NYSUT recognizes individual members for excellence in leadership, union activism and outstanding commitment to their professions at the union's annual Representative Assembly.
Higher education member of the year
Eileen Landy, an associate professor of sociology at SUNY Old Westbury, has served nearly 14 years as secretary-treasurer of United University Professions, NYSUT's largest higher ed affiliate and the statewide union that represents academic and professional staff on State University of New York campuses.
She was previously president of UUP's Old Westbury chapter and presiding officer of the Old Westbury Faculty Senate, and has served as a delegate to and a member of numerous conventions and committees of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Landy also has been an instrumental voice in the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education.
Landy is a frequent and vocal presence on picket lines and at rallies and is a recognized champion for women's issues.
Higher education member of the year
Andy Sako is a professor of building management at Erie Community College. Sako has been president of the Faculty Federation of Erie Community College since 2004. He is also a member of NYSUT's Board of Directors and of the NEA Board of Directors, representing New York State.
In his academic work, he is known for establishing creative partnerships with the building trades in Erie County that benefit his students. In 2000, Sako won the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor accorded a faculty member or administrator by the State University of New York. The award recognizes the professional excellence, accomplishments and outstanding contributions of SUNY's dedicated professionals.
Sako is also a recognized political force in the Buffalo area, respected by policymakers of all party affiliations.
Retiree member of the year
Stewart Cohen is, in the words of United Federation of Teachers Retired Teachers Chapter leader Tom Murphy, "the UFT/NYSUT's most valued political activist on the west coast of Florida."
Since retiring to Sarasota in 2003, Cohen serves as a UFT delegate to the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, representing FLARA on the West Central Florida Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and chairing its board of trustees.
Cohen is also a regular participant in Sarasota and Manatee Democratic Party actions as a labor advocate. In the last election cycle alone, his network of 57 activists held seven home phone banks, making 3,000 calls and sending 1,500 emails. He has a waiting list of eager volunteers.
"I look forward to increasing our impact on the west coast of Florida for the next election cycle," Cohen says.
Retiree member of the year
Westchester/Putnam retiree member Alma Cormican epitomizes the qualities that make NYSUT a strong union. The past president and chief negotiator for the White Plains Teachers Association, Cormican remained a union activist after retiring in 1999. She joined her retiree local's executive committee in 2004 and was elected president in 2008.
Cormican has edited her retiree local's award-winning newsletter since 2006; organized and run pre-retirement seminars for in-service teachers since 2009; and raised more than $15,000 for local scholarships and the Westchester/Putnam Retiree's REACT committee that helps schools and children in need.
Cormican has attended the NYSUT Representative Assembly since 1972. She is an active member of the statewide union's Retiree Advisory Committee, where she contributed to the publication Your Blueprint for a Successful Retirement: An online planning guide.
Health care professional member of the year
Social worker Dawn Lloyd-Matthews, an 18-year member of the Sayville Teachers Association, works with at-risk middle school students referred for social, emotional and/or behavioral reasons. She provides individual, group and family crisis intervention; coordinates community outreach programs; and assists children and families on matters dealing with abuse, neglect and homelessness.
Her work in addressing cyber-bullying has been called "pioneering" by district officials, and she has been a featured speaker on the issue at numerous national conferences.
Lloyd-Matthews has served in several key leadership roles with the STA, including executive vice president, grievance coordinator and member of the union's negotiating team. She is also a delegate to NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers.
A member of the National Association of School Social Workers and the New York State School Social Workers Association, Lloyd-Matthews also has worked in the classroom, lecturing on social networking behavior, the Dignity for All Students Act, relationships and suicide prevention. She also has served as a coach in basketball and lacrosse.
SRP member of the year
Nancy Sullivan, a teaching assistant and member of the West Hempstead Educational Association, works with K-12 students with special needs. She also serves as a union building representative for the West Hempstead Middle School.
When Sullivan began working in the West Hempstead district 18 years ago, teaching assistants did not have union representation. She initiated efforts to bring teaching assistants under the union umbrella, collaborated with her colleagues to educate the district and pushed for union affiliation.
Sullivan has earned a reputation for going above and beyond for her students. "She is always professional and prepared no matter what content area or grade level she is assigned. And, she empowers students with her positivity, making her a true role model," said West Hempstead EA President Barbara Hafner.
Lubin awarded union's highest honor
Alan Lubin — whose work fighting for public education, civil rights and working people has spanned a half century — received NYSUT's highest honor: the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service.
"Albert Shanker taught me everything, including the skill of listening," said Lubin, speaking to the more than 2,000 delegates attending the 2017 NYSUT Representative Assembly. "He used to throw out outrageous ideas and then he'd sit down and listen as they were transformed into debates and arguments."
