  We especially welcome Gov. Cuomo’s vow to protect workers — and public sector unions like NYSUT — against the corporations and billionaires who want to strip away our rights.  When workers do well, our state moves forward.  It’s that simple.”

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Dec 17

TEACH Grant loan relief available

If you’re an educator who had your federal TEACH Grant converted into an interest-bearing loan, you may be eligible for debt relief. The Education Department announced a plan in December to give teachers a second chance to have their loans converted back into grants if they can prove they met the program’s teaching requirements.

“What a relief,” said Morgan Jackson, a special education teacher in the Medina School District, who was slated to begin repaying nearly $17,400 in converted loans in January. After successfully submitting her TEACH Grant paperwork for the past two years, in June the Medina Teachers Association member was told her paperwork submission was one-day late, which automatically converted her grants to loans. Her requests for reconsideration fell on deaf ears.

“Thank you to everyone who spoke up and fought this battle,” she said. “I’m forever grateful.”

Since it began in 2008, the TEACH Grant program has recruited talented educators into hard-to-fill jobs in lower-income school districts. But improperly filed paperwork left many participants deep in debt after their grants were converted into loans. A Department of Education audit found that more than 12,000 educators had their grants switched to loans due errors made by the company hired to manage the program.

TEACH Grants require educators to submit paperwork annually for four years certifying that they teach in a low-income school. However, the paperwork is notoriously confusing and if participants submitted it late, or had missing information, they saw their grants converted into loans.

For details, visit

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We want to hear from you. Were you caught in the TEACH Grant net and will now go through the reconsideration process? Please share your stories at

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2019 Teacher of the Year finalist William Green, a member of the United Federation of Teachers, celebrates the recognition with his former teacher and mentor, Jane Kehoe-Higgins, left, a member of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa. Photo provided.
Dec 15

Teacher of the Year finalist shares his award with a special former teacher

When Teacher of the Year finalists are formally recognized by the Board of Regents, they typically bring their parents, spouse or a special student to join them for the big honor.

For Bronx science teacher William Green, the choice was unconventional but simple: He brought Jane Kehoe-Higgins, a former teacher who literally saved his life.

The moment was not lost on Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, who invited Higgins to the front of the room to join Green for the emotional presentation.

“Billy just shared with me that this is the ninth grade teacher who saved him from the streets,” Rosa said. “Billy spent much of his childhood living on the streets and in shelters."

They posed for a photo and Rosa and Higgins dabbed away tears.

Truth be told, there have been a lot of tears — both sad and joyful — along Green’s journey to becoming one of two finalists for 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year.

He got off to a rough start with Higgins. The two met in an eighth grade summer school bridge program. Green said he was totally disrespectful and cursed Higgins out, telling her he didn’t need “some great white savior” like Michelle Pfeiffer in the movie “Dangerous Minds.” After three days of Green’s relentless interruptions, Higgins kicked him out.

‘‘This is not a mandatory program,” Higgins said. “You may leave. Now."

take a look at teaching

NYSUT's new "Take a Look at Teaching" initiative to strengthen teacher recruitment efforts and elevate the profession as a whole. LEARN MORE.

That summer Green did a lot of soul searching and wanted to start his high school career with a better attitude. But when he walked into first period class at his new school, he was shocked to see Higgins standing in front of his ninth-grade English class.

“Imagine out of 350 high schools in New York City, we ended up together again,” Green said. “I couldn’t believe it."

Looking back now, he believes their second chance together was meant to be.

“Jane was not only an amazing English teacher, she was relentless in terms of fighting for her students — both inside and outside the classroom,” Green said.

Aside from pushing him academically, Higgins made sure he had a winter coat and food since she knew he was living in shelters and squatting in buildings. She guided him toward books that helped him come to terms with his identity as a gay teenager. When his appendix ruptured, she met his mother, who struggled with heroin addiction, at the hospital and the two stayed in close touch.

“His mom made a great sacrifice by knowing she needed others to help as she battled the disease of addiction,” Higgins said. “Without her intelligence and love, Billy’s success and his place in this world wouldn’t have happened."

Higgins later met with his mother at jail and the two “conspired” to get him out of the city for college.

“We knew that if I stayed in the city, I would have ended up a drug dealer or dead,” he said.

The day after high school graduation, Higgins packed up her car and drove Green to Williams College for his six-week summer science program. She left him with some cash, a phone card and hope.

“He was entering pre-med, and I was glad,” she said. “I told him to be powerful, make money, dream big! "

When he went to South Africa on a medical mission, Green discovered his true love was being an educator.

He also couldn’t forget the last words that his mom left for him on a voicemail message, shortly before she passed away. “I know you think I want you to be a doctor,” she said. “Follow your heart. Go with teaching."

