NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino praised delegates Saturday for rising up and using their collective voice to overcome and defeat the relentless attacks waged upon public education, and urged members to recommit to "looking out" for one another to protect and enhance their professions.
"There is no question we have been living through a challenging, dark era — yet I stand here today to affirm this truth: Because of the power of our collective voices and our collective actions with parents, students and communities, darkness will not prevail," Fortino said.
Recalling her own career as a classroom teacher, Fortino told a touching personal story to illustrate the power and importance of unionists coming together to support one another.
In her ninth year of teaching, Fortino said, she began to lose confidence and started to doubt herself. Each day became a struggle. She had difficulty reaching students and was experiencing serious problems with classroom management. And, Fortino said, she began to withdraw from her colleagues.
The situation grew so bleak, Fortino said, that she seriously considered leaving her beloved profession.
"My union sisters and brothers, as a collective body, created a circle of support and strength for me and lifted me up to help me make it through that difficult year," she said. "They gave me the strength and they gave me the confidence I needed to recommit myself to my students and my profession. They brought me back, and I will forever be indebted to them."
It is that same kind of collective support — for one another, for students, for schools and for communities — that has inspired NYSUT members statewide to confront and defeat the attacks waged upon public education.
"Thanks to our advocacy with parents, we've achieved sweeping policy changes at the federal level. Soon, the punishing legacy of 'No Child Left Behind' will be, literally, left behind," Fortino said. "That means: No more compulsory linking of federal funding to teacher evaluation and test scores."
That was not the only victory.
Thanks to the collective activism of members, high-stakes consequences for state test scores are gone for at least the next four years. And through the hard work of United University Professions and Professional Staff Congress leadership working in concert with NYSUT, the edTPA Task Force is being reconvened.
"We are not at the finish line," said Fortino. "(But) make no mistake: We will not turn back to the years of malpractice inflicted on our students by test corporations. We will never go back to 'test-and-punish' policies imposed on students, educators and schools. We will not rest until our college campuses are rid of corporate profiteers who attach a profit to everything and a value to nothing, and return academic freedom to the halls of higher education."
And, she said, "with radical, patient and stubborn persistence we will press on, continuing our fight until we achieve in every classroom and on our campuses and workplaces real, systematic change!"
Such change, Fortino said, requires policymakers who support public education and respect educators and parents. With the election of Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, Fortino said progress is being made. But, she stressed, there is more to do.
Fortino asked delegates to imagine a world in which:
- The voices of professionals in health care, higher education and pre-K-12 are respected and revered.
- High value is placed on classrooms.
- The arts, social studies and science are a vital part of daily learning.
- The travesty of receivership is gone — replaced with funding and resources for community schools.
- Students receive all the services they need to thrive.
"We can imagine a brighter world because in defiance of privateers and 'deformers,' we are working to create it now," said Fortino. "As we acknowledge the gains and victories that are starting to happen because of our collective voices raised in unison — with parents and education advocates across the state — we must continue to summon the courage to take on the visionary work needed to make it real.