PSRPs Lobby for Federal Law to Prohibit Bullying
When it comes to bullying in schools, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel are in a unique position. Because of their presence in and out of the classroom, they are often the first ones to witness bullying among students. "We see bullying on the frontlines," says Betty Stanton, a middle school secretary from Ardmore, Okla. Stanton was one of dozens of PSRPs who came to Washington, D.C., this week to attend the American Association of Classified School Employees' annual legislative conference held at AFT headquarters, March 29-30.
Stanton and her colleagues spent the afternoon lobbying federal lawmakers to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools to have codes of conduct that prohibit bullying and harassment, and to provide training to address these issues.
AACSE members, many of whom are AFT members as well, shared stories about the impact of bullying on their students and schools, in an effort to help lawmakers understand their role in trying to change bullying behavior and, ultimately, to encourage them to sign on as sponsors of the measure.
George Williams, president of the AACSE and president of the AFT-affiliated Madison County (Fla.) Education Association, says the stories PSRPs have to tell about the bullying they see would not have come to the forefront without this kind of legislation. "We have children who are dealing with tremendous pressures every day. But with education about bullying, we can make a difference. We have to make a difference."
Williams and his group met with a staff member from the office of Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to thank him for introducing the measure. "The states are all over the map when it comes to bullying legislation," Williams says. "To have a federal measure defining bullying and harassment brings uniformity to the process."
In addition to lobbying about legislation to address bullying, the group also encouraged lawmakers to sponsor the Fix America's Schools Today Act, a measure that would provide assistance for the modernization, renovation and repair of public schools. [Adrienne Coles]
LORRETTA JOHNSON ELECTED TO AFL-CIO EXECUTIVE BOARD
AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson was elected on Aug. 2 as a vice president of the AFL-CIO.
"It's wonderful to be recognized in this way by my peers in the labor movement," Johnson says. "I look forward to using my position with the AFL-CIO to continue my lifelong fight for working people."
Johnson has been a national and state labor leader for nearly four decades. She was president of the Baltimore Teachers Union's paraprofessional chapter for 35 years and president of AFT Maryland for 17 years. She served for 30 years as a vice president of the national AFT before being elected AFT executive vice president in 2008. Johnson will become AFT secretary-treasurer when Antonia Cortese retires on Sept. 8.
"Lorretta knows the challenges faced by working families because she's spent her entire career working for them," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "Her years of experience as an educator, union member and labor leader will be invaluable in her role as an AFL-CIO vice president."
AFT ANNOUNCES NEW INNOVATION FUND GRANT RECIPIENTS
The AFT on July 11 announced a third round of AFT Innovation Fund grants, which will support union-led efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards, develop new models for urban public schools, and design approaches to nurture effective teaching, among other things. The awards were announced during the 2011 AFT TEACH professional issues conference.
"Even in this time of adversity, AFT members want to make a difference in the lives of kids, and are looking for innovative ways of doing that," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "Their enthusiasm and the good ideas they are proposing make it clear that educators want to be part of the solution."
Chris Gabrieli, the chairman of the National Center on Time and Learning and a member of the Fund’s national advisory board, says, "The number, range and quality of applications from locals across the country demonstrates the appetite and potential of local unions to drive bottom-up innovation, and AFT nationally deserves our applause for building, driving and sustaining the AFT Innovation Fund."
Two of the five AFT Innovation Fund grants were awarded to PSRP locals. One grant was awarded to AFT-West Virginia and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association to help them turn two low-income schools into community schools that will provide services and programs that address outside-the-classroom issues affecting children’s academic achievement. They will use this grant to partner with local organizations to offer a range of supports and opportunities for children, families and their communities, including health and social services.
The second grant was awarded to a newly merged PSRP local, the Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Service Employees, to create a model employee incentive-pay program called "The Good Food! Incentive Pilot." The aim of this program is to reinforce the district’s nutrition and wellness efforts in combating obesity among schoolchildren.
If your local is interested in applying for an AFT Innovation Fund grant, start thinking about innovative ideas you’d like to try. Visit the AFT Innovation Fund website for more information.
CLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES TAKE ON CAPITOL HILL
The American Association of Classified School Employees met in April for the coalition’s 2011 Legislative Conference,
which brought classified employees together to advocate for school support staff at a national level.
The highlights of the meeting included a presentation on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education
Act; an overview of the fiscal year 2012 Education Department budget and expected appropriations; the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its importance today as increasing numbers of children are being diagnosed with
autism and other special needs; and, finally, highlights of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and important
steps being undertaken to improve child nutrition in schools.
Armed with information on these topics, conference participants went to Capitol Hill to meet with their U.S. representatives and with committee staff to discuss budget, transportation and education policy concerns, and to urge Congress, as it looks ahead to the FY 2012 budget, not to cut funding for schools and education programs. Programs such as Head Start, IDEA and Title I also need to be protected. Without this vital federal funding, we can’t adequately serve the students in our schools.
