RA 2024

Representative Assembly 2024
May 3-4. New York City.

Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference: May 2-3.

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NYSUT Communications |

Each year, RA delegates bring resolutions to the floor that address issues vital to our progress as a union.

This year, delegates adopted 26 resolutions; topics included the promotion of the Equal Rights Amendment and the commemoration of Brown v. Board of Education, as well as community college oversight, book banning, cellphone use in the classroom, AI, Supreme Court overreach, child poverty, paid family leave, paraprofessionals, equity in education, and much more.

First, NYSUT agreed to work with national affiliates to get the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first proposed in 1923, officially published as a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Then NYSUT President Melinda Person welcomed a special guest to the podium, former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “It is long past due,” Maloney shouted to thunderous applause. “One hundred years, not one year more!”

During her career, Maloney championed human rights, healthcare, and education. Maloney was recently featured on a NYSUT poster celebrating Women’s History Month.

Next, delegates passed a resolution to commemorate the Brown v. Board of Education with teacher trainings to dismantle segregation. 

A resolution advocating for increased staffing of paraprofessionals and teacher aides also passed unanimously. “I can’t say how important this is,” said Sandie Carner-Shafran, Saratoga Adirondack BOCES Employees Association retiree. “Our teachers are overwhelmed and many of our teaching assistants are forced into being teachers in the classrooms.”

“I have to say these professionals make the difference in our schools. This is a no-brainer. Please join me in support of this,” said Brian Ebertz, Greece Teachers Association.

Resolutions to support legislation that would improve social media safety and make classrooms climate smart both passed. “We all know that it's darn hot in our classrooms,” Andrew Bogey, Alfred Almond TA said to enthusiastic applause. “We all need cooling systems that are up to date.”

Christopher Kazim, president of Port Chester TA, took the passage of the social media resolution as an opportunity to announce NYSUT’s upcoming Disconnected conference, which will address cellphones and social media and its effects on students. “In an era where phones are everywhere, the impact of these devices on students has never been more critical,” Kazim said.

On higher education, delegates passed a resolution to change the way oversight of community colleges is managed by the state, and a resolution to continue advocacy around SUNY Downstate.

UUP President Fred Kowal praised the union’s successful organizing this year to keep SUNY Downstate open, but noted the fight was not yet over. “Despite the success that we have achieved this year … that is just the beginning of this struggle,” he said.

In response to the June 2023 Supreme Court ban on the use of affirmative action in college admissions, delegates passed a resolution urging NYSUT to uphold equal opportunity for all marginalized groups. “The esteemed members of the Supreme Court, as the saying goes, were born on third base and think they scored a triple,” said Mike Sill, United Federation of Teachers, adding that while the “privileged justices” might not think affirmative action is necessary, NYSUT members know it is.

Delegates also passed numerous resolutions related to educational issues, measures to support the integration of career-connected learning with quality CTE programs and the expansion of CTE programs statewide.

Another resolution addressed the challenges of artificial intelligence. “AI is scary. It’s coming and we know it,” said Jeff Orlowski, president of the Kenmore TA. “We need to get ahead of it and get protections for our students and our teachers.”

Delegates also passed a resolution calling on the US Supreme Court to follow and uphold the law.

Speaking in support of a resolution to encourage teaching and learning about labor in public schools, Laura Franz, president of the Albany Public School TA, recounted the story of Kate Mullaney, an early labor leader whose home is a national landmark. Franz urged attendees to visit the site “because learning about our past is critical to our future.”

A resolution addressing extreme temperatures in NY schools was a ‘hot topic.’ Several delegates rose to speak about the measure, including Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, a member of the NYSUT Board president of the Yonkers Federation of Teachers.

“We all know that in September and June our classrooms are basically ovens,” said Rosado-Ciriello. “We have seen ambulances taking our union members away and taking our students away to the hospital because of heat exhaustion and dehydration. These extreme temperatures do not allow for sustainable learning environments for teachers or students.”

Delegates brought forward two resolutions related to the health and safety of students; one was about preventing swatting and one to improve the healthiness of school meals even as we increase access. Both measures passed.

Members remain concerned about their health plans. A resolution to consider a research-based expert study on a national single health plan and another to monitor Medicare Advantage plans both passed.

Delegates enthusiastically passed a measure to support advocacy, education and legislation to reduce US maternal mortality rates “Racism is a healthcare issue, and when maternal mortality happens, communities are traumatized,” said Janella Hinds, VP for Academic High Schools at UFT. “We can do better, so for the students we teach and the families we serve, I ask you to support this resolution.”

