May 01, 2021

RA 2021: Celebrating the winners of NYSUT's annual awards

Source:  RA 2021
nysut awards

Congratulations to the winners of the union’s annual awards recognizing members’ exemplary service to their local unions, their professions and the community.

The honorees for the NYSUT Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, “Not for Ourselves Alone:” The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award and the NYSUT constituency awards were selected in 2020.

As awards were not able to be presented at the 2020 NYSUT RA, these awards will be presented to recipients at this year’s convention.

Videos to celebrate each honoree will be posted on this page shortly after they are presented at the 2021 Representative Assembly, April 30-May 1.

Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service

Jonathan Kozol

kozolAuthor Jonathan Kozol, one of the most eloquent and outspoken advocates for equality and racial justice in our nation’s schools, will receive NYSUT’s Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service. The honor is the union’s most prestigious award recognizing special contributions made to public education in the United States.

Throughout his career spanning more than five decades, Kozol has written numerous award-winning books spotlighting the glaring inequalities in education — how race and a lack of funding divide students into separate and unequal camps. He has also been a truth-teller on the negative impacts of high-stakes standardized testing, charter schools and vouchers.

Kozol earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. In the heat of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, Kozol moved from Harvard Square into a poor Black neighborhood of Boston and became a fourth-grade teacher. His experience there inspired his first major work, Death at an Early Age,

which described his first year as a teacher and exposed the race-driven inequalities in public education.

He was later fired from Boston Public Schools for teaching the poem "Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes and then taught several years in Newton Schools. He eventually left teaching but never stopped his campaign for a more equal and just educational system. In Savage Inequalities, Kozol visited rich and poor schools in 30 communities across the country, vividly documenting how poor schools were overcrowded, understaffed and unable to provide equal opportunity for students.

In his 1995 bestseller Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of the Nation, Kozol spent a year getting to know families in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, the poorest neighborhood in the poorest congressional district in the nation. Ten years later, in The Shame of the Nation, Kozol wrote about conditions in 60 schools he studied, finding that inner city children were more racially isolated than they had been before Brown v. Board of Education.

Kozol, who was the keynote speaker at NYSUT’s Representative Assemblies in 1992 and 1998, is working on two new books: one for teachers and activists and the other for children. At a time of mounting racial tensions and pandemic teaching and learning, Kozol believes we must seize the opportunity to reimagine education and bring about a healing transformation in today’s classrooms.

The Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service — the highest honor bestowed by NYSUT — recognizes special contributions to public education in the United States. Pioneering a militant brand of teacher unionism, Albert Shanker led educators across New York state in a crusade for workplace dignity, and then led teachers nationwide into an era of educational reform and higher standards. The late, legendary UFT and AFT president has been described as “one of the greatest educators of the 20th century.”

“Not for Ourselves Alone:”
The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

Catalina Fortino
United Federation of Teachers

fortinoFormer NYSUT First Vice President Catalina Fortino immigrated to the United States from Argentina with her family as an English language learner, and she dedicated herself to lifting up students with similar challenges.

Earning a bachelor’s in early childhood education and her master’s in special education and bilingual education, she worked to help English language learners and students with special needs.

A UFT activist, she strengthened the profession as the chair of the NYSUT Bilingual Committee of Practitioners, the co-chair of the state Professional Standards and Practices Board for Teaching and as a member of the state Committee of Title I Practitioners and the American Federation of Teachers English Language Learners Task Force.

In 2011, Fortino was named director of the UFT Teacher Center and elected as the UFT’s vice president for education. Three years later she was elected first vice president at NYSUT and vice president of the AFT. Catalina Fortino served her union at the state and national level with the utmost dedication and integrity, advocating strongly and effectively for her students, her colleagues and the teaching profession from pre-K through post-graduate.

“Not for Ourselves Alone:”
The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

Florence McCue
Yonkers Federation of Teachers

mccueIn a career going back 50 years, Florence McCue has demonstrated that the goal of leadership is not to create followers, but to create more leaders.

From her second year of teaching in 1970 until her retirement in 2004, McCue served the Yonkers Federation of Teachers in numerous positions. As a building rep, she helped protect contract rights and worked closely with teachers and administrators. She initiated a “buddy” program that partnered seasoned teacher leaders as mentors with non-tenured teachers — helping new teachers succeed while schooling them about the value of their union.

McCue went on to serve the YFT as treasurer, political activist, member of the negotiating team, and NYSUT and AFT delegate. In 1997, she became a delegate to the AFL-CIO Westchester-Putnam Central Labor Body where she still focuses on legislative, political and community service activity.

In retirement, McCue continues her activism as executive vice president of the NYSUT Retiree Council of Westchester and Putnam counties. She is the Retiree At-Large Director on the NYSUT Board, representing all 230,000 retirees in the state and Florida, and serves on the NYSUT Retiree Advisory Committee.

