While the annual convention is a time to take care of the union's business, it is also a time to recognize the hard work and achievements of NYSUT members.
Winners of the statewide union's Constituency Awards will be recognized at the convention during sessions throughout the RA.
Here's a sampling of what makes this year's winners unique.
Teacher of the Year
Richard Ognibene joined Fairport High School in suburban Rochester in 1992, and is a popular chemistry and physics teacher known for reaching out to students. Ognibene, a former officer and leader in the Fairport EA, is an adviser to the district's Gay Straight Alliance and is a leader in Fairport's Brotherhood-Sisterhood Week, which focuses on the concepts of civility, and respect for all people. He will be honored as the state Teacher of the Year.
School-Related Professionals Member of the Year
This year's School-Related Professionals Member of the Year is Thelma Shaw, a teaching assistant and president of the BOCES Educators of Eastern Suffolk. Shaw has been involved with the union since she began her career in 1973 and has consistently served as an advocate for her members and students.
Health Care Professionals Member of the Year
A health care professional for 30 years, Cora Shillingford demonstrates excellence in her practice as a home care nurse. Shillingford, a member of the United Federation of Teachers, serves as chapter leader of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, representing more than 2,500 registered nurses in New York City and Long Island. She is this year's Health Care Professionals Member of the Year.
Higher Education Member of the Year
Robert Cermele and Steven Mezik share the honor of NYSUT Higher Education Member of the Year.
Cermele, recognized in the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY as a great organizer, is chapter leader at New York City College of Technology. Cermele has been an advocate for health and safety throughout his career.
An assistant biology professor, Mezik is vice president of the Herkimer County Community College Professional Association and serves on the negotiating committee. Through his work with Project Niño, Mezik raises money for orphans in Ecuador to attend school.
Retiree Member of the Year
The union also honors two recipients as Retiree Member of the Year: John Soldini and Louise Levine-Rosenthal.
Levine-Rosenthal has been active in the union for more than 35 years. Throughout her in-service career, she held all but the office of president in the Mineola TA. She served as president for six years of the Mineola retiree union and since 1998 has served as co-president of Retiree Council 19.
Since his retirement in 2002, Soldini has held a variety of roles within the UFT as well as with NYSUT and the AFT. Soldini served as a delegate with the Alliance for Retired Americans and has lobbied on a number of issues critical to retirees.
"Not for Ourselves Alone:" The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award
"Not for Ourselves Alone:" The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award this year is presented to Aminda Gentile and Deborah Collier.
Gentile, a member of the UFT, is an educator, unionist and a leader. For the past 30 years she has been deeply involved in school reform at the city, state and national levels with a focus on student achievement. She is director of the UFT Teacher Center, a professional development network at more than 250 sites in New York City.
Collier began her education career in 1978 as a special education teacher in Yonkers schools. She quickly became active in the union and rose through the ranks to her current position: vice president of special areas. In addition to her work on bread-and-butter issues, Collier spearheads many community service events for the local.
Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant
For the second year, the union will award the Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant to an emerging woman leader. Michelle Pancoe, an elementary school teacher and member of the Williamsville TA, is a graduate of the NYSUT and AFL-CIO leadership institutes. She intends to use the $2,000 grant to continue working toward her certificate in labor studies at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
The RA will also recognize winners of the union's Community Service Awards, Life Line honor roll and winners in the New York Teacher Journalism Contest.