A resolution to support legislation that prohibits book banning was passed to the general approbation of the audience. Florida retiree Ross Stonefield, RC 43 told the hall, “I see every single day what’s happening with banned books in Florida, and I think, ‘Well, it will never happen in NY,’ but as we can see, it is happening in NYS.”

A resolution valuing and honoring arts education and another resolution encouraging education and information regarding NYS paid family leave both passed.

In the wake of the Farmingdale tragedy, NYSUT delegates called for legislation that would require passengers on all buses transporting students to wear seatbelts.

Delegates also passed a resolution calling on NYSUT to continue its fight to end child poverty

All remaining resolutions were automatically referred to the NYSUT Board of Directors.


NYSUT Communications |

One year ago, NYSUT pledged to make organizing a priority; and that promise was kept. At the Saturday afternoon session, four leaders of newly formed locals spoke about their organizing journey and thanked the statewide union for its help.

“We are still facing some hurdles — our administration refuses to bargain in good faith — but now with NYSUT … we are able to do something about it,” said Albany Leadership Charter School Union President Peter Keller. “We are fighting for the rights that are now available to us under the law.”

Commack Security Guards Association President Joe Hendrickson spoke of his colleagues’ decision to organize after one of their fellow guards was let go over a minor mistake. “I’m happy to report that we just ratified our first CSGA contract on April 18, 2024.”

Alisha Tenbus, president of the Horseheads Association of Professional Support Staff, and Vice President Emily Richards were formerly part of the Horseheads Support Staff Association, a catchall group that left them feeling voiceless. “We’re ready to move forward as a democratic union that truly represents its members’ best interests.”

Although the Dutchess United Educators isn’t a new bargaining unit, it has been unaffiliated for nearly two decades. “We are very excited that Dutchess UE will now be formally allied with a bigger movement — we look forward to broad support as we press for working conditions that will translate to exemplary student learning conditions,” said local President Laura Murphy.

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Carolyn Kube is proof that not all heroes wear capes; some wear lab coats. As a medical technologist for Stony Brook University Hospital, Kube was responsible for tissue typing and determining the compatibility between donors and recipients for the hospital’s transplant program.

She balanced her career, which required her to work long hours and be on-call 125 hours every other week, with her responsibilities as a mother of two. “It is special work. It’s very gratifying. You’re giving a person a second chance at life,” said Kube.

Kube has been intricately involved in United University Professions since taking on her first assignment at the hospital. She served as chapter department representative, part-time concerns officer, and vice president of professionals before becoming Stony Brook HSC Chapter president, a post she’s held for three terms. She also served as a member of UUP’s statewide executive board from 2011-2021.

As a dedicated unionist, Kube led the charge to secure proper equipment for healthcare members during the pandemic and hotel rooms so they didn’t spread the virus to the public. She also led the push for bonus pay for Stony Brook hospital workers as part of the “Heroes Don’t Get Zeroes” initiative.

NYSUT Communications |

Maria Scudiero says nursing has always come easily to her.

“I don’t know if I chose nursing or nursing chose me. I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else,” she said. After graduating from high school, Scudiero got married and had two children. She completed nursing school and her postgraduate requirements, all while balancing motherhood and the birth of two more children. “I think if you’re just focused on your goal and don’t focus on the obstacles, you get there.”

Scudiero has been a registered nurse for 22 years. She is the assistant nursing care coordinator at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn, supervising patient care. She has been an active member of the Federation of Nurses/UFT since her hiring and has served as a negotiator and grievance rep. Proper staffing ratios are critical to patient safety and, as such, they have been incorporated into the nursing contract. To enforce new staffing ratios and prioritize patient care, Scudiero and her team have filed 2,000 grievances.

“Patients don’t even know the danger they’re in, so that’s why we have to fight for them,” said Scudiero. Last year, Scudiero established a weekly Sunday meet-up for new nurses to help provide them with the mentorship and support so essential at the beginning of this demanding career.

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Ron Smith has been NYSUT’s statewide Political Action Committee coordinator since 2018. A dedicated unionist, he is credited with helping shape NYSUT’s political profile over his career.

Smith first became interested in politics at SUNY Oswego and taught social studies in Sayville Public Schools for 37 years. He became involved in the union in the 1960s and assisted with the earliest contract negotiations for his local. “We were building contracts from the ground up,” he said. “It was the wild west of bargaining.” Smith was elected vice president and then in 1978, chosen as president of his local— a post he held for 28 years.

It was during his time as the union president that he realized the impact that the union could have on school board elections and began running full-scale campaigns. “It didn’t take a real leap for us to realize that if we had a good school board, if we had people who were friendly on the school board, that would make everything easier.”

