NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino praised members for rising up and using their collective voice to overcome and defeat the relentless attacks waged upon public education, and urged them to recommit to "looking out" for one another to protect and enhance their professions.
"There is no question we have been living through a challenging, dark era — yet I stand here to affirm this truth: Because of the power of our collective voices and our collective actions with parents, students and communities, darkness will not prevail," Fortino said.
Recalling her own career as a classroom teacher, Fortino shared a personal story. In her ninth year of teaching, she said, she began to lose confidence. Each day became a struggle. She had difficulty reaching students and was experiencing serious problems with classroom management. The situation grew so bleak she seriously considered leaving her beloved profession.
"My union sisters and brothers, as a collective body, created a circle of support and strength for me," she said. "They gave me ... the confidence I needed to recommit myself to my students and my profession. They brought me back, and I will forever be indebted to them."
It is that same kind of collective support that has inspired NYSUT members statewide to confront and defeat the attacks waged upon public education.
"Thanks to our advocacy with parents, we've achieved sweeping policy changes at the federal level," Fortino said. "That means: No more compulsory linking of federal funding to teacher evaluation and test scores."
At the state level, high-stakes consequences for state test scores are gone for at least the next four years. And, through the hard work of United University Professions and Professional Staff Congress leadership working in concert with NYSUT, the edTPA Task Force is being reconvened. With the election of Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, Fortino said progress is being made. But, she stressed, there is more to do.
Fortino asked delegates to imagine a world in which:
- The voices of professionals in health care, higher education and pre-K-12 are respected and revered.
- High value is placed on classrooms.
- The arts, social studies and science are a vital part of daily learning.
- The travesty of receivership is gone — replaced with funding and resources for community schools.
- Students receive all the services they need to thrive.
"We must continue to summon the courage to take on the visionary work needed to make it real," Fortino said. "Will you stand with me?"