2021 New York State Teacher of the Year

Jennifer Wolfe
Oceanside Federation of Teachers

wolfeJennifer Wolfe, a social studies teacher at Oceanside High School on Long Island, is the 2021 New York State Teacher of the Year. A member of the Oceanside Federation of Teachers, Wolfe received this year’s prestigious State Education Department honor for her work with students in the classroom and empowering fellow educators to take on leadership roles.

A National Board Certified teacher beloved by her students for encouraging creative freedom and fostering a classroom environment where an exchange of diverse opinions are welcome — Wolfe has been widely regarded by her colleagues and administrators for her dedication to her practice and elevating the teaching profession across the state.

Since becoming Oceanside’s first teacher to achieve National Board Certification in 2002, Wolfe has personally guided more than 20 other teachers in the district — as well numerous others in districts across Long Island — through the rigorous 300-plus-hour process, considered the “gold standard” of the teaching profession. Before Wolfe achieved NBCT status, which she renewed in 2012, there were only 66 NBCTs on Long Island. Through her mentorship as a National Board regional coordinator in recent years, there are now more than 200.

A three-time Fulbright recipient and former state High School Social Studies Teacher of the Year, Wolfe also plays a significant leadership role in Oceanside’s Tenure Attainment Plan, a supportive but challenging four-year program for novice teachers that aims to ensure they are supported during the critical first years of their career. The plan includes one-to-one mentoring, small group interactions, and video peer observations designed to develop and provide constructive and supportive feedback.

Wolfe, who in September entered her 24th year teaching social studies at Oceanside, said she believes “districts can improve student learning by recognizing and empowering the problem-solving skill set of the accomplished teacher. When teachers are put in positions of leadership to control their profession the education that students receive is usually more effective.”

2020 New York State Teacher of the Year

Rachel Murat
Maine-Endwell Teachers Association

muratRachel Murat — a 25-year social studies teacher at Maine-Endwell High School near Binghamton who is known widely for her cutting-edge approach in the classroom and her far-reaching community service — is the 2020 New York State Teacher of the Year.

A member of the Maine-Endwell Teachers Association, Murat is regarded as both an academic innovator and a community ambassador.

Murat in 2009 created with her students the Maine-Endwell Assisting Local Spartans food pantry, which feeds as many as 150 kids and 100 families on a weekly basis, ensuring students come to school fed and ready to learn. Through those pantry deliveries, which has taken on an even greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, the district also has been able to better serve families in need by seeing kids in their home environment and addressing concerns that otherwise might have been missed. Murat has led efforts to restore the Southern Tier community following two devastating hundred-year floods and has helped families in the district get back on their feet after being left homeless by fires.

Through her constant service to others, Murat aims to instill in students a sense of community and show that through compassion, empathy and giving back, they can play an important role in making the Maine-Endwell area a better place to live.

Murat also created a Digital Citizenship program, teaching students how to positively represent themselves online, something she believes is critically important today as colleges and employers scour the social media pages of prospective students and employees. And she serves as coordinator of the district’s Mentoring Program, helping students better navigate the transition from middle to high school.

Murat believes strongly in prioritizing a sense of safety for her students and ensuring their social and emotional needs are met so that they are prepared to learn and succeed.

“That’s my philosophy,” she said, “in everything I do.”

School-Related Professionals Member of the Year

Dorothy Kamps
United Federation of Teachers

kampsWhen Dorothy Kamps shows up for phone banks, rallies, union events and organizing, it’s because she knows the value of the union. Kamps was brought up in a union-centric family of electrical workers, and then became active in the United Federation of Teachers during her own career.

A longtime stay-at-home mom, she went to work as a paraprofessional right where she lived: in the borough of Queens. At age 42 she earned her associate’s degree from Queensborough Community College. Kamps worked for nearly two decades with the youngest elementary students as a classroom paraprofessional at P.S. 71 in Ridgewood. Her work with the UFT started part-time as Paraprofessional District Coordinator, and eventually she began full-time work in the union’s Health and Safety Department providing training and professional development for paraprofessionals.

“I teach people how not to get hurt on the job,” she said.

School-Related Professionals Member of the Year

Cheryl Rockhill
Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association

rockhillCheryl Rockhill, president of the Brushton-Moira Support Staff Association is a busy union advocate.

Rockhill works as a bus monitor and bus dispatcher, serves as chair of the SRP Advisory Council, and is a NYSUT Education & Learning Trust instructor.

“She is the gold standard on many levels for School-Related Professionals,” said Jeanette Stapley, NYSUT Board ED 9 Director.

Rockhill worked in the school cafeteria before transferring to bus work. This past year, her work included dispatching and monitoring bus rides during the pandemic shut down, when drivers delivered meals to nearly 500 students in four daily runs.

She worked for NYSUT’s Member Organizing Institute, the 2019 first-ever SRP rally at the Capitol, and lobby days. Rockhill also testified before the New York State Wage Board in the “Fight for Fifteen” as the voice of SRPs.

