May 05, 2019

RA 2019: Remarks of Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango

Author: NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango
jolene dibrango

Following are the complete remarks of NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango at NYSUT Representative Assembly 2019, Saturday, May 4, Albany.


I want to start with some thank yous. Thanks goes out to Director Dan Kinley and the incredible Research and Educational Services and Education & Learning Trust staff.  As members, you have the most skilled researchers and professional developers, in the business at your fingertips. And I also want to give a shout out to Director Damien LaVera and our dedicated communications staff that keep you informed and engaged all year long. And to Greg McCrea & all those in the Office of the Executive Vice President who support our organizational vision each day...thank you. I am humbled to work beside these talented professionals. And to my husband, Joe, thank you for all you’ve sacrificed, so we can do this work.

Unionists always face challenges. This past year wasn’t any different.  The teacher shortage, a further erosion of trust in the State Education Department, the fight for equality. These challenges demand hard work and commitment from us and they force us to reflect on exactly who we are, what matters to us and what we stand for. And although this work may fuel us, we may never be satisfied with the solutions that emerge. 

For many of us, good simply isn’t good enough. In the back of our minds we’re thinking, “Could we be doing more?”  For me, the answer is always yes. There’s always more work to be done.

It’s hard work. Frankly, it’s exhausting, but we have to do it. No one is going to do it for us. We find strength in the knowledge that we are never alone, we know our fellow union members in NYSUT and the larger labor movement have our backs, and that together we will prevail.

In the past 12 months, we tackled our work, head on.

We worked hard to advocate for changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system, and we made incredible progress...together.  

With the passage of the APPR law, we can claim victory over the use of the flawed state tests in a teacher’s evaluation.

But it doesn’t mean our work is over. We’ll never stop working to fix the broken system of standardized testing, because we never stop working for what is best and what is right for our students.

Spoiler alert: these tests aren’t what’s best for our kids.

That’s why we launched our Correct the Tests campaign and went to work flooding the airwaves, TV, and print uncovering the misinformation that SED and the Commissioner herself were spreading about the State’s flawed, invalid and at times cruel 3-8 ELA and math tests .

The state testing system remains broken and must be corrected to ensure that no child is harmed, mislabeled or worse yet, meant to feel like a failure at 8 years old.  

We fact checked the commissioner and dispelled every aspect of her letter to school districts supporting the tests. We will not stand by and allow the state to mislead parents and students about their refusal rights or about the damage these tests can do to our schools and communities.

No one has the right to bend the facts to serve their own self interests.

With your help, we went to work exposing the truth about the tests and by extension the benchmarks for what they are: a flawed, invalid tool used to create a false narrative about New York’s children and the teachers and school related professionals who educate them each and every day.

The 3-8 math tests may have wrapped up this week, but we haven’t called it quits on our advocacy.

We’ve captured hundreds of stories that illustrate why it is time for the Board of Regents and the Commissioner to stop this madness and work with practitioners, our NYSUT members, to create meaningful assessments that inform instruction and improve outcomes for the students of this state.

Last month, we held a press conference on the steps of SED, along with local leaders and legislators, following yet another year of the botched roll out of computer-based testing. While some students couldn’t log in for hours or submit their answers, others sat for the entire school day taking the test. The state called the mistakes glitches, we called them what they were...complete failures.

Across New York, teachers and parents have held meetings with the Regents, organized media events and written articles detailing their horrible experiences with these tests whether on paper or the computer.

You  can help us get the message to the public, the Regents and the Commissioner. Please visit correctthetests.com to share your story or to read our report.

Our  message is clear. These tests are developmentally inappropriate. The untimed nature...cruel. The benchmarks...invalid.  The length...too long.  Computer-based testing...a failure.

Teachers are tired of having this conversation with policy makers year after year, now is the time to correct these tests. Now is the time to close the book on high stakes testing in New York.

Some challenges have heightened over many years, and they won’t be solved overnight.

Take the teacher shortage for instance. Despite what some say, this is a real problem in New York and across the country.

Enrollment in New York State’s teacher education programs has declined by 47% since 2009. And the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System projects that 1/3 of New York’s teachers could retire in the next five years. New York will need 180,000 teachers in the next decade.

A look at New York’s teacher workforce diversity is revealing. Forty-three percent of New York State students are children of color, compared to only 16% of the teacher population.