Smith was elected to the NYSUT Board of Directors and selected to serve as a local Political Action Coordinator, before taking on the then-nascent role of statewide Political Action Coordinator. He also served as the executive vice president for the Long Island Federation of Labor and as a state committee member for the Working Families Party.

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As a proud member of the union’s “daytime army,” Lorraine Ferrannini makes it her mission to recruit and empower more retiree activists. “It’s so important that the retirees know that they still have a role in our union, and they can do it,” she said. Ferrannini is a retiree liaison and coordinator for UFT’s Para Support Line, which was established to help New York City paraprofessionals navigate retirement.

Despite her packed career, Ferrannini is a self-described late bloomer. She didn’t attend college until she was 30, and it was then that she decided to dedicate her life to special education. She was a paraprofessional in New York City’s District 75 for seven years before becoming a special education teacher there. District 75 provides highly specialized instructional support for students with significant physical and emotional challenges. Ferrannini taught for 21 years. “I think God put me on this earth to do just that, to work with those students and to help them and their parents.”

When she first joined the UFT as a substitute teacher, Ferrannini was astonished to discover that there was an organization established explicitly to support workers. She has been a staunch unionist ever since, serving as a chapter leader and delegate before retiring in 2019.

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RA 2024: Celebrating member excellence

The RA paid tribute to the hard work, professionalism, and dedication of NYSUT members and locals at the annual Representative Assembly.

Delegates recognized the winners of NYSUT’s highest honor, the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, “Not for Ourselves Alone:” The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award, and the winners of the union’s constituency awards. The RA also congratulated winners of the union’s Humanitarian Award, the Ken Kurzweil Social Justice Award and NYSUT Community Service Awards — both individual members and local unions, and recognized those members added to the NYSUT Life Line Honor Roll for their work to help save lives.

For a complete listing of this year's honorees, please download the 2024 RA Awards Book.

Senator Robert Jackson: Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service

Elizabeth Perez: “Not For Ourselves Alone”: The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

Joan Perrini: “Not For Ourselves Alone”: The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

Tony Cruz Higher Education Member of the Year

Zach Arenz NYS Teacher of the Year

Mashantuk Bell: SRP Member of the Year

James Chaney: SRP Member of the Year

Lorraine Ferrannini: Retiree Member of the Year

Ron Smith: Retiree Member of the Year

Maria Scudiero: Health Care Professionals Member of the Year

Carolyn Kube: Health Care Professionals Member of the Year

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Letitia James, New York State Attorney General and staunch NYSUT supporter, was fired up at this year’s RA, and the crowd was there for it.

James recounted how she’s been accosted in airports and bullied online as a result of her legal work, but resolved to persist undeterred. “I’ve got steel in my backbone because I’ve got NYSUT,” James said. “I will not be paralyzed by fear and I will stand up to anyone because the law is on my side.”

A proud graduate of the New York public education system, James thanked all teachers for their dedication and effectiveness. “Excellence is what comes out of the New York public school system and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

James drew a direct line between attacks on public school teachers and attacks on our democracy. She said that children can’t work up to their full potential until they are lifted from poverty and protected from trauma. “I am determined to use every tool at my disposal to protect the next generation of New Yorkers,” she said.

She also extolled NYSUT’s advocacy on behalf of two pieces of legislation designed to protect students from the dangers of online media, the Child Data Protection Act and the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act. “Our children deserve nothing less,” she said.

“I thank all of you for recognizing what’s at stake right now — our democracy as a whole.”

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New York’s senior senator and Majority Leader in the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer, addressed the 52nd Representative Assembly in New York City on Saturday. “I say to every member of NYSUT, thank you for the work you do.”

Schumer highlighted the work President Biden and the Senate are doing for the labor movement, including money for public schools passed in the American Rescue Plan, pro-labor rulings from a revamped National Labor Relations Board, pro-labor judges being appointed to federal benches across the country, and student debt cancellations for public service workers.

Delving into his family history, Schumer talked about his family history with unions, both being members and forming new locals, and how he is a proud graduate of public schools and how his children are as well. The senator talked about two quotes from his father which he carries with him, “Always help people who need help,” and, “If you’re doing something important, look to your heart, make sure it’s the right thing to do. If it is, persist and persist and persist.”

The senator told delegates that unions have always been in his corner, ever since his first political run for Assembly, and that he will always be there for them.

“I love our schools and I love our public school teachers and employees,” he said. “And I will always go to bat for you.”

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Praising educators across the state and NYSUT staff, NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross delivered remarks at the 52nd Representative Assembly. Calling educators “architects of opportunity, guardians of knowledge and champions of progress,” Gross talked about how he felt inspired meeting educators across the state over the past year.