“It really was a calling,” he said. “I knew I had to go back to Spanish Harlem and teach It forward."

After serving as a science teacher at the East River Academy at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility, Green is now a chemistry teacher, the science department chair and new teacher instructional coach at Frederick Douglass Academy III High School in the South Bronx.

He is involved with a wide range of community-based programs, including an LGBTQ support group serving more than 150 kids.

Higgins, who is now director of the NYC Writing Project at CUNY Lehman College, is glad Green didn’t listen to her and became a teacher.

“He chose the right path ... I’m thrilled that Billy teaches and will move on to a PhD program and help us make change in our education system,” Higgins said. “He may not be rich, but he is powerful."

Dec 15

These schools have gone to the dogs

Olive has a black button nose so shiny it would make a snowman jealous. Shelby was rescued from a shelter. Brody gets called to the principal’s office every day — but it’s no big deal because that’s where he works now.

Who let these dogs out? Mutts and pedigrees are sniffing and pawing their way into the textured lexicon of social-emotional learning (SEL). Ask the little boy from a distressing home life who now lights up when he comes into school, wrapping himself in the fur of unconditional love; or the third-graders learning self control by watching a dog model behavioral instructions. Dogs are used for counseling, speech therapy, reading, trauma response, social-emotional learning and test anxiety.

The New York City Department of Education announced it will expand its comfort dog program from 45 to 60 schools by the end of this school year. That leap follows an increase in 2017 from seven schools to 30.

The DOE works with each school to adopt a rescue animal that has been evaluated by North Shore Animal League America. Schools can also receive training in the Mutt-i-grees curriculum.

The comfort dog program kicked off at Shell Bank Intermediate School in Brooklyn. The school began using the Mutt-i-grees program to focus on respect and empathy.

“I was looking for something different for SEL,” said Terri Ahearn, school principal and former special education teacher. When shelter dogs were invited to the school so students could interact with the animals, United Federation of Teachers member Denise Atwood fell for a soft gray-and-white border collie rescue. She adopted the dog, named her Shelby (after the school), and started bringing her to work.

Banksy, Bruno and Molly then joined the lineup, working as therapy dogs, hall monitors and calming canines with teachers, school counselors and social workers.

Brody is joined in the principal’s office by Laney, a four-legged pal who assists school secretary and UFT member Kieran O’Sullivan.

A trainer works with all the dogs. Ahearn said seven families have also adopted shelter dogs after parents saw the positive effects on their children.

“Molly is used to minimize shutting down and withdrawing for a child with autistim. It used to take this student 30–40 minutes to speak up, but with the dog, she pets it, and she starts talking openly,” said counselor Michael Hanna. “To get a student to open up and communicate is important."

Typically, a teacher, school health care professional or staff member becomes a dog’s owner. They make sure students who have a fear of dogs are not in contact with the animal unless they choose.

Students help train the dogs, learning patience. They attend classes in animal behavior. They discuss feelings and emotions. They are given tasks to help care for the dog, learning responsibility.

Studies have shown students who help with duties for the dog dramatically improve their attendance. One child at Shell Bank went from 47 percent to 89 percent and is now in a veterinary studies program in high school.

“We have kids with all different types of needs,” said Atwood, who retired but still works at Shell Bank in after-school programs and as a substitute teacher. “We had a kid who wouldn’t get off the bus. They put Shelby on the bus and he walked him off."

The Guilderland Central School District in the Capital Region is a study in the success of using dogs in schools.

Kate Tymeson has been an elementary teacher for 19 years, but only became the owner of a school dog this year. Olive lopes around her classroom with 40 pounds of labradoodle love.

“After enough years in the district, seeing the needs that kids come to school with, I thought it would relieve some of their stress,” said Tymeson, a member of the Guilderland Central Teachers Association. Olive also works with school counselor Jenny Riley and her students twice a week.

Olive is kept on leash, and she is hypoallergenic, as are all of the dogs used in Guilderland schools.

“They look out for her. It gets them thinking about someone else. That’s not easy when you’re 5,” said kindergarten teacher Christina Ryan.

GCTA member Catherine Ricchetti is a school social worker who first began the use of therapy dogs in her district, which authorized seven more therapy dogs in 2016. Ricchetti was honored for her work with animal-assisted education as New York’s School Social Worker of the Year in 2018 by the National Association of School Social Workers.

Brain research shows that dogs can improve behavioral and physical health in humans due to a brain chemical called oxytocin, which is linked to a desire to be more socially connected, Ricchetti said.

