Discussion topics and opinions on tactics were wide-ranging - yet NYSUT local presidents kept returning to a central theme during their dialogue with the officers: Regardless of debates over next steps, they would leave the 2015 NYSUT Representative Assembly united.
"There are a lot of good ideas here, and we should take the good ideas and build on them. But what matters most is that we leave here united," said Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Pat Puleo.
She was one of several local presidents speaking at a Q&A session with NYSUT's five officers during the opening session of the pre-RA Local & Retiree Council Presidents Conference.
NYSUT President Karen Magee welcomed the approximately 400 leaders to Buffalo saying she was inspired by the unprecedented activism by union members and was proud of the many coalitions being built in communities across New York state.
"The stakes are high, the battle will rage on ... but we are in it for the long run!" she said.
Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phil Rumore (pictured)said he saw union members and leaders over the last year who were "unafraid to take on the most vindictive governor I've ever seen. We didn't knock him down, but he's on his knees. I've never seen our members so active as they are now."
Presidents took to the microphones to report that hundreds of parents continue to speak out about the effects of high-stakes testing on their children.
"I am proud to wear my NYSUT shirt today," said Tom McMahon (pictured), who is in his first year as president of the Mahopac Teachers Association.
Local and retiree council presidents also observed a moment of silence for Dianne Hettrich, a union activist and long-time RA delegate, who died Tuesday, April 28.
The pre-RA conference, which ends late Friday morning, includes a jam-packed schedule of workshops, seminars and discussion on topics such as member mobilization, educational issues contained in the recently passed state budget, legal challenges by anti-labor groups, defending earned benefits and successful bargaining for SRPs.