While the state education department and others gave lip service to finding solutions to these problems, NYSUT took a different path. We did what we do best, we got to work.

We brought together students, higher education faculty and administrators, including those from community colleges, P-12 educators, policy makers and legislators from rural, urban and suburban communities. In  October, we launched our Take a Look at Teaching initiative in Syracuse to tackle the crisis. And since then have held summits in Kenmore, Rochester, and Potsdam.

Our  goals: 

  1. to increase the number of students and career changers entering the profession,
  2. to improve diversity among the education workforce,
  3. to expand P-12/Higher Education partnerships to enhance teacher recruitment and support new teachers
  4. and to elevate the profession through meaningful conversations about why we teach. 

We partnered with P-12 locals and leaders of the United University Professions and faculty from their teacher preparation programs across the state in order to connect teachers, students, and community members to change the narrative around teaching and highlight what we all know to be true. Teaching is the best job in the world!

We heard from college students who told us about the hidden, silent costs of being an education major. And we listened to young teachers as they testified to the impact of early experiences in education and the importance of diversity in the profession.

The lesson that is emerging from these summits is that no one solution will solve the teacher shortage. But creative solutions, developed by practitioners in the field and tailored to the needs of each region, will yield progress and strengthen the teaching workforce in New York.

Our work isn’t done. We are planning more summits in the coming year as well as regional conversations hosted by locals across the state. We encourage you to be part of this important work.

Will you help cultivate the next generation of teachers in New York? Will you engage in courageous conversations with college and school leaders, community and faith based partners regarding the need for a diversified teaching workforce?

Our students should recognize themselves in their teachers and we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we all benefit from diversity in the classroom, in leadership, and in our union.

Speaking of our union, over 75% of NYSUT members are women and we are deeply committed to advancing women into leadership roles in our professions and in our union. Through NYSUT’s Women’s Committee, we’ve brought together female leaders, both our members and NYSUT staff, and expanded our reach to communities across the state.

This year, our sisterhood has doubled in size, and 12 local and regional NYSUT Women’s Committee chapters have been established.

We want to see that number grow, but we need your help to make that happen. Organizing a Women’s Committee in your region is easy, visit nysut.org/women to get started .

Why is having a women’s committee in every local, region and retiree council important?  Because no community is immune to the prejudice that plagues us, and every woman has the power to make a difference.

And we are making a difference. We are working to achieve wage equality; on average women earn only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. Gaps are worse for women of color:   African-American women 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents, and Latinas only 53 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Equal pay for equal work isn’t just a slogan, it’s our moral obligation!

We are also fighting against changes to Title IX sought by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that would weaken protections against sexual harassment and undo the societal shift that has empowered women to say, “Me Too.”

We are working to end domestic violence, prevent human trafficking and ensure that all women worldwide have access to health care and a sound education.

And we are also working to ensure that every woman in NYS is registered to vote and shows up at the polls in every election. 

As Susan B. Anthony said, “There will never be equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” Because just like our children deserve to look up and recognize themselves in their teachers, so should women recognize themselves in every politician, CEO and policy maker in the halls of power.

That said, no one elected official or cultural leader has ever accomplished all that is necessary to gain true equality for women. Our collective power is stronger than any one person.  We must do this work... together.

One of the most important accomplishments of our committee to date is simply providing NYSUT women with a safe space to speak our truth, to raise our collective voices and empower one another to grow and take on more leadership opportunities. This safe space is crucial. Because we’ve waited far too long for income equality, for our turn to speak, for our time to lead, and we can’t wait any longer. 

I’ve heard it said that this is the year of the woman.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a year.  A year has a beginning and an end.  And frankly this movement isn’t ending anytime soon. 

This year, my family welcomed a beautiful baby girl to the family, my great niece. As she grows up, I want to look her in the eyes and tell her we did everything we could to create a world where she is an equal in every single way, in every single space in this world.

Today and everyday you are surrounded by a fierce sisterhood; an unbreakable chain of NYSUT women, standing arm and arm.  A sisterhood that has your back on your best day and your worst, and we are ready to work, to create the change we demand in this world.

So, I ask you today, are you ready to get to work?

Are you ready to elevate the teaching profession? Are you ready to return trust to our education system in New York State? And are you ready to work toward full and complete women’s equality and empowerment not just for ourselves but for our children and students?

Fantastic!

Because you are not alone. We are working together.

Thank you.

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