April 09, 2008

NYSUT delegates tackle achievement gap and social justice; hear from state leaders

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

NEW YORK, April 9, 2008 – Nearly 3,000 delegates to New York State United Teachers' annual Representative Assembly will hear from top state education, labor and political leaders and will be presented an action plan for addressing the achievement gap when they meet this week in New York City.

Delegates to the three-day convention, which opens Thursday at the Hilton New York, are also expected to elect NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi, Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin and Vice Presidents Maria Neira and Kathleen Donahue to new three-year terms. Secretary-Treasurer Ivan Tiger is retiring. NYSUT Vice President Robin Rapaport's term of office will finish in July under the terms of the unification agreement.

Attention to the achievement gap will headline the 585,000-member union's convention, which will focus on social justice issues. NYSUT will present its highest award, the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, to the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader and former top aide to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on Thursday. Delegates will also pause to remember the 40th anniversary of King's death in 1968.

NYSUT will release to delegates a report detailing more than two years of work on strategies to end the achievement gap, which disproportionately impacts children of color and children who live in poverty. The union's effort included a successful three-day symposium — led by Donahue — that attracted more than 400 business leaders, community activists, lawmakers and educators. The October symposium, "Every Child Counts," explored solutions for ending the gap in achievement between more affluent students and those who live in poor communities, whether they are in urban, suburban or rural parts of the state.

Iannuzzi said delegates are expected to address a number of strategies that will be incorporated into the union's mission as it continues its work to end the achievement gap. Those strategies include greater access to good housing, pre-natal care, quality early childhood education programs; school-based health clinics and more instruction time for children in need through a longer school day or longer school year. Finding ways to improve parental involvement is also essential, he added.

"Only by improving the lives of children and their families can we hope to finally see all children succeeding in school, and contributing to the economic well-being of this state," Iannuzzi said.

Iannuzzi, who taught elementary school in a high-need school district on Long Island for 34 years, noted that the root causes of the achievement gap – poverty, inadequate health care and a lack of access to educational advantages – must be addressed by all branches of society, including government. He said NYSUT will continue to work with Gov. David Paterson, legislative and business leaders to ensure the state continues to increase its investment in public education.

"We have to stop the 'if onlys' and continue to work as partners with others to close the gap," he said. "It's a fight this union is willingly taking on, and it is one we will not lose."

In addition to work on the gap, NYSUT delegates will hear from a broad spectrum of state and national leaders.

Political commentator and strategist Donna Brazile will address a special conference of local union presidents on Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes and American Federation of Teachers President Ed McElroy will greet delegates on Thursday.

Headlining Friday's agenda will be Iannuzzi's State of the Union address, followed by appearances by Gov. Paterson; state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver; State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith; State Education Commissioner Richard Mills; National Education Association Vice President Dennis Van Roekel and New York State Teacher of the Year Richard Ognibene of Fairport, N.Y. NEA President Reg Weaver will speak on Saturday.

In between speakers, the delegates will debate and vote on more than 60 resolutions. Among the resolutions likely to spark interest are policies on performance pay, testing and No Child Left Behind.

NYSUT represents 585,000 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.


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