Change Agents: Profiles of Union Leaders Driving Education Reform
The Summer 2011 issue of NEA Today magazine highlighted union-led efforts to help transform priority schools in some of America’s neediest communities.
Here are the stories of five union leaders who were featured on the magazine’s cover and who are helping to drive reforms aimed at improving student achievement at priority schools.
Keith Gambill: President, Evansville Teachers Association (Evansville, IN)
The Evansville Teachers Association, in collaboration with the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, developed the Equity Schools program. Three Equity Schools in Evansville are being transformed with professional development for teachers and extended learning time for students. ETA, under Gambill’s leadership, has also worked aggressively to build community-school partnerships.
Susan McFarland: President, Salt Lake Teachers Association (Salt Lake City, UT)
After years of adversarial relations, the Salt Lake Teachers Association and the school district decided to hit the reset button. In February this year, McFarland traveled with her superintendent and school board president to a U.S. Department of Education sponsored conference focused on improving labor-management collaboration. After the conference they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work collaboratively and the relationship has seen dramatic improvement. “A new relationship between adults is working for students and positive change is underway,” said McFarland.
Ruben Murillo: President, Clark County Education Association (Clark County, NV)
The Clark County Education Association, under Murillo’s leadership, has worked closely with the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign to bring resources to lower-performing schools. Clark County educators have received cultural awareness and English Language Learner training, and CCEA and NEA have worked together to facilitate community engagement opportunities. These partnerships and resources demonstrate that “teachers unions can be partners in school reform,” said Murillo.
Romick and the Dayton Education Association are committed to ensuring all students have the resources they need to succeed. DEA worked with the Belmont High School building principal to file a grievance to get textbooks for students in special education programs. The principal encouraged the grievance because he understood that the only way to get the needed textbooks was to go through the union.
The Des Moines Education Association has worked to help transform North High School, an intensive support site of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign. With help from a federal School Improvement Grant, programs were put in place at North — like the one-to-one laptop initiative to give each student access to technology. Incorporating teachers’ voices into the transformation process has also been a priority at North, which has improved the professional culture. As a result, “we went from dead-last place in our state assessments to the number two position in just under a year,” said Spencer.