by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
When other groups initiate outreach in the community and don’t invite you, sometimes it is necessary to fight for a place at the table. After all, it is your community, and you are a stakeholder. So you have every right to join in and make a contribution.
This was the case when the Hayward Unified School District decided to have a conference to boost the achievement of African American students. Teachers didn’t know until the last minute that the district planned to host a two-day summit meeting in September including students, parents, administrators, school board members, community leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations. The National Urban Alliance was also invited to take part in the “21st Century African American Student Achievement Initiative” held at the Alameda County Office of Education with about 100 people in attendance.
When teachers and classified employees informed district officials they would like to participate, they were told they could have one union representative in attendance. CTA members demanded broader representation, and many Hayward Education Association (HEA) members, along with members from the Association of Educational Office and Technical Employees (AEOTE), showed up and participated in group discussions.
“We don’t wait for Hallmark cards; we just push our way in,” says Mercedes Faraj, president of the Hayward Education Association. “I think ultimately it became apparent that we needed to be a part of this community outreach, because we are the ones who have direct contact with students.”
Faraj believes union members were intentionally left out due to stereotypes of how union members think.
“I think they see us as an obstacle or standing up and saying, ‘We can’t do extra work,’” she explains. “People kept coming up to me at the conference and saying, Are teachers willing to do this or that? I said our teachers are always willing to look at good teaching practices and to tweak what needs to be done in the classroom to make sure everybody has an opportunity for the education they deserve.”
HEA member Sharon Jackson, a teacher at Winton Middle School, says that attending the conference was a positive experience.
“You had people from different backgrounds related to education — including students, parents and community parents — who came together to have a dialogue about how to raise the achievement of African American students,” she says. “You need a holistic approach and everybody working together for change to happen.”
Anne Lomax, an attendance clerk at Winton Middle School and AEOTE member, also was happy that she could attend, and felt classified employees could offer valuable input since they are at the “front lines” of public schools.
“I have been involved with African American parents in the community for the past five years,” she relates. “I have a daughter who goes to a district school, and she has gone through many things I was not happy with. So I decided to go and do something about it. We all have to do our part.”
Community outreach is so important, it is almost an obligation, says Lomax.
“It’s just like voting. It’s a privilege, and we need to take advantage of opportunities that benefit our children and our future.”
Members of both CTA affiliates call the conference a “good beginning” and a “starting point,” and believe that stakeholders should continue to meet and eventually implement a plan.
“I think it will help our district move forward,” says Jackson. “It’s also a reminder we have a lot to do.”
Faraj hopes that follow-up events will be more welcoming of union teachers and classified employees who wish to participate.
“We are not an obstacle, and we are part of the district. We are a key component to any program the district will try to implement. I’m hoping that in the future, this will pave the way for working together more collaboratively.”
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