Tuesday, July 22, 2014

MORE Steering Committee: A Lesson in Democracy

You can't talk about democracy in the UFT unless your own group has established democratic procedures itself. And if done openly, so much the better. And boy is this tough, especially as you grow and try to scale up. If I was in a caucus in contention with Unity that was not practicing democracy, I would walk because we don't need a "new boss, same as old boss scenario."

Democracy is not just about voting. It is how people deal with each other every day.

MORE is not just a caucus challenging the Unity leadership, but a fertile ground for people to nurture themselves politically and personally.

Tomorrow's MORE steering committee meeting will complete my 6-month term as the 3rd MORE Steering Committee  to take over on August 1. So far 23 people have served 6-month terms on MORE Steering over a year and a half. Both old and new steering committees - those in town - will hold a joint meeting. I'm proud of the fact that so many of these people are fairly new to MORE and to activism. And how they have blossomed playing leadership roles. Many of them did not enter teaching with a sense of "union" and are so excited to become part of that process due to MORE's advocacy.

Before I comment on the process let me know if you have heard of a transparent process revealed by other caucuses, Unity and New Action. MORE is so open we even invite New Action members to join us and even run for Steering. So far they have declined. Maybe we should invite Unity people into the tent too. Hey Unity, feel free to come to meetings and make your case.

So I have tried to be vigilant inside MORE -- arguing for distributed leadership and decision making. I know, this violates some basic precepts where strong leadership in the hands of one person is considered crucial. Note that many people viewed Julie Cavanagh as the leader of MORE when in fact she was one voice amongst many. And her focus on her family and her school responsibilities has made it difficult for her to do MORE work. If you asked me 2 years ago what would MORE be like without a very active Julie, my response would have been bleak. In fact MORE hasn't missed a beat (though Julie's wise counsel is missed).

For the first year MORE had no steering committee, which I favored. I felt people were just getting to know each other and argued for the least restrictive environment. We called it a Planning Committee, open to everyone. But by the end of last school year, emerging fron an election campaign, it was clear we had grown enough to think about forming a steering committee.

I am generally not in favor of elections, especially in small groups like MORE. But most people wanted to hold one. We decided on 9 Steering seats and had 20 people run. There was a tie so we just added one. Some were not well known by enough people and the election was to some extent a popularity contest. I also felt we should limit the terms of office for 6 months, which one member of the CORE steering in Chicago told me last week was "crazy." I told her it was the best thing MORE had done. (We also have an unofficial rule that after 2 consecutive turns on steering (1 year) one should take a break.)

Lots of lessons were learned in that first term and there was major turnover in the 2nd MORE steering which took office last Jan. 1 due to the intense amount of work required. Burnout was an issue. (And we are working on dividing the work to prevent that). There were only 2 returnees and 9 other volunteers. We decided that rather than hold an election to knock 2 people out, we would just add 2 people. To some this violated their sense of democracy. I did not agree -- rational democracy would call for inclusion, not exclusion.

While some people opposed my being on Steering due to my retirement status, others wanted my experience. (I think there should not be more than one retiree on steering.) And the fact that I was free during the day to be of more assistance. Frankly, I was so busy with other parts of my life I did not take on too many tasks - which is why I took myself off steering this time - at this point I don't want to help run an organization - leave it to the next generation. And what a generation it is. Almost no one below 40 and our youngest new leader just turned 28.

And the best thing: I can do nothing and not feel guilty.

Congratulations for those who have accepted nominations for the new MORE Steering Committee which takes office for a 6 month term starting on August 1. 
The current steering committee has proposed, that rather than having an election to choose 9 out of these 11 (or 10?) qualified candidates, that we simply accept all of them as new member of the steering committee.  This decision will be ratified at the MORE Retreat this coming week on Thursday, July 17 (11am-5pm, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Ave. @ 34th st., 6 to 33rd, D,F,M,N,R to Herald Square).