“One of my favorite parts was connecting directly with the students and reminding me of just how great our profession is and will always be, Gross said. “What you do, day in and day out, gives us the inspiration that keeps NYSUT moving forward.”

“If we truly believe that the work we do is for all the right reasons, then we will always emerge victorious.”

Tying inspiration to how music can make us feel, he ended his speech with a performance by his daughter, Sarah.

NYSUT Communications |

An educator for more than 20 years, James Chaney is a teaching assistant at Albany Public High School where he is fulfilling his calling to motivate and mentor students.

At just 1 year old, Chaney was in a car accident that permanently damaged his spinal cord. The accident confined him to a wheelchair but expanded his life’s purpose.

“I learned that there was a mental, emotional, and spiritual concept that I could share with other people and that I could change their lives,” Chaney said.

Chaney is a graduate of ITT Technical Institute and a lifelong learner. He strives for authentic connections with his students. Chaney is always looking for opportunities to meet his students where their interests are, and he bonds with them on topics like basketball, Harry Potter, metal detecting, weightlifting, reading and computers.

Chaney has been a member of the Albany Public School United Employees since 2011. He is also a motivational speaker, and travels to schools across the Capital Region to share his story.

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Living in the same district as her students gives Mashantuck Bell a unique perspective. “It’s important because I tell them all the time, ‘I am you. I was in the same spot that you are in, in the same district that you are in, same area that you live in. I am you.’”

Bell has been a paraprofessional in the Brooklyn area for 23 years and works in the same district where she was born and raised. She is the Brooklyn Borough Coordinator for the paraprofessionals of Brooklyn and the UFT chapter leader at IS Gateway 364.

The youngest of 13 children, Bell grew up babysitting her nieces and nephews. She said she always knew she wanted to work with children, and education seemed like a natural path for her. She got involved in the UFT because she wanted to help her colleagues. “I just love helping people. It’s in my nature. I love to support people and give them the information they need. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it,” she said.

In addition to her responsibilities in the classroom, Bell is also the chorus instructor at her school. Singing is one of her passions, and she is grateful that she can introduce her students to the world of music.

NYSUT Communications |

From Sticks and Stones: Implicit Bias, to the Members of Color Affinity and Action Group, to Safe Zones and the Social Justice Academy, NYSUT Secretary Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham celebrated the many accomplishments of NYSUT’s Social Justice Program under his leadership.

“Through our initiative ‘Many Threads, One Fabric’ we commit to weaving a future of inclusion,” said Abraham. “We have stood with the oppressed … fought against systemic injustices and worked toward creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive regardless of their background or circumstances.”

Abraham also saluted the unwavering support of the many members who raised an astounding $3.5 million for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, helping more than 4,600 of their union siblings.

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT Communications |

Rochester Teachers Association member Zachary Arenz, the 2024 New York State Teacher of the Year received a standing ovation from delegates Saturday during the convention.

A music teacher at Flower City School Number 54, Arenz was honored by the state Board of Regents for his exceptional “ability to engage with students and inspire and ignite a passion for lifelong learning through music,” and is praised by peers and administrators for his “immeasurable” impact on both his school and community through his emphasis on restorative practices.

He leads the school’s growth in this area and facilitates school-wide assemblies to nurture those relationships. Beyond traditional courses, Arenz has built a music enrichment program – using grant money he was awarded – for students who are experiencing grief. His classroom includes a closet full of clean clothes and toiletries his students can access if they need.

Over the years, his classroom has become known by students and colleagues alike as a safe place where children can go when they need to talk, manage emotions or just take a break in a judgement-free zone. He’s known for conducting daily check-ins with students as he welcomes them off the bus each morning before they start their school day. Arenz boils down his teaching philosophy to “establishing places where folks feel safe, communication is encouraged and anyone is welcome to express their truest self.”

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Carolyn Maloney thanked NYSUT delegates and leaders for featuring her on the 2024 NYSUT Women’s History Month poster. It pictures Maloney clad in a dress that she wore to the Met Gala in 2021, emblazoned with “Equal Rights for Women.”

Maloney thanked the statewide union for the honor and its support for passing resolutions on the Equal Rights Amendment, which would enshrine equal rights for women in the United States Constitution.

“Your resolution will give us the momentum to get it through the Congress this year,” said Maloney of two NYSUT RA resolutions calling for passage of the ERA. “If they can take away our rights with the Dobbs decision … they can take away any right!”

