The Region 1 Leadership Conference, held from Sept. 8 – 10 and attended by over 300 members from the greater Bay Area, opened with an exciting panel discussion from union leaders sharing compelling stories about their winning organizing campaigns against intolerance and for the schools our students deserve. The panel included former Middletown TA President Sharon Huggins, Hayward EA PAC Chair Charles Jones, OEA Treasurer Vilma Serrano, San Leandro TA President Thomas Morse, UTR Organizing Chair Jesus Galindo and Unite Summit President Justin Kim.
Stories from different parts of the region were shared. In Middletown, a group of concerned community members, parents and educators were working hard to ensure the school board had pro-public education representatives who understood the needs of Middletown schools. The group’s candidates won by more than 11%.
From the 75-member strong Middletown TA former chapter president and current middle school science teacher, Sharon Huggins: “My advice is to focus on what is happening on the ground and dedicate yourself to one-on-one conversations within the community. That’s what worked for us. We have kids with different academic, social-emotional and socioeconomic situations with real needs right here and now. We should not be putting our focus on groups looking to erode our public schools and the services we could be providing those kids, nor should we let them take time and energy away from the educators working for our kids and community.”
From community schools to panel discussions with specialists and small and mighty chapters, productive conversations were had throughout the weekend. Even as small chapters, transformative change can occur through building relationships with members, families and our communities. No matter the size of a chapter, every single member has the power to bring everyone together to win for our students.
Though some things are the same, the needs of small chapters are often different than the ones of larger chapters. “Each one of us in our associations was able to make significant and substantive change and long-term gains that benefit students and teachers. I think this is something that we need to highlight to our colleagues. You can be in a small association and still make an important change,” said Portola Valley TA President Timothy Sato.
“One thing I’ve tried to do is work with other presidents in the area. Not just smaller districts, but larger districts as well because they are our allies. Having this relationship is important to empower us to be able to do what larger chapters can do,” said Luther Burbank TA President Fadi Saba.
Saturday continued with several electives that covered everything from bargaining to advocacy. The panel with specialists in particular covered what nurses, teacher librarians, speech-language pathologists, clinical rehabilitative servicers, counselors, social workers and psychologists can offer to colleagues and why they play a critical role in union advocacy and bargaining and for the students they serve. Specialists included Ever Flores (School Counselor, Healdsburg TA), Leslie Hu (Social Worker, UESF), Samia Khattab (Teacher Librarian, OEA) and Jon Zabala (School Psychologist, UTR).
How do you engage specialists in the union?
Flores: “One-on-ones really matter.”
Hu: “Connect people’s hearts around how our contract can make our lives better.”
Khattab: “Use your voice, stay involved and get engaged.”
Zabala: “Argue the system, not each other.”
“I want to figure out how to get our members engaged and how to negotiate for our members. The biggest takeaway from the weekend was setting the foundation for a stronger union for our members.”
-Portola Valley TA Treasurer Margie Navas.
“I came here, and I come to all the conferences I have the privilege of attending for the idea that iron sharpens iron. And so does one person sharpen another. And I do believe some of the best organizing minds, strategists and most involved and well-accomplished union members attend these spaces. I’m just hungry to learn from them because I know I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish for my community, and I need to work with other people to achieve that vision. If you want to be the best at anything, there are three things you need to do: deliberate practice, reflection, collaboration and this space provides all that.”
-UTR member Jesus Galindo.
The community schools panel on Saturday afternoon walked members through how to build member and community support to work toward collaborative planning. Members heard from colleagues’ experience in forming the structures to gain districts’ commitment to ongoing, open, inclusive and shared decision-making.
“Building power about our community allows us to make decisions about our schools, community and what we are teaching,” said OEA President Ismael Armendariz.
The conference ended with CTA President David Goldberg addressing the Region 1 Leadership Conference for the first time in his new role. He shed light on the amazing organizing happening in other parts of the state: “I see the inspiring stories of individual acts of resistance like one of our colleagues who is fighting to form a union in Clovis. He’s organizing and working hard, and even though he doesn’t have a union YET in Clovis, he did something really powerful last school year. When his admin came into his classroom and told him to take the Pride Flag off his wall, he said ‘No.’ He said ‘No’ understanding that – even though he may not have his union contract YET – he has colleagues behind him who are ready to fight alongside him. He took a risk for his students and his community. It was brave and it was strong and was based on a belief in the collective power we can demonstrate at every school site.”
Members left the conference feeling inspired and recommitted to the work that lies ahead.