MTA awards to recognize educators, activists and allies

MTA awards to recognize educators, activists and allies

Outstanding educators, activists and union allies will be recognized for their contributions to students and public education during the 2021 MTA Annual Meeting of Delegates.

The Annual Meeting will take place virtually on April 30 and May 1. Due to time constraints, the honorees will not address the delegates directly. Self-submitted videos by recipients who submitted them can be found at

The honorees are:

Jennifer Hedrington, the 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. A member of the Malden Education Association, Hedrington has been a seventh-grade math teacher in Malden for the past 11 years. Since being named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in October, Hedrington has handled remote teaching at the Ferryway School during a turbulent year for students, educators and families while also juggling a busy schedule resulting from her award.

Susan Soares, a special education teaching assistant in Arlington who was recently named the 2021 MTA Education Support Professional of the Year. Soares was surprised with the news that she had been chosen during a virtual meeting of the Arlington Education Association on March 23. MTA and local association leaders and members were on hand for the surprise, and many offered warm congratulations for Soares, who led a unionization drive for her fellow paraprofessionals in 2017-2018, organizing one of the last major nonunion groups of ESPs in Massachusetts.

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, recipients of this year’s Friend of Education Award. Their book, “A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School,” offers a powerful analysis of the profit-seeking forces out to undermine public education.

Berkshire is a freelance journalist and advocate who writes about the intersection of race, public education and the remaking of the urban landscape. She teaches in the journalism program at Boston College and the Labor Studies program at UMass Amherst, co-hosts the Have You Heard podcast and was the creator of the EduShyster blog.

Schneider is an assistant professor of education at UMass Lowell, where he leads the Beyond Test Scores project. His work broadly explores the influence of history, culture and rhetoric in education policy. Schneider writes frequently about education for publications such as The Atlantic, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The Chicago Teachers Union, the recipient of this year’s Friend of Labor Award. The CTU has led the way for the MTA and other education unions around the country in centering racial and social justice in its fight for the common good.

Under former President Karen Lewis, who died in February, the union launched fights against school closings, radical disparities in resources and other policies that hurt students. The first Chicago educators’ strike in 25 years took place in 2012, and the CTU, with community and parental support, continues working today to advocate for the city and schools that students deserve. The award gives special recognition to Lewis, but the CTU under current President Jesse Sharkey continues to offer inspiration and lead the way in unionism.

Dr. Julia Koehler, an expert in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital; Alan Geller, a senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association; Dr. Regina LaRocque, a faculty member of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School; and Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. These five medical and public health and safety professionals will receive this year’s President’s Award.

The awards recognize their generosity and their partnership with the MTA during the COVID-19 pandemic. The recipients have spent decades fighting for environmental, racial and social justice, along with dignity and fairness for workers.

MTA President Merrie Najimy said she was grateful to the recipients for the “crucial knowledge they brought to the MTA, helping us navigate the health and safety world throughout this pandemic,” and for “assisting us in centering worker, student and family rights to health and safety in our buildings.”

“They made a commitment to the MTA even though they are not members,” she said. “They understood that their commitment was to the common good.”