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“My first conscious thought was rhythm. To this day, I’m still a drummer.” Movement, cadence and melody are all familiar concepts for Tony Cruz, a self-described lifelong musician. That passion didn’t end when he entered the classroom. If anything, it only makes him a stronger teacher and union leader.

“I infuse my music into my classes,” said Cruz, noting that he teaches students in his English classes how to use simple punctuation to inject their writing with musicality, inflection — and to create prose that sings. “So when I tell students that their papers don’t sound right, I’m talking about what vocabulary are you using and what are you doing with punctuation.”

Cruz is almost as passionate about the union. A past member of the Teamsters, IBEW Local 3 and the American Federation of Musicians, Cruz is now president of the Orange County Community College Faculty Association. His dedication to the union — and solidarity — was built on the picket line during the Broadway strike. “When workers unite that’s where they have power, and that’s what unionism is,” Cruz said. He carried those lessons with him and still relies on the power of solidarity — members marching together to the beat of the same drum — to make progress at the bargaining table and beyond.

“I am a proud eternal unionist and always will be. As long as I can help someone, and fight for what is right and fair, I’ll do that.”

NYSUT Communications |

New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, speaking to delegates at the 52nd Representative Assembly in New York City on Saturday, said she is “so very fortunate to be an ally and a friend in the fight” for strong public schools.

Mayer, chair of the Senate Committee on Education, has been instrumental in advancing several NYSUT priorities. She commended NYSUT President Melinda Person, officers and members for their successful advocacy that restored the majority of proposed cuts to school aid that would have devastated districts across the state.

“Did we win everything? No, we never do. Did we fight our damnedest? Yes, we did,” Mayer said.

“Under the leadership of Andrea Stewart Cousins, as our majority leader, we remain committed to public education.”

Mayer pledged to stand by educators and students across the state in the final weeks of the legislative session to finally fix the flawed teacher evaluation system with a new, NYSUT-backed bill that will return evaluations to local control.

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At her first NYSUT Representative Assembly as a NYSUT officer, Executive Vice President Jaime Ciffone warmly greeted delegates Saturday morning.

Ciffone comes from a long family history of labor activists and leaders, and earned applause and cheers when she said she is the first woman labor leader in the family.

An educator for more than two decades, Ciffone said that she has seen the profession evolve and is passionate about ensuring that teachers are given the resources they need in the new classroom landscape.

“Education has changed,” she said. “Frankly, it changed a long time ago. It evolved from when a teacher's main role was to deliver content knowledge to now wearing so many different hats to meet the diverse needs of our learners. It is time for the educational system to catch up.”

Ciffone highlighted the importance of “for educators by educators” professional learning models, the detriments of standardized assessments, the need for multiple pathways to graduation, and why experiential, CTE, and work-based learning opportunities are essential.

“I do not take this responsibility lightly,” she said. “My promise to you … we are just getting started!”

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New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli addressed NYSUT’s 52nd Representative Assembly in New York City on Saturday. The comptroller, who is responsible for overseeing New York state’s public pension system, told assembled delegates that the state of their retirement is strong.

DiNapoli assured retirees, present and future, that New York state’s public retirement system is safe, strong and secure – among the best funded in America. He cited the markets for the strength of the state Teachers’ Retirement System, city Teachers’ Retirement System and Employees’ Retirement System. And he guaranteed the future of those pension plans to delegates, saying, “As long as I am state comptroller, I won’t let anyone undermine our pension security.”

DiNapoli credited NYSUT advocacy for restoring cuts to Foundation Aid from the executive budget proposal and called for a fully funded SUNY and CUNY system. Citing challenges to neighborhood public education, DiNapoli also called for the same level of accountability for charter schools that the state imposes on public schools.

He also spoke about the influence that public education has had on his family, on his parents, and on him, and how public education helped him be the first in his family to attend college. DiNapoli also said he was bullish on the state of unions, citing Michigan ditching its right-to-work law and the growth of the union movement nationwide.

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Brendan Kaminski, a senior at Baldwin Senior High School, was inspired by – and inspiring to – today’s convention attendees. An aspiring teacher, Kaminski founded the Baldwin HS Future Educators of America club his sophomore year and will start Yale University in the fall.

During his address, Kaminski delighted the attendees with his recollections about making worksheet packets for his twin sister and begging his fifth grade teacher to bring his social studies textbook to the playground so he could regale his classmates with stories about the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase.

He acknowledged that the education field has taken some blows in recent years, but he urged the assembled educators to remember what drove them to the field in the first place.

“Even during the hardest days of your career, when it seems like no one is listening, when it seems like your advocacy is futile, remember that myself and a group of other future educators are following in your footsteps, because of the example you set,” Kaminski said.

