Friday, August 31, 2012

Part 1: Education Notes - My Path from Ed Notes to MORE Through ICE and GEM

MORE held two back to back meetings on Monday over a 4 hour period and I got to thinking, always a dangerous thing. It's been an interesting 15 years, 10 of them as a retiree. Where to begin before I forget it all? This could be a book, but I'll spare you the pain and just do as short a synopsis as I can in 4 separate posts.

Lawyers Randi and Joel work on a school. Cartoon special for ed notes, spring '03.

Part 1: Education Notes
I began ednotesonline in late August 2006 and Education Notes print edition in 1997, so this 6th anniversary is as good a time as any to do a retrospective.

Chapter leadership re-engages me - 1994
I became chapter leader in 1994 with a hostile, high stakes testing principal who took over the school in 1979. So the battle was joined from the moment I took over the chapter (we had been on opposite sides of a number of issues since she arrived). I spent the next 3 years through 1997 working to organize a democratic union at the school level. My major tool was a newsletter, "PS 147 Notes." I learned a lot based on the reactions of the staff and the active parents. And I saw my principal, who rarely was afraid of anything, showed more than some concern about what I would write. Being in the non-power position, the Notes gave me a lot of leverage and a means of gathering support. I made sure to share the paper at District Chapter Leader meetings so the entire district was getting the word about what my principal was doing. That drove her crazy.

Education Notes as a 16-page tabloid, spring 2003
When I became CL I also began to go back to the UFT Delegate Assembly after an absence of at least 10 years (I had been a delegate from 1972 around 1984.) I also attended District 14 chapter leader and school board meetings. So I was able to provide a load of information to the staff. Those that read my newsletter (I put out 49 editions in my 3rd year) were as informed on a variety of issues as they could be.

I went to all the chapter leader trainings and that is where I met Randi Weingarten who was clearly the heir and we established a cordial relationship. I learned first hand about the Randi one on one charm.

I wasn't all that active at the DA, being more focused on my own school, even during the fight to defeat the seminal 1995 contract that we turned down the first time -- New Action deserves credit along with people like Bruce Markens who was the Manhattan HS district rep - the only non-Unity DR because the chapter leaders kept electing him for a decade - he officially worked for the union and stood up strong against the contract, which just flipped the leadership off.

Becoming active at the Delegate Assembly
In my 4th year as CL (97-98) I was on sabbatical and turned the chapter over to a pair of teachers. My sabbatical was one designed by me -- I offered the district tech boss my services and he accepted. In the middle of the year, 2 jobs opened up doing exactly what I had offered to do and he offered me one of them if I would give up my sabbatical. I laughed. Before the year ended he got another position for Sept. 1998 and offered it to me. I accepted. So I was out of the classroom for the first time in 30 years. I spent the next 4 years in that job working as part of a team of 4 covering 27 elementary and middle schools and offering after school tech courses (like explaining what email and the world wide web were).

In my year on sabbatical I continued to attend the DA and began to think more deeply about the bigger union issues. At some point I began to migrate my chapter newsletter into  "Delegate Assembly Notes" and then changed the name to Education Notes. I entered that project with the idea that the major opposition, New Action, was not very effective. Teachers for a Just Contract was out there in a fairly minimal way, so I did not formally ally myself with the opposition and naively thought I could reach out to reasonable Unity people, Randi included, to lobby for change within the UFT. And Randi and her people certainly helped lead me on for years, even offering me an opportunity to join Unity.

Not anti-Unity

Ed Notes was a monthly directed at union leaders and school-based leaders. It grew from one sheet to 14 pages. It was a big undertaking but my job at the District media center gave me some some room to roam. Many Unity people, and indeed, many of the people at the DA, especially the leaders of the union were reading it. Unity people were fairly friendly and said they agreed with lots of stuff I was saying. I tweaked but didn't attack Randi and we were communicating regularly. I was seduced by the idea that I was getting my ideas heard at the top level. I was also critical of New Action and Unity loved it. NA started spreading rumors I was being funded by Unity.

Whatever independent delegates there were began stopping by and said they were sharing Ed Notes with their staff. But I had a limited amount of copies.

Old political cronies are supportive
I should point out here that I wasn't totally alone in this endeavor. My political cronies from the 70s on the verge of retirement -- the late Paul Baizerman, Vera Pavone, Ira Goldfine, Loretta and Gene Prisco, provided advice and the political analysis I was sorely missing. They even wrote some  great pieces for Ed Notes. Paul and Gene were also delegates and we worked as a team at the DA.

[Social note: Loretta and Gene's daughter got married last Saturday and we were all together again and we still see each other on a regular basis. More on this amazing group of socially and politically committed people when I get to ICE in part 2.]

When I left my school, I was no longer a delegate but continued to go to every DA to hand out Ed Notes. Having something in writing was especially important as I could no longer speak (from 98-2000).

I looked for a way to get back into the DA as a delegate. As a teacher assigned I could run as a delegate from that functional chapter but that was totally controlled by Unity. But Randi must have given the word and they gave me a slot as a delegate for 2001-2002. I felt even at that point that lobbying Unity was still possible.

Breaking with Randi
It took me over 3 years to see through the Randi bullshit, (I way behind many others). Merit pay and mayoral control were the key issues.

The break with Randi came in the spring of 2001 when I began to see through the bullshit and realized that only by building a strong opposition could we make changes in the union. This was just at the point Bloomberg was running for mayor.

Ed Notes turned extremely critical of Randi and Unity during the 2001-2 school year. Unity people began shunning it and hostility grew. My last year and a half at the DA before I retired in July 2002 was really contentious. I felt the rest of the opposition were not functioning in a critical manner. More independents were giving me their contact information and some even said they were making copies for their schools.

