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By Cynthia Menzel

Stunning school board wins, organizing for community schools and working together to change a culture of toxicity in district headquarters were all triumphs for the 600-member Natomas Teachers Association in the last school year. But the real win, says NTA President Mara Harvey, is “galvanizing the community to support teachers. It’s gratifying for members to see they live in a community that stands behind their students and all that the union wants to do for students.”

Harvey said the “wins at the school board were huge. We won two seats with such high margins, and we ran against candidates who were fundamentally opposed to much of what teachers stand for.” The 60% pro-teacher vote highlighted the unity communities feel when educators work together for transformative change in our schools. “I realized that there is support, strong support, for teachers and students in this community.”

NTA Political Action Committee Chair Nico Vacarro did a stellar job of organizing the campaign, and especially developing a strong volunteer network from the community, Harvey said. “Every time we talked to someone in the community, a parent or whoever, we tell them we’re adding them to the volunteer list.” It’s particularly effective with parents who ask what they can do to help teachers.

NTA members show support for a winning candidate in last fall’s school board election.

“We simply asked people to walk with us during the school board campaign. We knocked on every door in our neighborhoods during the election because we had plenty of volunteers to make it happen,” she said proudly.

“It’s gratifying for members to see they live in a community that stands behind their students and all that the union wants to do for students.”

— NTA President Mara Harvey

NTA worked with the Central Labor Council, among other community groups. The campaigns helped identify new leaders, and that, Harvey notes, helps grow NTA and its leadership.

These school board victories spurred numerous changes in the school district. A controversial superintendent with a history of bullying educators and parents decided to step down. NTA also successfully negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding on community schools, ensuring a path forward to establish shared leadership in Natomas schools alongside parents, students and community allies.

Moving Forward

These last three years were a huge learning curve for Harvey, especially balancing her teaching and leadership lives. “Relationships and face-to-face conversations are key learnings. Listening and understanding what the real issues are and helping people understand they have the power to fix things,” she says emphatically. “Sometimes people need outside support, but the vast majority of our members can fix things on their own — and with their union. We empower each other.”

Her plans call for going to every school site to hear from members and strategize together to fight for the schools Natomas students deserve. “The most important thing I can do as a leader is to spend time at every school site and show my respect for the power of educators at every site so that we can build a stronger union. I’m a high school history teacher. My vice president, Rachel Green, is a kindergarten teacher. She’s amazing. I want to see what the day looks like for my colleagues and make decisions together.”

Harvey started teaching in Natomas 20 years ago during a controversial time when teachers were dealing with anti-union managers. Times were tough in the community. A lot of folks had lost hope that things could improve. This past school year proved that change is possible when educators come together in their union.

Harvey prefers to concentrate on moving forward, saying she’s excited about the new superintendent, and sees positive change for the district. “It doesn’t matter who the superintendent is, what matters is that our community supports our students,” Harvey said. “I’m looking forward to working with our new superintendent — she has a new style of running things. A superintendent’s job is to support teachers. In our union, we can make sure that happens.”

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