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NYSUT Communications |

In September, two Farmingdale educators were killed en route to band camp when the bus they were traveling in crashed beside I-84. Farmingdale Band Director Gina Pellettiere, 43, and retired social studies teacher Beatrice Ferrari, 77, both members of the Farmingdale Federation of Teachers, were chaperoning hundreds of students on this annual trip when the bus had a blowout and overturned into a ravine. They were the only fatalities.

NYSUT President Melinda Person honored these two educators during today’s RA program and talked about the ways in which educators like Ferrari and Pellettiere impact lives and communities.

“The groundswell of sympathy and support we witnessed in Farmingdale speaks to how significant a teacher’s contributions are. Educators mold minds and build communities. They take individual chords and make music,” Person said.

In a moving video tribute, Farmingdale educators and students described the outpouring of support they witnessed in the days and weeks after the accident. Cards, posters, and care packages streamed in from around the globe. United in grief, people from near and far declared themselves “Dalers for a Day.” RA attendees were then serenaded by the accomplished Farmingdale A Capella and Vocal Jazz chorus.

"Educators give of themselves selflessly and without expectation of admiration or fanfare. Many strive quietly, going beyond the call of duty simply because they know it is the right thing to do," said Person. "They may be unaware of the mark they are making; of the lives they are changing. This tragedy reminds us all just how meaningful these daily acts are and just how profound a teacher’s impact is."

Farmingdale Federation of Teachers members David Abrams, Matthew DeMasi, Erica Hartmann, Philip Scanze and Jennifer Tower, all chaperones on the band trip, were listed on NYSUT’s Lifeline Honor Roll. The initiative honors teachers who assisted in saving lives.

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Since the launch of the NYSUT Pipeline Project, which encourages and supports members running for office, more than 300 NYSUT members have won elections for everything from local school board to the state Senate and Assembly. And more are needed.

“We want more teachers, more SRPs, more higher education professionals … we want (NYSUT members) to run for office because our voice needs to be heard in Albany and Washington,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person, who shared that contributions to VOTE-COPE, the union’s political action fund, are on the increase since falling during the pandemic. More than 190,000 members made voluntary donations to the fund in 2023. Those donations are important because NYSUT does not use any dues dollars to support its impressive — and effective — political operation.

“VOTE-COPE is how we win in Albany … and it’s how we win at the ballot box,” Person said.

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Joan Perrini has been a staunch union activist since she began her teaching career in 1960. A social studies teacher at Udall Road Junior High School in West Islip for 38 years, Perrini served first as secretary for her local, and then as building representative. In 1964, she was elected vice president and worked with the local president to join the West Islip Teachers Association with NYSUT, AFT and the AFL-CIO.

For the next 10 years, she served as a statewide delegate and a member of the local’s negotiating committee. In 1984, she became president of the West Islip TA, a post she held until her retirement in 1998. One of the first women to serve as president, she remains the longest serving president of her local.

Perrini remained active in retirement, fighting to protect the rights and benefits of NYSUT retirees. She served as president of her area’s retiree council for 12 years, where she was instrumental in building what is considered one of the most active executive boards and membership of any retiree council on Long Island. Perrini was also a retiree services consultant in Suffolk County for six years, during which time she succeeded in forming many new retiree chapters.

“I want to get more retirees to be active unionists for life. There is a lot of good that they can do,” she said. In 2012, she was elected to the NYSUT Board of Directors for Election District 52, representing one-third of the retirees in the state. As Director, she is keenly aware of the importance of keeping all retiree voices heard, and she strives to make sure their needs are met.

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Elizabeth Perez’s education about the union began at home. Her father was a journeyman with the IBEW, Local 3, for over 30 years, and later a union shop steward. Perez and her siblings were encouraged from an early age to be actively involved in preserving the rights and protections afforded by union membership for themselves and those that followed.

Growing up, Perez knew she wanted to be a teacher. From her earliest days playing school, to her first job as a classroom observer at 14, her path was straight and true. “For me, there was no other career I was going to do. It was a call to service, and that’s how I see myself — as a servant leader, called to service,” she explained. She graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in education and took a job as a bilingual/ESL teacher at PS 160 in Brooklyn.

Perez joined the UFT immediately and was soon elected chapter leader, a position she held for over 18 years. She was recruited to serve as a staffer at the Brooklyn office because of her advocacy for membership. She was promoted to Special Representative, and eventually took on the added responsibility of Political Action Coordinator. She was named Brooklyn Borough Representative in 2015. Perez and her team focus on providing the highest quality service with a personal touch.

