Recalling her days when she stood up to a middle schooler bullying her sister on the school bus, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango assured delegates that she — and the statewide union — will always have their backs.
“This year, we’ve been through a few fights together and I’m sure we’ll endure a few more in the coming months,” DiBrango said, noting how the union fiercely fought to fix the teacher evaluation system, pushed back on the State Education Department’s rush to computer-based testing, and called out the charter industry’s quick and easy plan to certify their own teachers.
“I will not stop fighting for you,” DiBrango promised. “Sometimes you have to take a stand and fight to protect your family. Sometimes you have to lean in close and make your voice heard ... I want you to know ... this sister and this union will always have your back!”
Before I begin, I'd like to take a moment to recognize my husband, Joe DiBrango, who is here this evening.
When I was 18 I saw Joe waiting for a class in the halls of Mohawk Valley Community College and pretty much fell in love, four years later we were married, and he's been by my side supporting me ever since, thank you Joe!
I grew up in the Mohawk Valley, just outside Utica in New Hartford, NY.
My sister Andrea and I attended public schools.
It was just the two of us.
I was a protective and a fiercely proud big sister.
We rode the bus to middle school, and I always tried to be kind to our bus driver because my grandfather had been one.
One day that kindness paid off.
My younger sister was being bullied on the bus.
I tried kindness and patience, but no real relief came.
My heart broke every time I saw my sister in tears.
I had to try a different approach.
One afternoon I sat in the front seat of the bus, and waited for the bully to get up to leave.
As she made her way down the first step, I grabbed a handful of her long hair, wound it in the palm of my hand and leaned into her ear.
I whispered, "If you ever look at my sister the wrong way or put your hands on her ever again, I will rip your hair out of your head."
She nodded in recognition, and I released her hair.
I smiled kindly at the bus driver, and he nodded and smiled back.
Now, I'm not suggesting we go around pulling hair, but I did learn a lesson that day.
I try kindness first, but when that doesn't work and people continue to tread on my family, sisters and brothers, I can and will be fierce!
That is how I have approached every aspect of my life from my teaching career, to my time as a local president, right up to today as I represent you as Executive Vice President.
Whether you are an SRP, a teacher , a health care professional or college professor , you have a sister in me!
I've got your back.
I will ALWAYS have your back, because I fight for my family!
NYSUT has been standing up for you too, all year long.
We've got your back.
I have the privilege of overseeing the talented and knowledgeable staff members who comprise the Research and Educational Services and Education and Learning Trust arms of our union.
Please join me in giving a big round of applause to these hard working professionals.
Together, we have been tackling the issues that matter in your professional lives.
This year, we fought back against the SUNY Charter Institutes attempt to water down the teaching profession by weakening the rigor to become a SUNY Charter teacher – protecting our teacher preparation programs.
We had your back when confusing 180 day calendar guidance was rolled out by SED last spring, and we pushed back demanding they hear from the field.
And while the new regulations provide flexibility and protect collective bargaining, we will be watching for the guidance to make sure both are maintained.
When it was clear the edTPA exam and certification requirements were actually impeding qualified students from becoming teachers, NYSUT, along with our higher education members and their leaders, sounded the alarm by helping to ensure cut scores be phased in over a period of several years, extending the safety net until June, and advocating for a multiple measures review process for candidates scoring within two points of passing.
We had your back, when the new Next Generation ELA and Math Standards were adopted by the Board of Regents.
We didn't wait for SED to create their feedback loop, we made sure we convened our Subject Area Committees, particularly our Early Childhood Committee and immediately gathered input from the field which was shared with the Commissioner and the Board of Regents.
We continue, through our advocacy on SED's Professional Learning Team and RoadMap Work Group, to demand answers to questions regarding equity and access of resources when it comes to SED's implementation of these standards.
When there was a Questar data breach, you all know Questar?
The company that oversees the computer based testing [pause for boos], we didn't dismiss concerns about data security because the breach only impacted a few teachers and students.
We seized on the opportunity to let the Board of Regents and the Commissioner know the roll out of Computer Based Testing in New York needs to slow down.
We posed a series of questions to SED and demanded data relating to the impact this testing has on our students.
We raised serious concerns about the ability of SED to administer computerized testing statewide, and after the chaos we saw earlier this month, it's pretty clear they can't.
What kids endured was downright cruel. Share your CBT & paper/pencil horror stories with SED & the Regents at NYSUT's Member Action Center.
