Friday, October 4, 2013

Alex Caputo-Pearl Running for President of LA Teachers Union

Alex - 2nd from rght
Social justice-oriented caucuses like MORE and CORE are springing up all over the place. Whatever the result of the LA election in Feb. 2014 next summer's AFT convention in LA ought to be an event worth attending --- I'm hoping a strong MOREista crew goes.

The one in LA has been around for a while and even won a share of power in the last decade. Don't get scared now -- that a Teach for America alum is running for the president of the union in LA. He is an original corps member and has remained in the classroom. And unlike other TFAs has fought the long battle for social justice. He made news recently with his being forced out of his school (Dana Goldstein on LA Teacher Alex Caputo-Pearl ... - Ed Notes Online).

I first met Alex in the summer of 2009 at the conference we (Sally Lee and Megan Behrent) attended in LA with union members from 5 cities. That is where we met CORE people too and Alex invited them over to his house for breakfast on our last day -- I clung to the car so I could go. So there I am, a fly on the wall in Alex's kitchen with CORE's Jackson Potter, Kristine Mayle and Kenzo Shabata --- all major players now in the Chicago Teachers Union, soaking it all in and relishing the brilliant conversation about everything education. And the pancakes Alex made were damn good.

Alex was also at the big Chicago conf we attended this past summer with well over a hundred union members from many cities -- maybe one day a nascent alternative to the Weingarten/Unity AFT machine -- but that is a long way to go.

It will take money to get Alex elected and there are a whole lot of interests out there to try to stop him -- from all ends. (One interesting point is that he and others have found some of the LA E4E folks not quite as obnoxious and there is some dialogue going on with rank and file E4Eers.



Dear Friends,

I hope this letter finds you well. Please take a few minutes to read this, and I hope you'll be inspired to contribute.  In collaboration with a broad, diverse group of leaders, I've decided to run for president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), with the goal of helping to build the kind of movement for social justice we need.  I need your financial support and, in addition, I hope you will reach out to your networks for additional financial contributions.

As we know, public education is under attack.  Schools are more segregated by race and class than at any time since the late 1960s. Schools across the United States are chronically under-funded, with vital student programs, services, and personnel cut dramatically in the last 5 years.  The "run schools like businesses" approach is ascendant, even in the White House, with test scores being viewed as the bottom line.  Corporate-turnaround-style school restructurings proliferate even though they, and the dramatic over-reliance on testing, are not supported by research.    

With test scores treated like the bottom line, the arts, music, physical education, civic training, and cultural, ethnic, gender, and environmental studies are driven out of the curriculum, particularly in schools that serve students of color and low-income students.  As public schools are ravaged, many problematic charter schools exist as radically de-regulated schools - serving only some students while keeping higher-needs children out, operating under private management using public money, and destabilizing the educational climate with a revolving door of educators.  Despite the remarkable efforts of many people at school sites and in communities, far too many of our students are not getting what they need and deserve.

Amidst these attacks, most teacher unions have been, at best, ineffective in building a fight-back, and at worst, silent and complicit - despite courageous efforts on the parts of some leaders.  This failure has created fertile ground for a second, correlated attack to accelerate - the attack on unions.  Political forces that advocate market-driven approaches attack unions so that "things can run more efficiently," while they simultaneously call for broader cuts.  These forces know that teacher unions - as potentially progressive and influential entities - must be weakened in order for the market-driven agenda to move forward. 

As teacher unions have been weakened, quality of education for our students has suffered.  We are losing experienced career teachers, the folks who bring classrooms to life and mentor newer teachers. We see many educators fearful to advocate for their students, communities, and colleagues. We see fewer educators expecting to set down roots at schools, to build the kind of relationships with families and communities that are essential for real education to occur.

In Los Angeles, we are drawing a line in the sand.  We've been inspired by colleagues from Chicago, Milwaukee, Newark, and other places who have run for union office as parts of movements, and won - around a vision for quality public education and a strategy to build with parents and community to fight for that vision.

I am honored to be a part of a slate for office in United Teachers Los Angeles called Union Power.  I am running for UTLA president with a fantastic team of candidates for officer positions - a team that brings tremendous experience in sustainable school improvement, innovative curriculum and instruction, deep parent involvement, powerful community organizing, strategic labor contract campaigns, and more.  It is a team with representatives from across Los Angeles and across caucuses.  I am running with Cecily Myart-Cruz (candidate for NEA Vice President), Betty Forrester (current, and candidate for, AFT Vice President), Colleen Schwab (candidate for Secondary Vice President), Juan Ramirez (current, and candidate for, Elementary Vice President), Arlene Inouye (current, and candidate for, Treasurer), and Daniel Barnhart (candidate for Secretary).