Higher Education Member of the Year

Barbara Bowen
Professional Staff Congress

bowenBarbara Bowen, a fierce advocate for higher education members, students and progressive causes, has served more than two decades as president of the Professional Staff Congress representing faculty and academic staff at CUNY.

Bowen is well known for her passion and persistence — fighting for more higher ed funding, standing strong at the bargaining table and leading the charge at marches and rallies. She has worked relentlessly to improve benefits and teaching conditions for more than 30,000 PSC members.

A professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Bowen taught for 15 years before becoming PSC president in 2000. A scholar of 17th-century English literature and African American studies, Bowen earned her doctorate at Yale. She began her union career when an assignment as a VISTA volunteer turned into an effort to organize 800 tobacco pickers.

Bowen is an American Federation of Teachers vice president, a NYSUT Board director and executive board member of the New York City Central Labor Council.

Higher Education Member of the Year

Jamie Dangler
United University Professions

danglerJamie Dangler is a NYSUT Board member and, since 2012, the statewide vice president for academics for United University Professions, NYSUT’s local representing professionals and educators at the State University of New York.

Over the past 20 years, Dangler has had many UUP leadership roles, serving on the UUP statewide Executive Board since 2008, and from

2009-12, as president of UUP’s Cortland chapter. Dangler also leads UUP’s Task Force on Teacher Education, a committee that successfully advocated against 2014 SED teacher certification mandates that discouraged students from entering teaching. The work led to the elimination of one of four exams, and a review process to help students fulfill the edTPA requirement.

The chief negotiator for UUP’s 2011-16 contract, Dangler was also a negotiations team member during bargaining talks for the 2007-11 contract.

Before becoming a statewide UUP officer, she was an associate professor of sociology at SUNY Cortland.

Higher Education Member of the Year

Mike Fabricant
Professional Staff Congress

fabricantNYSUT Executive Board member Mike Fabricant is a longtime Professional Staff Congress leader and activist; PSC represents NYSUT members at the City University of New York.

He is a current PSC executive council member and legislative representative, and former PSC first vice president, treasurer and vice president for senior colleges. In these positions he has been essential to every aspect of PSC work, from contract campaigns, to campus organizing, to legislative advocacy and coalition building. Fabricant has a deep connection to K-12 education. He is the author of three scholarly books on the politics of K-12 education and has participated in NYSUT task forces on teacher education and APPR.

Fabricant has been a faculty member at the Hunter College School of Social Work for 30 years and is the author of nine books and numerous articles.

Health Care Professionals Member of the Year

Nancy Barth-Miller
Federation of Nurses /United Federation of Teachers

barth-millerA hospital nurse who has treated patients for injuries and illnesses throughout the AIDS epidemic, SARS, Ebola and coronavirus — all while championing unionization.

Barth-Miller worked at Staten Island University South from 1982 to December 2020. Seeking better representation, she helped to decertify the previous union and organized successfully with UFT in 1989. The hospital took the case to the Second Circuit Court in Washington, D.C. but the union prevailed in 1994. In 2006, Barth-Miller became chapter representative at the hospital for the Federation of Nurses/United Federation of Teachers.

An original member of the NYSUT Health Care Professionals Council formed in 2002, Barth-Miller serves as a voice for hospital nurses and helps shape the annual Health Care Professionals Forum. She is active in her community for charity work, and has worked as a clinical adjunct professor and as an educator for the New York City Board of Education LPN program.

Retiree Member of the Year

Donald Nobles
United Federation of Teachers

noblesDonald Nobles is the vice chair leader for the United Federation of Teachers Retired Teachers Chapter. He retired in 2013 after 28 years as a special education teacher, and now works tirelessly on behalf of veteran parents and their children as the vice chairman of the UFT’s Veterans Committee. He joined the group in 2005.

A current committee focus is lobbying the New York City Council and department of education to provide training for school counselors about available veterans’ benefits so they can help community members access them. These include mental health counseling and housing and employment assistance.

Nobles was elected a UFT chapter leader in 2003, a position he held until his retirement. He has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the AFT Political Mobilization award in 2015; the Marsh/Raimo Award for Political Action in 2011; and the Ely Trachtenberg Award in 2003.

Retiree Member of the Year

Deb Peterson
Retiree Council 43

petersonDeb Peterson is the longtime former president of Retiree Council 43, Teachers Retired in Florida, a position she held from 2010-20. She is the current president of RC 43’s Space Coast unit, a position she’s held since 2014.

Peterson’s retiree contributions to NYSUT are many. She served as RC 43 vice president from 2006-10; co-president of the RC 43 Space Coast unit from 2010-14; was a NYSUT Retiree Advisory Committee member from 2014-20; a NYSUT Committee of 100 member since 2014; a member of the ED 51-53 Resolutions Committee since 2010; and is a 2009 member of the AFT Leadership Program. Peterson is also a member of the Florida Coalition Project and the NYSUT Women’s Committee.

She’s received many awards throughout her union career including the AFT Living Legacy Award in 2014; and several NYSUT Communications Award wins for her blog “From the Desk of the President.”