”Looking into a dog’s eyes increases the oxytocin in a person’s brain. When we think of a child who is struggling to connect socially, who is sad, anxious, depressed, new to the school — we give them access to a dog so we can increase their desire to connect socially."

nysut women's committee
Dec 15

NYSUT Women’s Committee focuses on activism and capacity building

Aisha Cook is a woman of action. So when members of the NYSUT Women’s Committee were called on to form women’s groups back in their communities, Cook went to work.

Using the 10-step guide the committee developed to help members organize women’s committees locally, Cook posted a sign up sheet and background information at a “sticking with our union” party her local hosted in November. “About 10 women signed up that day," said Cook, vice president of the New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees. She hopes to grow the committee to 30. “I also wrote about it in our newsletter and got some more sign-ups from that."

At a late November organizing meeting, the fledgling New Rochelle committee discussed plans for the women’s march in January and made posters for the event. “We’re deciding whether we want to stay local or travel to the Washington, D.C., march,” said Cook noting that future plans include a Women’s History Month commemoration in March, and hosting speakers from a local domestic violence prevention organization.

Be the change

Forming local committees isn’t the only charge from the NYSUT committee meeting. NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, committee chair, encouraged members to keep standing strong.

“While it has been an incredible year of resistance, persistence, solidarity and sisterhood, it has also been an incredibly painful year for so many of us,” said DiBrango citing attacks on women’s rights and voter suppression.

“We can’t look away and stop engaging and advocating — we must be the change we want and deserve."

DiBrango called on members to grow the number of women in leadership roles in their locals and to prepare for the statewide network of women’s marches in January. The meeting featured committee subgroups on women’s health, sexual harassment, coalition building, mentoring and women in leadership.

With 70 members, the group has raised more than $2,800 for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, hosted a booth at the 2018 NYSUT Representative Assembly and highlighted stories of inspiring NYSUT women using a ‘HERstory’ article template.

To see examples, visit and click “HERstories."

The NYSUT Women’s Committee aims to educate female members about the work of the union, and highlight issues important to women, including inequalities in pay, health care and education for women.

Follow the committee on Facebook or Instagram at NYSUTwomen, or on Twitter @NYSUTWomensComm — be sure to use #NYSUTWomen to join the conversation.

Committee of 100
Dec 15

Pallotta says APPR is job one for new Legislature

In April, it looked like a slam dunk.

NYSUT-backed legislation to fix the broken test-and-punish teacher evaluation system had strong bipartisan support in both houses.

By the end of June, thanks to the cynical Republican leadership in the Senate, it rolled to a stop like a deflated basketball.

As we prepare for the 2019 legislative session in New York, the game has changed.

Thanks in large part to the union’s support, Democrats won enough state Senate races in November’s general elections to secure a majority for the first time since 2010, and in the process gained control of the New York State Legislature. It’s time for a reset.

“Now that we have a new Senate, we would hope that their first order of business would be to fix this broken testing and evaluation system,” President Andy Pallotta told Newsday. The Annual Professional Performance Review law that was passed almost unanimously by the Assembly and blocked by the Republican leadership in the Senate last spring should be reintroduced when the 2019 session opens in January, he said.

Pallotta promised NYSUT will work with the Assembly and the Senate, now led by Democrats who owe their powerful majority to support from our union members, to pass a bill again.

“Our bill was derailed by senators who voted to enrich their anti-union, anti-public-education donors at the expense of students, parents and educators,” Pallotta said. “We need to complete that legislative commitment to local control and collective bargaining."

What else does the change of power mean in the new legislative session? Funding For years, NYSUT has worked with Assembly Democrats to seek more equitable state aid for schools and public higher education.

Virtually every progressive Democrat who ran for office campaigned on the need to provide more state funding for local districts. Advocates say the state’s 2003 Foundation Aid Formula, which was supposed to ensure fairer, more predictable distribution of aid, has never been implemented and the state owes billions to districts.

NYSUT also will continue to work with the Assembly and the new Senate leadership to ensure adequate and equitable funding for our chronically underfunded public higher education systems.

Tax cap

NYSUT has advocated many common-sense changes to the ill-conceived tax cap law that could make it more equitable and affordable for local institutions, including exemptions for certain capital expenses, mandatory costs and security investments. The union also seeks to eliminate the undemocratic 60 percent supermajority requirement to pass a local budget that exceeds the cap. NYSUT maintains the new Senate could remove many of the obstacles to these common-sense proposals.

Charter schools

Thanks to campaign donations from wealthy, private supporters of the charter school industry, the publicly funded but privately operated schools have enjoyed benevolent backing from Senate Republicans. NYSUT supported numerous progressive Democrats who want to increase oversight, transparency and accountability of the schools. Proposals to regulate them more closely routinely failed in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The state recently approved more charter school openings in New York City, moving closer to a legal limit on how many charters can operate in the state. The industry will be lobbying to raise that limit, and NYSUT will be working to cap it.

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