Some key experiences have brought me to this place.  I started teaching through Teach for America - and am now in my 22nd year in the classroom.  I have been lucky enough to have been mentored by remarkable, experienced teachers - and I have many classroom teaching awards that recognize my commitment to social justice, and to teaching that is culturally-relevant, literacy-immersed, inter-disciplinary, and community-connected.  I have been lucky enough to have been mentored by powerful civil rights, labor, and community organizers - and have years of building organizations and being part of winning policy victories, with the Bus Riders Union, Coalition for Educational Justice, the Crenshaw Cougar Coalition, UTLA West Area, and more.  I have also been lucky enough to have worked with a broad group of parents, students, educators, union leaders, researchers, community organizers, and progressive foundations to build a nationally-recognized curriculum and instruction model at Crenshaw High School - the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which connects students' cultures and in-classroom learning to internships and leadership experiences in social justice, community business development, and environmental justice.

I've learned from these experiences that a teacher union, especially the second largest teacher union local in the country (UTLA), embedded within the second largest school district in the country (LAUSD), can be - and must be - an essential component of a social movement for educational justice, and can have significant ripple effects across the country.

Our Union Power slate is committed to:

·         Collectively developing, with educators, parents, youth, and community, a vision for the schools our students deserve;
·         Basing that vision on values that promote educational excellence, equity, access, civil rights, and public management - the values that market-based "reformers" contradict;
·         Transforming UTLA into an organizing union that works with parents and community to fight for this vision at the grassroots and in board rooms;
·         Reclaiming educators' role as curriculum and instruction experts, and leaders in sustainable school improvement;  
·         Winning more funding for schools to reduce class size, improve working and learning conditions, expand student programs and class offerings, and provide wrap-around counseling, emotional, and health support for students so that their needs are met in school, rather than students being suspended or expelled;
·         Fighting for pay and benefits that respect educators and encourage them to remain in the profession;
·         Developing a real, research-based teacher support and development program;
·         Becoming integrally involved in community-, parent-, and youth-led struggles that are inextricably linked to children's education, those around housing, environmental justice, access to healthy food, access to gardens and parks, living wage jobs, transportation, civil rights, humane urban development, immigrant rights, police accountability, etc.

The Union Power slate has the kind of broad-based support that gives us a real opportunity to win this election.  It is, however, going to take major funding to do it.  We need to raise close to $100,000 by January, well before the election in February.  Contributions will go toward city-wide mailings to 35,000 members, toward materials and food for regular city-wide campaign activist and leadership development meetings, toward publication and distribution of policy papers, towards visiting as many as possible of our over 650 schools in LAUSD, and toward logistical support for grassroots actions that we are building around a variety of issues that reflect our values, and more.

While many of you are not UTLA members, some of you don't live in LA, and some of you are enjoying retirement after years of teaching, we know that you are aware of how positive it would be - for public education, for the labor movement, for LA, and for the country beyond LA - to have UTLA under a progressive leadership.  We will be honored to receive any contribution from you, and we encourage you to think as generously as you possibly can.  Some individual donors, inside and outside UTLA and LA, give us $25.  Other individual donors, inside and outside UTLA and LA, have given us over $1,000. 

Still others have given us a few hundred dollars individually, with the promise to organize concretely to have several other individuals within their networks match those donations.  In this regard, please think about your networks carefully, and forward this letter as far as you would like - to teacher networks, union networks, community organizing networks, college networks, friend networks, TFA networks, family networks, whatever it is.  We would love for you to actively organize in that way. 

We will have a Pay Pal account up soon for this to be done over the internet, and we will be having local LA fundraising parties.  But, please don't wait for those.  Please give as soon as you can through the mail in response to this letter - the sooner we have a sense of what we're able to raise, which we think will be substantial, the better our strategy can roll out.  For the moment, you can send checks made out to "Union Power" to the following address -- Union Power, c/o David Rapkin, 837 W. 11th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731.

Of course, feel free to call or email with ideas and suggestions you have for this campaign.

A Union Power slate victory would represent a major step forward for the work that many of us have devoted our lives to, and that we all support deeply. Please support us as generously as you can, so together we can accomplish this goal.

Warmest regards, and thank you very much,

Alex Caputo-Pearl
Teacher, Frida Kahlo High School
Teacher Supporter of Student Organizations, Crenshaw High School
Board of Directors Member, UTLA West Area
Core Leader, Coalition for Educational Justice
Cell - 310-871-7348

For your reference, as you consider contributing to our union transformation work, here is the Union Power team's facebook page -- www.facebook.com/unionpowerforutla
  

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