PSRPS SHOW HOW THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE EVERY DAY
The AFT's annual PSRP conference started out on a high-tech note, with AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson guiding about a third of the 875 members present in Las Vegas in setting up their cell phones to get text messages from the union's division for paraprofessionals and school-related personnel.
The March 25-27 gathering quickly turned from high-tech to the personal touch. At the opening session, PSRPs had an opportunity to meet fellow members like themselves—everyday heroes who have turned their minds, hearts and careers toward helping children succeed. High school safety officer Charles "C.J." Johnson of Texas, the PSRP Everyday Hero for 2011, has taken in 38 homeless teens over the years, and fellow AFT member Lester Lemasters of West Virginia made an extra stop on his school bus route every day to evade a fourth-grade rider's bully, which earned the bus driver a national title and plenty of gratitude.
"In my profession, you don't get noticed," Lemasters said. "It feels good to be recognized." Similarly, C.J. Johnson returned the sentiment after receiving a standing ovation. "I really appreciate a family that cares—AFT," he said. "I love y'all." Read more online about Johnson and Lemasters.
The two men were embraced by PSRPs, by family members who spoke about them, and by singer and actress Tichina Arnold, who played the mom on the television show "Everybody Hates Chris" and has performed in "Big Momma's House" and "Little Shop of Horrors." Arnold recalled that it was a school custodian who told her every day that she could make it as a singer. His encouragement helped launch her career.
"I'm very appreciative of you," Arnold said. "It was people like you who got me singing. … I never forgot it. You give your service every day, and that is so appreciated. I'm here to tell you that even when you feel alone, you are loved and appreciated."
The PSRPs gave a rousing tribute to their delegation from Wisconsin and delegates from other states locked in fierce battles to protect the public services that Americans rely on. Lorretta Johnson exhorted members to talk with everyone—their families, friends, neighbors and even their sorority sisters—about the value of labor unions. Some people think the crisis is only about teachers, she said, but reminded the crowd that PSRPs are never mentioned in public except when it comes to budget cuts. And the devaluation of the working class is not just happening in America, she added, noting that 400,000 union workers had just marched in London.
"The conservative politicians want to silence your voice, and the best way to do it is to silence your union voice," she said. "They want to take us back 100 years. Oh Lord, don't get me started. Like the root in that tree, we shall not be moved. Thank you, Wisconsin, for standing tall."
At a luncheon address on the second day of the conference, AFT president Randi Weingarten picked up on the news of the hour, describing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as "very special" and tapping him as the union movement's "Mobilizer in Chief." She thanked PSRPs for what they do every single day for children, and what they do "for all the other adults in this country who desperately need a union."
Weingarten explained how some ultra-rich conservatives are promoting tax cuts to corporations when many don't pay taxes at all. At the same time, they're trying to stop unions, which at this point are "the only check on absolute power and absolute wealth. The labor movement is the only institution that fights for working people," she said. "We will get strength out of this. Don't give up. Don't hunker down. And come up with proactive solutions." She pledged that the AFT's top officers "will do anything that's humanly possible to walk this walk with you."
Weingarten asked members to join in labor's "We Are One" Week of Action starting April 4, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 for standing up for unionized sanitation workers in Memphis.
Continuing the theme of social justice later that afternoon, AFT PSRP bestowed the Albert Shanker Pioneer Award on longtime local union president Robert Chacanaca of the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Council of Classified Employees for his "commitment to social justice for all and his willingness to stand up and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves." In addition to his work for PSRPs as a skilled negotiator and advocate at the state and national levels, Chacanaca is active in the broader labor movement. "Wherever there is a wrong to be righted," says Dennis Smith of the California Federation of Teachers, "Robert is always there."
On the professional development side of things, PSRPs took part in dozens of workshops on topics from school district and college-level funding to educating students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some participated in pre-conferences on communications or health and safety. Many also attended the AFT's first-ever Head Start conference. (See earlier story.)
On the playful side, PSRPs staged their famous Solidarity Night. "There are evil winds blowing in Solidarityville," intoned Kris Schwarzkopf of the Toledo federation before unveiling her secret weapon: a cell phone and her superpower as an AFT texter. "LorElvis" swooped in to save the day from budget-cutting fat cats, as did dancing angels from Alliance-AFT in Dallas and umbrella-twirling members from the Oregon School Employees Association who kept on "Singin' in the Rain." Sonny and Cher made a special appearance to sing "We've Got Union" ("When we walk the picket line/I've got you to hold the sign.")
Lorretta Johnson brought her own groove. After introducing the PSRP heroes, she turned to the crowd and said, "See, we do make a difference." And spontaneously, the crowd roared back, "Yes we do!"