Sisters and brothers, When it comes to fighting for equity and against unnecessary testing, you have a sister in me.
We've got your back.
When SED revealed, once again, their flawed, broken methodology for resetting the 3-8 testing benchmarks, we had the backs of teachers, parents and students statewide, and we shared strong concerns regarding the process with an open letter to the public, an op ed and several media interviews, and we will continue to raise alarm bells any time SED creates systems and procedures that mislabel NYS teachers and kids.
Student performance must be measured accurately, because, when it isn't, our students and public schools suffer and that is simply unacceptable!
That is also why we continue to support a parent's right and a member's right to opt their children out of Grades 3-8 standardized testing.
After years of teachers being scapegoated and disrespected, is anyone surprised that we are facing a looming teacher shortage in this state?
NYSUT along with our higher education brothers and sisters, have been at the forefront of this complex issue trying to solve the problem.
We reached out to teachers and visited schools to support "grow your own" programs starting in the North Country in Copenhagen, NY whose local, teachers, and SRPs graciously opened their doors and let us see a glimpse of why that small, rural local is such a special place to work.
We've set up a series of teleconferences across the state to connect P-12 and Higher Ed, starting in the North Country where we brought professionals together to strengthen relationships and build sustainable bridges between educators to tackle the looming shortage and champion the teaching profession together!
On APPR, we came out loudly and clearly with three simple points.
If SED and NYS policy makers have any hope of returning trust to the teacher evaluation system, they must return the evaluations to local control, free of any state mandates.
They need to fix it this year and any system must support and develop our teachers, not attempt to punish or shame this profession.
When the Commissioner came out with a bogus survey that didn't allow our members to express how they truly felt about this imposed, and deeply flawed evaluation system, we called her bluff and advised NYSUT members that they didn't have to take it.
I'll say it once again, this isn't rocket science: It's time to bring teacher evaluation back to local control. Period!
Last year at the RA, this body passed a resolution creating NYSUT's first standing Women's Committee.
I am honored to be leading this charge and pleased to share that our first standing committee meeting was an incredible success.
The timing for the creation of the Women's Committee could not have been predicted a year ago. Since last we gathered together, we have seen a women's movement ... no, a women's revolution grow.
And I believe union women, NYSUT women, will be leading the way and rising up like never before to ensure that not only our members, but our students and our families, are engaged when it comes to economic, social, educational, civil and equal rights activism.
I was blessed to have a sister, like Andrea, who always believed in me and was my biggest cheerleader growing up.
She and many more women just like her were the inspiration for our committee's mantra.
"Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back."
I stand here before you because of a NYSUT woman, my late friend and our union sister, Sonia Basko.
She was a force of nature.
Sonia recognized in me what I didn't recognize in myself.
She challenged me and pushed me, but above all, she always had my back.
This committee and our collective work gives us the opportunity to pay that forward.
It gives us the opportunity to stand with NYSUT women across the state and encourage them to take on leadership roles in their communities.
Are you are a woman who has encountered individuals who are more curious about your age, your hair or your clothes than what you have accomplished?
We have your back.
Are you a woman who has encountered individuals who have tried to bully or ignore you, tried to minimize or silence your voice?
We have your back, along with hundreds of thousands of women from all walks of life who have had enough and have said definitively...
Time. Is. Up!
For 25 years I have dedicated my life to the teaching profession and I know, whether you are an SRP working closely with a second grader with special needs, an ENL teacher nurturing an eighth grader newly arrived to our country, or a community college professor instilling civic responsibility into a young mind, you have the hardest jobs in the world.
You deserve to be revered because educators are change makers.
You are trusted with society's most valuable assets.
You make this world a better place and for that I thank you and because of that, as your sister, I will not stop fighting for you.
This year we've been through a few fights together, and I'm sure we'll endure a few more in the coming months.
I'm reminded of the lessons I learned as a middle schooler in New Hartford: Sometimes you have to take a stand and fight to protect your family.
Sometimes you have to lean in close and make your voice heard, don't worry; I won't pull any hairs this go round .
Thank you for the privilege to represent you.
Thank you for having the trust in me to stand beside you and with you.
Sisters and brothers, thank you for being my tribe.
I want you to know, whether it is kindness you need, a fierce fighter for your professional voice, or just someone you can trust, this sister and this union will always have your back!