As a longtime educator, I've always seen June as a time for looking back — and looking forward.
On the school calendar, June graduations typically trigger reflection on the year just past. Even for our members whose work is not tied to the rhythms of an academic year, June is a natural time for taking stock as the calendar shifts to summer. What were the successes of the year just past? What challenges remain?
For NYSUT, our locals and the larger union movement, this year has been one of progress in the face of great challenge. Examples of our progress are emblematic of the many areas in which we have advanced our mission. And they serve to strengthen our resolve for the challenges ahead.
First, consider the long nightmare that has been New York State's draconian approach to evaluations. A year ago at this time, a convoluted and unworkable teacher evaluation system was being pushed out across the state. In the 12 months since, our vigorous full-throttle activism in concert with parents and students caused a monumental sea change to take place. The era of test-and-punish — both in New York State and at the federal level — is coming to a well-deserved end.
It is no small thing to achieve such fundamental changes in public policy. The challenge before us now is to replace the failed policies with sane, research-based practices that reclaim the joy of teaching and learning in our schools and on our campuses. This will take time but we are taking the lead in advocating for what students and educators need.
Second, let's look back to the very real existential threat that our union — and the labor movement as a whole — faced in 2015. Wealthy extremists had reached the Supreme Court with their challenge to fundamental union rights, seeking to cripple our ability to organize, mobilize and fight. While a sudden change in the court's composition averted that immediate threat, many other anti-union cases remain in the pipeline. Yet the real progress here was what happened at the grassroots level.
Across the state, NYSUT leaders dedicated themselves to engaging and mobilizing members. These important conversations and engagement activities focused on the value of union membership for each of us and for our communities.
Meanwhile, we can point to a long list of budgetary and legislative victories. Still, the next few weeks will see us pressing for a favorable resolution to other important issues, including repeal of the receivership law and reform of the tax cap.
Other examples of activism abound. Our annual lobby day for nurses and health care professionals amplified the call for nurses in every school and for staffing that ensures patient safety. Our first LGBTQ Advocacy Day brought together activists — gay and straight — to stand up for the rights and dignity of all people. And NYSUT members enthusiastically joined a march on behalf of farm worker justice. NYSUT's social justice activism shows that we "walk the walk."
Another meaningful walk will take place on June 11 (and later in the year), when many of us will take part in American Heart Association walks in support of heart health. I am honored to chair the Capital Region walk and I encourage everyone to participate, as walkers or donors, as we work together to fight a disease that kills too many of our members.
Our members — in solidarity with other unionists and with their communities — can move mountains for the greater good. Without question, union activism and member engagement are the real keys to our continued strength, and remain vital to meet the challenges ahead.
Now is the time to reflect on our progress, resolve to carry it forward and re-commit to what works, as we organize, mobilize and fight!
A walk-in at Troy School 2.
Capital Region Heart Walk kick-off.
NYSUT members supporting Verizon workers on picket lines.