A former fourth-grade teacher from Brooklyn, Lubin served for decades in leadership roles in both the United Federation of Teachers and NYSUT, and spent 17 years as NYSUT's executive vice president and head of the union's legislative and political action operations. In 2015, he was named NYSUT's executive vice president emeritus.
His work helped establish NYSUT as one of the most powerful forces in the state and his leadership helped secure numerous victories for members, including protecting public employees' pensions from inflation through enactment of a Cost-of-Living Adjustment; winning record school aid increases; and gaining passage of legislation that requires schools to be equipped with automated external defibrillators — a move credited with saving dozens of lives in schools and on athletic fields across the state.
Lubin was a young teacher and unionist in New York City when Shanker — the legendary UFT and AFT leader who pioneered a militant brand of teacher unionism — invited him to participate in meetings with other leading labor figures of the time.
"Picture this: a chubby kid from Brooklyn sitting in a room with Al Shanker, Bayard Rustin, A. Phillip Randolph, Norman Hill," Lubin said. "Those meetings were the genesis of my saying: If you are doing this alone, you are doing it wrong."
Basko lauded for her grit, commitment
Sonia Basko was honored posthumously with "Not for Ourselves Alone:" The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award during the opening session of NYSUT's Representative Assembly.
A teacher, former president of the Penfield Education Association, NYSUT Board member and then special projects coordinator on NYSUT's staff, Sonia enlivened unionism, empowered members, initiated campaigns for social justice and organized spirited rallies.
"She knew that change would be more far-reaching when we advocated for people to speak for themselves," said Alexandra Basko, Sonia's sister.
In a powerful video tribute, Kate Sacco of the Kenmore Teachers Association said Sonia had a knack for finding people and bringing them to leadership roles. "Sonia was never too busy," said John Kozlowski, president of the Monroe County Federation of Teachers, where Sonia had served as vice president.
As Alexandra Basko accepted the NFOA award on her late sister's behalf, delegates from around the state rose in a standing ovation. She thanked her mother, Kathy, an immigrant, for passing on her feminine strength.
Sonia served as NYSUT staff liaison to the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. She died in December of complications from cancer at the age of 43. Sandra Feldman, former UFT and then AFT president for whom the award is named, also died of cancer.
The NFOA award is presented to someone who has a history of "activism, selfless service and commitment to our union," said outgoing NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino.
"Sonia was just irreplaceable," said Kozlowski, eyes brimming with tears.
2017 Teacher of the year
Amy Hysick, the 2017 New York State Teacher of the Year, encouraged delegates to the NYSUT Representative Assembly to continue to "elevate the teaching profession and fight for equity in our schools.
"I am proud to be a member of a union that supports us in our autonomy and encourages us to develop as individual professionals," said Hysick, a Cicero-North Syracuse High School science teacher whose parents are NYSUT retirees and former teachers in the same district.
Hysick, a member of the North Syracuse Education Association, is passionate about her profession and supports new teachers through mentoring, because she remembers how difficult it is to be a new teacher.
Through constant adjustment of her teaching strategies, she embraces student individuality because, "Not everyone travels the same path, walks at the same speed or reaches the destination at the same time," she told delegates.
Hysick called watching the video of her classroom work "surreal," and confessed that her favorite parts of a movie are often the outtakes so the audience sees how many times it takes to make one perfect "take."
"My behind-the-scenes story is one of exploration and experimenting with different teaching strategies — but not all of them work the first time out of the gate," Hysick said. "But there are hidden lessons for my students embedded in these experiences:
- Making mistakes is OK, and it's part of how we learn.
- If you never stretch yourself and try anything new, you will never grow.
- Failure is not the end of the world.
- There is always a path to success, and GPS directions are available if you make a wrong turn.
- Learning doesn't really 'end' — our journeys of discovery continue for the rest of our lives.
- We learn best when we learn together.
"Our students and our schools need strong advocates more than ever. We each have unique approaches to teaching, different passions in education — but our voices and our actions will carry more weight and grow in volume when we band together."
Dein receives Feldman leadership grant
Kathryn Dein, an AIS math teacher and local president of the North Babylon Teachers Organization, received the Sandy Feldman Leadership Grant.
Each year, NYSUT awards a grant of $2,000 to help up-and-coming women activists develop leadership skills, network with other union leaders and build union and community involvement.
Dein has been working with a union action committee, the Parent Youth Activity Center and local civic organizations to create community events. She wants to attend leadership programs and take part in coalition-building training.