Megan Behrent has taught English at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School in Brooklyn for 15 years. She has been a UFT delegate for FDR since 2007. In the Delegate Assembly, she has raised resolutions to support the rights of ATRs, to fight school closings/turnarounds, and to show solidarity with other unions. She is a founding member of MORE and active in the National Network of Social Justice Educators. As an education activist, she has appeared on the Melissa Harris Parry show on MSNBC and written for diverse publications including Socialist Worker, New Politics, Labor Notes and the Harvard Education Review.
Lauren Cohen entered teaching through the NYC Teaching Fellows in 2005 as a mid-year replacement for a K-2 self-contained special education teacher at a high-needs school in Harlem. She taught there for two more full school years. She spent the next 5 years at a Title 1 school in the East Village where she gained a reputation among her colleagues for speaking out against administrative mandates that were detrimental to student learning (such as canceling extended day enrichment programs in favor of test prep aligned to faulty and inaccurate Acuity results). She currently teaches at P.S. 321 in Park Slope, where the privileges available to her current students have only strengthened her resolve to fight for a more equitable system on behalf of the students she left behind. For the past two years, Lauren has worked with parents, teachers, and others in Change the Stakes, fighting against the use of standardized tests to punish schools, teachers, and students. She attended her first MORE meeting in the spring of 2012 and was thrilled to meet so many like-minded educators. She ran on the MORE slate for Elementary Executive Board in the UFT election, and she now serves as the chapter delegate for P.S. 321.

Francesca Gomes is an 8th Grade Humanities (ELA and Social Studies) Teacher at New Voices MS 443 in District 15.  She has been a member of the UFT for 13 years, and the only UFT Delegate for her school for the last five years.  She led the “Vote No” campaign at her school beginning on the first day after the 2014 contract proposal was announced.  Originally a member of Teachers for a Just Contract, she then became a member of the Independent Caucus of Educators, and is proud to have been a member of MORE since its early days.

Janice Manning is currently a fifth grade Special Education Teacher in an Integrated Co-Teaching Classroom at P.S. 503 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  This is her 10th year teaching in New York City Public Schools.  She started her teaching career as a fourth grade teacher in Fort Worth, Texas.  After teaching in Fort Worth for a year, she taught English as a foreign language in Znamenka, Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She began attending MORE meetings in January of this year and is passionate about working with other educators to organize ways to improve education for ALL students.

Megan Moskop is a current member of the steering committee. She is a Special Education teacher and UFT delegate at M.S. 324 in Washington Heights, where she began teaching in 2009 through Teach for America. Megan was raised by educators in North Carolina, and her first “real” teaching job was in Malta as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant.  In addition to her work MORE, she serves as Learning Labs Director for the Manhattan Young Democrats, and she is a member of Teachers Unite. Deeply thankful for and inspired by her own teachers and students, Megan is committed to the improvement of learning and working conditions in schools everywhere, starting here.

Francesco Portelos is an engineer turned middle school STEM teacher. Over the last two years he has become a very strong advocate for educators and students. His advocacy did not come without sacrifice. After speaking up, he became a target and was removed from his teaching position. This did not stop Francesco. He ran and won the UFT Chapter Leader position in his school even though he is forbidden from entering the building. He has been successfully mobilizing and supporting his chapter and many other educators who read about his fight and seek his guidance from around the city and around the country. His objective is use his knowledge, leadership skills and out-of-the-box thinking to bring MORE to a point where they are successfully filling the great void left by our UFT Leaders. Read more at www.educatorfightsback.org  Follow on Twitter: @MrPortelos

Kevin Prosen is chapter leader at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens.  He campaigned as part of MORE’s slate for the executive board in last year’s elections, and has organized mass grievance campaigns at his school involving up to 35 members of his chapter.  He has been active in the MORE chapter organizing committee this year and has been organizing outreach to other chapter leaders in the city. His writings on UFT issues have appeared inJacobin andSocialist Worker.

Mindy Rosier is a native New Yorker who graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a B.A. in Psychology and Elementary Education and Fordham University with an M.S. Ed in Early Childhood Special Education. She has been a teacher for 17 years, including 3 years at the NY Foundling Hospital and currently 8 years with the Department of Education in a District 75 school.After seeing the hardships that her school has endured and after researching the education system itself, she became active to promote an improvement in the quality of education for all children.

Mike Schirtzer is a lifelong Brooklynite, graduate of the NYC public schools and CUNY, teacher and UFT Delegate. Teaching has always been and still is his lifelong dream and his work here in MORE is just a continuation of fulfilling the goal of being the best teacher he can be! He has planned and mobilized several events, forums, and ran for UFT & NYSUT office as MORE. He was on the original planning committee, first steering committee, and organized MORE’s social media, press, contract campaign, and South Brooklyn groups.

Patrick Walsh a three-time elected UFT chapter who believes that the only force  that can  save our profession from the predators is our union and the only force that can save our union from itself is us.

Some people warn that by being so public we are putting a target on their backs for Unity to shoot at. One transgression in their schools and the Unity buzz machine will start backbiting. Believe me, I get Unity people picking and choosing their targets and attacking MORE behind the scenes with comments like "look at the people you have". Even if true I counter with "have you taken a close look at the people YOU have?"

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