Trying to unify the opposition
There was another opposition group that ran in elections in the late 90s: Progressive Action Caucus, focused on teachers who were losing their licenses because of difficulty with the teaching exam. At some point after the 2001 elections -- maybe late spring or early fall I called a meeting to try to get New Action, TJC and PAC into the same room -- I also asked independents I had met to join us. The idea was to try to unify the opposition. But New Action was the king of the hill at the time, having beaten Unity in the high schools in most elections. The had disdain for the others it seemed. And since Ed Notes had been critical they didn't trust me either.

Influence of Schmidt
I had picked up a copy of George Schmidt's Substance at an ed tech convention to Chicago in June 2000 and continued to stay in touch with George. His model of a full-fledged tabloid with thousands of copies that could reach into the schools began to intrigue me. As I entered the spring 2002 with my office having a new boss who was a joke, thoughts of retirement along with the idea of having the time to expand Ed Notes into a tabloid with a bigger outreach into the schools began to intrigue me.

Retired, July 2002 and a visit from George Schmidt
I started planning a tabloid edition of Ed Notes with the idea of 4 pages -- think one pull-out page in the Daily News - 4 sides, but it kept growing as the summer went on and turned into a 16-pager.

In mid-July George was coming through NY with his family and I invited a bunch of people to my house to meet George and he regaled us with stories of Substance (which he began in the late 70s) and the takeover of the Chicago union by the Debbie Lynch insurgency in 2001. Debbie was no radical -- she had worked in DC for Shanker -- and in fact when I crowed about Debbie, both Randi and Leo were saying "she is one of us." But that she had beaten a Unity style machine was impressive and an indication of things to come in Chicago 8 years later. [Debbie lost in a very close election 2004, got slammed in 2007 and in 2010 was one of 5 caucuses to run and in round 2 threw her 15% of the vote to CORE which helped them gain power.]

Remember, my goal was to use Ed Notes to organize unity in the opposition, at that point by trying to bring all the groups together. All the groups agreed to help distribute Ed Notes -- I offered them space in the initial edition to push their platform. Thus, I had 10,000 printed for September.

Ed Notes as a full tabloid had an affect just by its looks. It was meaty, full of news and analytical, with cartoons specially commissioned and all  kinds of graphics. Boy, did I learn desktop publishing. In between the 4 editions during that year, I put out a one sheet edition on alternate months, at the DA only. I was one busy guy in my first year of retirement during the 2002-3 school year. I wasn't thinking all that far ahead. Just plodding along.

Meeting Lawhead, Ahern and Fiorillo
During that year I put out four issues of 16 pages each --wait, one was even 20 pages ––  even I am stunned at that output and don't see how I did it. I ran around the city dropping off bundles, often with the help of retiree Merry Tucker -- we made sure to treat ourselves to a nice lunch. People began to contact me from various schools. I met John Lawhead and Sean Ahern during that year, two people who would a big influence on me. We began to hang out. And Michael Fiorillo, who I knew from the DA, joined us at times. I would say these guys were the genesis of ICE, a year away. I began to think of introducing them to the 70s crew, (which I did at a party at my house in July 2003.)

Danger signs from New Action
Sometime in my last months at the DA- spring 2002 -  there seemed to be something going on between New Action and Unity. NA leader Michael Shulman and Randi were getting their heads together. I remember a Unity/NA joint resolution that was  toothless and full of holes. I was the only one at the DA to oppose it and heaped scorn on them both. Shortly after Micheal Mendel told me I was insulting to Randi in this speech and she wasn't happy --- hmm, is scorn insulting? Maybe. But I heaped scorn on Shulman too. After I spoke, one of the leaders of TJC came over and said she was glad I had done it but she wanted to -- but was still being careful about being openly critical of the major opposition.

In the spring of 2003, Paul Baizerman wrote a critical analysis of New Action for Ed Notes and New Action started refusing to hand it out. I offered James Eterno space to write a rebuttal. (Bruce Markens had to adjudicate the number of words.)

When the relationship between Randi and Shulman began to blossom into a dirty election deal in the summer of 2003 where NA wouldn't run against Randi and she would hand them the 6 high school seats they had been winning anyway by not running any Unity people -- this was for the 2004 elections -- New Action stalwarts James Eterno and Ellen Fox were very disturbed and started touching base with me and people in TJC.

At a rally in early October, 2003, I ran into Fiorillo at a UFT rally and lo and behold, there was Shulman on the podium with Randi. Fiorillo said, "you think NA is right about putting up a united front with Unity given the BloomKlein assault?"

I disagreed. Given that Randi had floated on so much of the same shit coming from the people doing the attacks, there needed to be more resistance, not less. That the New Action position of putting up a united front would free Randi from being held accountable.

But why don't we get some people together and talk about it. Which we did on the Friday before Halloween, 2003, in essence the first meeting of ICE.

End part 1.

Coming soon
Part 2: Independent Community of Educators (c. Nov 2003)
Part 3: Grassroots Education Movement (c. 2009)
Part 3: Movement of Rank and File Educators (c. 2012)

The opinions expressed on EdNotesOnline are solely those of Norm Scott and are not to be taken as official positions (though Unity Caucus/New Action slugs will try to paint them that way) of any of the groups or organizations Norm works with: ICE, GEM, MORE, Change the Stakes, NYCORE, FIRST Lego League NYC, Rockaway Theatre Co., Active Aging, The Wave, Aliens on Earth, etc.

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