“It’s a huge responsibility, but we do it with pride. We do it because we believe in the work we do and the importance of unionism,” said Perez, who serves as a member of NYSUT’s Board of Directors, delegate to the NYSUT and AFT conventions, an instructor at the chapter leader trainings and member of the UFT’s Action Committee.

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NYSUT honored State Sen. Robert Jackson Friday afternoon at the NYSUT RA with the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service. Jackson received the award for his persistence and ongoing commitment to fighting for the rights of working people. It recognizes individuals who’ve made special contributions to public education in the United States.

Jackson launched the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit which found that New York City children were being denied a sound, basic education due to a lack of resources, winning $16 billion in school funding in 2003. Jackson continues to advocate for the working class and is an outspoken advocate for improving pension Tiers 5 and 6.

“I express my deepest gratitude to NYSUT for bestowing upon me the highest honor … but more than that, I want to express my dedication to the cause that we hold dear,” said Jackson. “When it came to reforming Tier 6 and reducing case sizes, we kept hearing it can’t be done … I’m here to say yes we can, and I look forward to working with you!”

NYSUT Communications |

In his RA address, Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO said that it was his 12th grade English teacher at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx who taught him his first lesson about labor.

He reminisced about a time when he clowned around in class, and how his teacher took him aside and told him was distracting his fellow students and sidetracking their learning.

“I take what I do now, and I recognize that there was a greater lesson in there from Mrs. McGough. Everything we do in this movement is about everybody trying to work off the same page and work out of the same playbook,” Cilento said. “When we do that as a labor union, that’s when we reach our potential.”

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Governor Kathy Hochul addressed NYSUT delegates at the 52nd Representative Assembly in New York City on Friday. The governor has worked with NYSUT on a variety of education initiatives, such as addressing student mental health needs, higher education funding, apprenticeship and training for new teachers, including educators in the Workplace Violence Protection law, and securing the largest fix to New York’s broken pension system in two decades.

The governor thanked all of the educators in the room, saying that as we head into Teacher Appreciation Week, “we appreciate teachers every day here in the state of New York.” Hochul also paid tribute to one of her teachers, Peter James, who passed away last year. “He opened up my mind to the power of government.” When Hochul said her goal was to be a staffer for a Senator or member of Congress, Mr. James pushed her harder to aim higher and dream bigger.

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In an impassioned speech covering an array of initiatives, politics and emotional appeals, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten shared her thoughts on the past, present and future of our union and the labor movement.

“When NYSUT fights, NYSUT wins. But it takes intention, hard work, and a union. How do we make this work the norm, not the exception? Nationally we’re doing this through #ReadingOpensTheWorld and community schools and more,” said Weingarten.

Weingarten also shared updates on record-setting organizing wins and how our national affiliate’s strength is helping shape the world of politics, bridging gaps between education advocates and elected officials.

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT members from Binghamton to Brooklyn, Peru to Poughkeepsie, stand strong together to improve our communities, secure the resources public schools and colleges need, and protect members' rights.

With one voice we proudly proclaimed: "Together, we are NYSUT!"

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT members matter. That was the message of NYSUT President Melinda Person’s Friday opening address to delegates at the 2024 NYSUT RA. “You’re the architects, the engineers and the builders of greatness … shaping minds and our future.”

She noted the many wins the statewide union achieved this year thanks to member activism: from getting Proposition 1 approved to supporting small city school districts, to passing the Workplace Violence Prevention Act, to fighting for and winning $430 million in additional Foundation Aid and adding more than $100 million in operating funding for SUNY, CUNY and community colleges.

“We saved SUNY Downstate hospital … again,” said Person. “And in a major win we successfully advocated for the next step in fixing Tier 6!”

Changing the Final Average Salary contribution for Tier 6 members from five to three years is the most significant improvement to public pensions in more than 20 years, Person explained. She pledged to continue fighting for pension equity for Tiers 5 and 6 members. Other policy goals include pushing back against punitive testing, and this year, after 14 long years, finally fixing APPR.

Person also pledged to address the impact of poverty. “Our schools have become the social safety net for our communities, but we can’t do everything,” she said noting that one in five children live in poverty, a statistic that led the union to launch its 1-in-5 anti-poverty campaign, which calls on lawmakers to address the root causes of poor academic performance — childhood poverty and inequality.

With the school budget votes and state and federal elections on the horizon, Person called on members to be politically engaged by getting to the polls and teaching their students about democracy. “You have a pivotal role as educators … teaching critical thinking … teaching how to question what is true … teaching students how to disagree while being civil,” she said.

“Our world needs you more than ever and your participation matters!”

