Graduations are often bittersweet — marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. For members of the seven local affiliates that successfully completed NYSUT's intensive, three-year Local Action Project, graduation means their unions join an elite alumni association of more than 100 NYSUT locals that have committed to the hard work of building the union — and the community.
The seven locals joined 14 others from across the state at the 2015 NYSUT LAP conference in Saratoga. The 21 teams — comprising 115 dedicated union members and their equally dedicated NYSUT labor relations specialists — gathered for the weeklong conference where members focused on a host of topics that align with the program's four pillars: member involvement, political action, community engagement and communications. NYSUT's Local Action Project is coordinated by Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner.
Members also received the latest updates on issues critical to the labor movement and public education.
And continuing a time-honored tradition, graduating locals shared their LAP journey with fellow participants:
Averill Park TA
Led by President Gordon Kaedy, the 330-member APTA designated a week in November as "APTA week." During this time, each building collected donations for a variety of local organizations, including Kiwanis, the booster club and the Averill Park Education Foundation.
The local also conducted a food drive and recognized the district's School-Related Professionals with breakfast at each building.
The local beefed up its presence in the community as well. APTA sponsored a forum to help educators and residents understand important educational issues. The local also reached out to incoming families by providing books to new kindergartners.
"The LAP program has not only helped organize the Bellport TA, it has also helped with the organization of an ongoing partnership between the South Country School District and its community," said Wayne White, president of the 600-member local.
Bellport joined LAP at a time when member morale was at an all-time low and many viewed the union as apathetic and ineffective.
The union completely revamped its website and used social media and face time with members to turn things around and improve internal communications.
The local also set itself up as a force for positive change in the community and created many more opportunities to unite the membership through charitable events, a thank-you breakfast for first responders and increased political action.
Half Hollow Hills TA
Increasing member participation and community engagement were identified as the main objectives for this 1,200-member local led by Richard Haase.
The union successfully used surveys to gauge member interest and tailor activities and events to better reach members. The local also launched an innovative "Count me in" rewards program to recognize participation in district and union events.
The HHHTA also strengthened its political action at the local and statewide levels, while expanding community outreach efforts by providing information for parents at back-to-school nights, collecting for local food pantries and providing funds for mobile billboards against overtesting.
Ichabod Crane TA
The 200-member ICTA's logo says it all: Together, Ichabod Crane Teachers and Community. The local, led by Karen Vecellio, identified improving member participation and uniting the local as main goals for its LAP experience. The union counted creating a branded logo, improved communication and spontaneous activism among its successes.
The local also offered advice on best practices to fellow LAP teams: one-on-one communication, accentuating the positive and displaying patience are a few of the keys to building trust in your local and community.
Niagara Wheatfield TA
"LAP has been a turning point for our local," said Darla Schultz
Bubar, president of the 340-member union. "With the excellent training we received, we were able to truly change the rhetoric about teachers in our community from negative to positive, elect pro-education board candidates, and successfully help pass a school budget two years in a row, all while improving member communication, mobilization and community outreach."
The local created more opportunities for members to build bonds internally, and greatly increased members' visibility in the community. The tech savvy NWTA also made good use of the union's YouTube page and created catchy public service announcements on school funding and defending the labor movement.
The Plattsburgh TA, led by Mary Lou Megarr, found that one simple message reached across all four pillars of LAP: Our voice matters.
The 250-member local has been able to increase member participation at rallies and social and community events, and successfully elect pro-education members to the local school board. While the local was using email, meetings and notices on union bulletin boards to communicate with members, LAP team members found face-to-face communication most effective.
The local has now instituted 15-minute meetings in each district building.
Rockland BOCES SA
The Rockland BOCES Staff Association LAP team, led by retired President Deb Kydon and new President Kevin Connell, knew creating a stronger local was crucial. The team focused on uniting the membership through social events including a meet and greet, new staff orientation and know-your-contract sessions. The 550-member local also increased its presence in the community.
Noting areas of need throughout the many districts RBSA members serve, the local now sponsors two area schools, said Lilybeth Torres, co-chair of the local's LAP team. For one, the RBSA built up an elementary library with the contribution of 800 books. In another, they helped create a home economics room for students with disabilities. The local also built political muscle, attending rallies and educating members on state and local issues.