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A year ago a Santa Rosa High School counselor was being punished for standing up for her students. Now, thanks to the advocacy of her union and her students, veteran counselor Kris Bertsch-Rydell is doing what she does best: working for students as part of her union, the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.

Santa Rosa City Schools management filed a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct (NUC), threatening disciplinary action and termination, claiming Bertsch’s questions about school board policies were somehow inappropriate. Cited examples include sending polite, professional emails to the superintendent, school board members and SRTA leaders asking for clarification on board policies on issues such as credit recovery, online schools and new graduation requirements for math. “I asked to offer Pre-Algebra to make sure students are prepared. That was ‘unprofessional,’” Bertsch said at the time.

In addition to organizing activities in support of Bertsch and providing to school board members copies of the CTA Educator and NEAToday, both of which carried stories of Bertsch’s plight, SRTA filed Unfair Labor Practice charges.  The parties reached an agreement after district management agreed to rescind the NUC.   The district agreed that its administrators would be trained on the union’s rights and its employees’ protected activities. SRTA agreed to join CSEA, district administration, and the school board in a relationship-building and communications improvement process facilitated by a third party professional.

The third party professional was recently chosen, according to SRTA President Will Lyon, and initial meetings will be held in a few weeks.  “District managers also agreed to a training on the EERA,” he said, adding that all of that advocacy mattered. “We resolved the issue and did right by Kris, our members were highly engaged and educators, and the union, are being treated with more respect.”

For her part, Bertsch says she has lessons to share about the union, about being a high school counselor and most importantly, about students.

Time for Union
I am an educator, a parent, a community member, a wife, a colleague, a daughter to aging parents and a sister.  I am exhausted at the end of the day and spread thin, just like most everyone else in today’s society.  I cannot tell you how many times I hear from union members about how busy they are and how glad they are that I had the time and energy to fight for them.  Well, I have no more time or energy than anyone else, I just prioritize and refuse to whine or complain when I have the power to change my environment and advocate for my students.  I can passionately do this, because I know my union has my back. 

As a counselor, I was forced to ask for help
Counselors are nurturers; we choose this occupation for a reason.  WE prioritize taking care of and advocating for others, often at the expense of own health.  My district management, with the direction from my superintendent and school board president, questioned my integrity and slandered my name all to quiet “truths” that didn’t shine a positive light on them.  They did this, publicly, to devalue my voice and intimidate the rest of the SRTA members into silence.  One small breeze will blow down the house of cards and my breath was lethal.  I was devastated by the accusation as my identity is so deeply seated in honesty, integrity, equity and justice.  This experience affected my health, physically and mentally and I was forced to ask for help. 

Don’t be afraid to advocate for your students. Your union is standing up with and for you
This is why unions are such an important ingredient in the fabric of the United States.  It a check and balance system between organizations and the workers who deserve safe working environments and a livable wage.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Do not be afraid to fight for students.  Your union does not know your struggles if you do not share with them.  Don’t expect your union to step up for you if you don’t step up for yourself, first.  This relationship should be 50/50.  You shouldn’t sit back and expect your union to do all the work for you.  Become involved.  Fight for your rights, the rights of your colleagues and the rights of your students.  That empowerment makes all the difference, personally and professionally.

Remember: It’s all about the kids
I was in awe of the level of student and parent support I got during this period of time.  Many times, as educators, the only time we hear from a student or a parent is when they are angry or question your guidance so I don’t have a lot of experience in accepting positive responses; it feels awkward.  When we are in the trenches we often lose sight of our focus.   Reminder:  it’s all about the kids.