Kern County EA: Different — and Making a Difference
By Cynthia Menzel
WHEN YOUR LOCAL CHAPTER is geographically the size of New Jersey, how do you engage members? The Kern County Education Association does it by providing blankets to students, building relationships and being “brazen,” in the words of KCEA President Miriam Matos-Brown.
The chapter covers 8,200 square miles, including 42 school districts, and the 327 members, most of whom are itinerants, include professionals in four program areas (early childhood, special education, alternative education and charter schools) as well as nurses, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and teachers. They provide for all of Kern County.
“We know we are different,” says Matos-Brown, smiling. “We are gypsies, traveling and teaching all over the county. Most members work in rented space or in classrooms on a district campus. Some of our members don’t have break rooms or mailboxes, so we communicate strategically by asking them, ‘How do you want to hear from us? Quick and easy on the phone, snail mail — what works best for you?’”
Efforts start in August during a member benefits fair. This year, KCEA used CTA 360, a mobile app that retrieves and updates membership data and makes it easy to sign up new members. With the app on iPads, KCEA “enrolled many teachers who honestly did not know they were not members,” says Matos-Brown. The chapter keeps on top of members’ wants and needs through short surveys each time members interact with CTA 360 — whether to sign in for meetings or use CTA services.
Everyone expected to help
KCEA leaders are invited to all Kern County Office of Education school kickoffs, “regardless if they’re in Mojave or Maricopa.” Leaders meet with faculty to share how members can help, because everyone is asked to do something. Like what? “Phone-bank, decorate the holiday tree, make blankets, provide goodies at the lab days,” says Matos-Brown. “We have a lot of involvement.”
Twice a month, KCEA provides food to educators participating in lab days, which are times set aside at the county office in Bakersfield for teachers to make materials for their classrooms. “We come together, make materials, chat — it’s family-friendly. And there’s a table with goodies with a sign that says: ‘Brought to you by KCEA.’”
Each month, members come from across the county and make blankets. “Everybody can make a blanket, regardless of politics,” says Matos-Brown. KCEA members have made and distributed over 150 blankets in the last three years. Currently, the blankets go to a local teen pregnancy center. “Originally, the blankets went to a program for kids whose families are incarcerated. We thought, ‘If kids are feeling loved, they’ll will do better in school. What better way to do that than with a blanket?’”
By phone and in person
Phone banks are ongoing, and everyone gets a list. Members get phone calls at least once a month, just to talk. “They have different issues, and they don’t know they can complain, or understand how concerns are dealt with. Our goal is to build bridges. We do it by phone.” And in person. KCEA leaders get the first or last 10 minutes on the agenda at monthly district program area meetings.
“We thought, ‘If kids are feeling loved, they’ll will do better in school. What better way to do that than with a blanket?’”
—KCEA PRESIDENT MIRIAM MATOS-BROWN
“The 10-minute meeting started back with Proposition 55. Everyone leaves with a handout,” Matos-Brown says. More than 10 percent of members attend the monthly chapter rep council, where “we formulate a common message, with supports, so that site reps feel more comfortable about sharing information. Our goal: meet one more person each week. We’re constantly practicing phone banks, joining others to walk precincts, etc. We’re ready for the 2018 elections.”
The same applies to a quarterly joint labor-management committee of district administrators, the KCEA president and a teacher from each of the four program areas. They meet more often, if necessary, and issues are dealt with in a timely fashion, or may be assigned to a work group. Matos-Brown says it all works because she is brazen about asking for — well, anything and everything, something she learned from her union’s founders.
“We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Teachers who built this union in 2000 created and negotiated this practice and of working relationships — between union members and with the administration. All sides are professional, compassionate and respectful. We’ve come a long way in a short time.”
CTA 360 is an app that allows CTA leaders to quickly access their local’s data (member contact information, work location, etc.) from their mobile device. The app also lets them sign up new members and update member information.