Annual Meeting: An exercise in union democracy

Greetings,

Union democracy is essential to our strength, and we saw it in full force this past weekend at the MTA Annual Meeting of Delegates. More than 1,100 members attended the meeting at the Hynes Convention Center May 8 and 9 and engaged in lively and inspiring debate about education policy positions, organizing actions and the democratic structure of our union.

It was a real pleasure to chair the meeting and to watch delegates develop, discuss and determine the path forward for the MTA. Thank you to all who participated. If you didn't attend and want to do so next year, let your local president know of your interest. Details about this year's Annual Meeting can be found here and photos can be found here.

Delegates Vote to Support Opting Out

The delegates voted overwhelmingly to support parents who want to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests and to vigorously defend educators who experience retaliation for sharing information about opting out. Seattle educator and activist Jesse Hagopian gave a powerful keynote speech describing how teachers who organized and stood together two years ago led to students in his city opting out in droves this past year.

Making a consistent statement that members are ready to speak up, organize and take action, the delegates also adopted a number of policy positions, including:

  • Free public higher education in Massachusetts.
  • Organizing community forums and producing a report on the schools our students deserve.
  • Advocating legislatively for an end to the TS GOLD kindergarten assessment mandate.
  • Training members in an open-bargaining model that addresses the big issues that matter to educators.
  • Developing and promoting educational materials and social change strategies to address issues related to the impact of racism on students.
  • Studying the impact of the Pension Reserves Investment Trust potentially divesting holdings in fossil fuels.

Get Ready: Week of Action June 8 to 12 to Support Testing Moratorium

The MTA is part of a coalition planning a week of action starting June 8 to draw attention to the destructive use of testing and the undermining of public education through charter schools. The actions will lead up to the June 11 hearing before the Joint Committee on Education on MTA-backed legislation calling for a three-year moratorium on PARCC and high-stakes testing.

Among other actions, we intend to pack the PARCC forum on June 10 at Bridgewater State University; get as many educators, students and parents as possible to be in attendance at the June 11 hearing, testify at it or submit testimony; and hold in-district lobby meetings with legislators. Talk to your local leaders and MTA field representatives about what you can do locally to support this effort. I will be in touch soon with more details.

In Solidarity with Employees, Summer Conference NOT at UMass

To protest the fact that UMass employees still have not received the retroactive pay they are owed, delegates at the Annual Meeting voted to cancel plans to hold our Summer Conference at UMass Amherst, the new venue we had chosen after learning that Williams College could no longer accommodate us. We are in the process of finding a new venue for at least a scaled-down version of the conference during the week of August 2. We hope to be able to offer an Organizing Institute for teams from local associations as well as tracks for New Presidents (I and II), New Members and leadership development. More details will be available soon.

MTA Supports "Language Opportunities for Our Kids" Bill

The MTA and other organizations and individuals testified Tuesday in support of a bill to give districts more leeway in developing effective strategies for educating English language learners. The law in effect since 2003 restricts most English acquisition education to short-term Sheltered English Immersion. Teachers of ELL students say this law is too restrictive: One size does not fit all. Among other measures, the LOOK bill would encourage all students to become fluent in more than one language. This legislation came out of a new business item passed at last year's Annual Meeting: When we set a direction, we can get things done!

Project GRAD Leaving Holyoke

When they decide to intervene in a district, state education officials should have to recite the injunction, "First, do no harm."

Another state-mandated intervention in Holyoke has failed. Texas-based Project GRAD was hired in 2013 to "fix" Dean Technical High School. Project GRAD replaced another outside contractor, the Collaborative for Educational Services, which had also failed to do the job. Despite these interventions, Dean has continued to flounder. Last year, Project GRAD was named the receiver of the Morgan Elementary School. That led to massive turnover of teachers and other staff, along with new programs and schedules at the school. Word has it that many of the new teachers brought in are already on their way out.

Now that the state has voted to name a receiver for the entire district, Project GRAD's services are no longer needed. This means that students will once again experience new faces, new rules and new programs next fall, and teachers are once again worried about their jobs, their working conditions and the well-being of their students.

Note to the DESE: More than anything, Holyoke students need stability and security provided by caring, fairly treated educators.

In solidarity, and in anticipation of many great things ahead,

Barbara