NYSUT President Andy Pallotta has a family tree full of school workers that he shared with more than 200 School-Related Professionals seated before him at the SRP leadership conference in Saratoga Springs last weekend.
His grandfather was a head custodian, his mom worked in a school cafeteria and library, and his mother-in-law was a paraprofessional.
“When we’re all together, we accomplish great things,” Pallotta told a room packed with bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, clerical workers, security personnel, teaching assistants and teacher aides at NYSUT’s conference — many of whom were attending the annual event for the first time.
He thanked them for their activism to get legislation passed this year to enhance student safety by allowing districts to install stop-arm cameras on school buses as part of an ongoing Support School Staff initiative.
L-R: President Andy Pallotta; Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango; Second Vice President Paul Pecorale; Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
He also credited their in-district lobbying for passage of the workplace violence prevention act, which awaits the governor’s signature. It would include school districts as employers required to prevent school violence through training and preventive measures.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango, who started her school career as a paraprofessional with United County BOCES before becoming a teacher; Second Vice President Paul Pecorale, a teacher who leads the statewide union’s SRP program; and Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, a higher education professional staff and former UUP officer, joined Pallotta to share stories and answer questions as part of a “cracker barrel” session.
“I’m your face and your voice and I take it very seriously,” Abraham told the group.
When asked how SRPs can encourage “lukewarm or cold” members to serve their union, Abraham suggested asking them to do something simple and finite — a task that has a beginning and end — and one that has to do with something for which they have a passion.
DiBrango said when leaders help members solve an issue, those members are grateful and they come “to realize the value of the union.”
Some members are helped by NYSUT’s Disaster Relief Fund, which helps teachers, faculty, staff and SRPs in distress from flooding, blizzards, hurricanes and tragedy. The fund, which Abraham oversees, is funded by donations from members.
When asked how to mobilize parents to get more involved, officers told the group that NYSUT sits on the Education Conference Board and has a working relationship with the PTA.
“You all need to have those community coalitions, too,” said Pecorale.
“We need to get people to understand what workers’ rights mean, and what workers’ values mean, and how to build a voice in the workplace,” he added.
SRPs rock! Click for large version.
Participants said they are being tapped to do more teacher-related duties, including providing new material to students — particularly with the teacher shortage. The officers encouraged them to let parents know their students are not getting certified teachers.
Members expressed concern about some students in high-need areas having poor hygiene, and DiBrango encouraged them to involve nurses, teachers and guidance counselors in having conversations about the child’s well being. Abraham said that NYSUT has some personal hygiene kits available through its affiliation with First Book/AFT. Many local unions have set up free clothing closets, he noted, where students can get what they need.
Toileting issues with students are a growing concern, members said. NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trust offers free workshops on the ergonomics and health and safety of toileting, the officers said. They also encouraged them to use the power of their local union to get specific job descriptions in local bargaining agreements.
Addressing a question on how SRPs can be more supported and respected, DiBrango said it starts with the individual. It is important to avoid the word “just,” she said, as in, “I’m ‘just’ a TA.”
“The school would completely shut down without SRPs,” she said, and the room erupted in cheering.