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NYSUT members joined together in dance today. A flash mob of 18 retirees hit the exhibition floor to do the Macarena — and to send a message of dynamism and solidarity.

Swinka Richards, NYSUT Program Services Assistant organized the flash mob. “We wanted to show that our retirees are still active and also give in-service members a chance to join in,” said NYSUT Second Vice President Ron Gross. Gross also joined the crew.

Retirees hope that the dance made them more visible to in-service members — and more accessible.

“I just thought it was a thrill to bring attention to the retirees,” said Bev Voos, vice president for Retiree Council 6, and co-chair of the Retiree Advisory Committee. She added that retirees want to improve their relationship with in-service members and offer value to them. “I think this was a way to get in that door,” she said.

“Activities like this make the RA so special,” said Laura Pokorny, RC 17. “We were all helping each other, just like we do in the union.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said Barbara Hafner, RC 18. Hafner, who mostly confines her dancing to her own kitchen, said she and the members had been practicing on their own for weeks, and that it was a joy to finally all come together to show off their moves. The crew, all bedecked in matching Rosie the Riveter T-shirts spun and clapped in unison. “We all got it down pat,” Hafner said with pride.

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A powerful Union

Dave Chizzonite remembers well the stories his grandmother told him about union bashers. She was a rep at the knitting mill where she worked in Herkimer, NY. When she spoke out, her employers tried to silence her by sending her to the top floor of the factory to work in the oppressive heat — it didn't stop her.

Shelly Chizzonite grew up in a UAW household that enjoyed a great middle-class life thanks to her dad's decades of work at Chrysler's New Venture Gear plant in Dewitt, NY.

Is it any surprise these educators (both proud SUNY grads) found each other and now make up one of many NYSUT power couples?

Both are NYS Master Teachers — Dave is a science teacher and president of the Chittenango Teachers Association and Shelly is a school counselor and VOTE-COPE coordinator with East Syracuse-Minoa United Teachers. Both use their family experiences as the springboard to do good work on behalf of NYSUT members.

Dave serves on the NYSUT Board as ED 8 Director. Shelly helps get out the vote (especially for John Mannion for Congress) as NYSUT’s Political Action Coordinator in SD50.

Together this NYSUT couple is truly #UnionStrong! Do you know a NYSUT power couple? Tell us! #NYSUTRA

NYSUT Communications |

NYSUT Communications |

Legendary educator and historian Diane Ravitch saluted the work of unions and educators in a Thursday keynote address at the Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference luncheon. “I’m really pleased to be here because you’re my people — teachers and union members,” said Ravitch, who called unions the key to building a strong middle class. “You are on the right side of history … you belong to a union that protects students, teachers and academic freedom in public schools.”

Ravitch detailed the misguided, decades-long focus on standardized testing and privatization and its negative impact on student and teacher morale. “A student’s home life [not their teacher] is the biggest indicator of their success,” she said. “Students who are well-fed, secure and have access to medical care will do well in school.”

Smaller class sizes, well-resourced teachers and schools and supporting student families through wrap-around services, like those provided by community schools, are also important, she continued.

Ravitch hopes that recent education wins such as the long-sought APPR reform de-linking student test scores from teacher evaluations, negotiated by NYSUT President Melinda Person and Betty Rosa, New York state education commissioner, signal shifts in education policy. “I hope it will be a new day … the beginning of a Renaissance not only of public schools, but of sanity.”

The pre-RA conference kicked off the work of the statewide union’s annual convention, with leaders attending sessions on artificial intelligence in the classroom, experiential learning, APPR reform, and breakouts for School-Related Professionals, higher education professionals and retirees.

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RA 2024

The NYSUT RA heads back to New York City — the Big Apple — for 2024 after several years in Albany. Delegates will meet May 3─4 for a packed schedule of elections, resolutions and events both before and after the conference. The convention kicks off with the Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference, May 2─3.

In addition to setting the union’s agenda for the next year on topics ranging from pre-K through postgraduate education, legislation, healthcare, organizing and retirement, the RA is also a time to recognize the hard work and dedication of NYSUT members. The union will present its highest honor, the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, to Sen. Robert Jackson. We will also recognize winners of several NYSUT awards including “Not For Ourselves Alone”: The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award, the NYSUT Humanitarian Award, the Ken Kurzweil Social Justice Recognition Award and the NYSUT Life Line Honor Roll. Winners of the union’s constituency awards and honors for members’ and locals’ community service and other outreach will also be recognized.

New this year, the RA will include a CALM room and a FUN room, providing delegates the chance to relax and take a break from the action.

For more information on the 2024 RA and the Local and Retiree Council Presidents Conference, visit nysut.org/RA.

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