Jan 3, 2011

From The Bottom Up!

By, Candi Peterson - WTU General V.P.

I started out my union career as a Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) Building Representative for itinerant teachers and related service providers. Years ago, a soon to be departing colleague urged me to take on this role because she was planning to retire. She argued after all that I would be good in this job because of my outspokenness. I remember thinking how could I reach the almost 200 or so union members who were spread out in our schools. Building ties to people, came easy for me in part due to my background in the field of social work. I reasoned to myself that a great deal of my career had been spent working with those who didn’t want to be reached. Surely, I thought I’d be up for the challenge connecting to union members.

Since itinerant staff worked in city-wide schools, I knew I couldn't use a union bulletin board to reach them. Emails, list serves and blogs became an essential for communication with members. I worked hard by regularly emailing members updates and writing on my blog about issues that impacted our union, public education and our workplace. While The Washington Teacher blog started out as a way to educate members about the perils of the red and green contract proposal , it eventually became an online voice for teachers and school personnel. My work as a blogger paid off as I quickly earned members’ trust. When The Washington Teacher blog first reached 2,000 weekly readers , this was concrete proof to me of the blog's success in reaching not only members but those well outside our education circle. On days of more noteworthy news, numbers were as high as an average of 4000 weekly visitors. Many readers emailed me asking me to write on topics ranging from IMPACT evaluations, Teach For America to wrongful terminations.

Just as the success of The Washington Teacher blog garnered interest from union members, it also drew the ire of the Rhee/Henderson administration as it covered the other side of the public education reform story that was rarely told by the mainstream media. My advocacy on behalf of teachers came with a high price and earned me a mandatory summons to meet with the Chancellor in 2008 about my involvement in political activities (i.e. protests, writing about DCPS , speaking to the press, etc). These events marked the beginning of the harassment that I endured. What came next was being stripped of ten points on the Core Professional component of my IMPACT evaluation due to what was described by my supervisor (words paraphrased) : “Someone is out to get you.” My attendance at a rally while on approved leave was cited as the reason for my loss of the ten evaluation points. Next, I received notice this past summer of a one day suspension without pay from Dan McCray, DCPS Chief Labor Strategist, an agent of Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson due to allegedly violating the DCPS email policy of the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). The suspension without pay took place on September 21 and the reason given was that I sent out too many labor related emails (on my own time). By the way, the emails I sent to members included excerpts from The Washington Teacher blog and the latest subject was none other than former holdover WTU president George Parker. The very tool that I used to create an online voice for teachers and school personnel became a threat to my own job security. The irony of my story is that now as the WTU General Vice President, I sit across the table from Interim Chancellor Henderson's top staff who assisted in orchestrating my suspension. What I have learned from this experience is that ordinary people like me and you have the power to turn the tables, and make changes that start from the bottom up.

Readers of The Washington Teacher blog often asked me during the Washington Teachers' Union race to continue blogging should I win in our union election. And starting Tuesday, The Washington Teacher blog will become the 'official blog' of the Washington Teachers' Union. Let's celebrate because it can only be good if our union is willing to speak up for all of us and tell our side of the public education reform story. Happy New Year !


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, WOW this is an inspirational story and shows that you should always (whenever possible) stick to your beliefs. The attack on unions in general at this moment in time in America is frightening, keep fighting the good fight for teachers and all working people who don't have a voice.

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Candi! What a great example of true bottom-up organizing, dedication and bravery.

United Teachers Los Angeles

teachermandc said...

What is noteworthy here is your decision to keep these trials to yourself at the time. I admire your courage and wish you well as you embark on this new journey. On a more self-serving note, I invite your readers to visit my blog at teachermandc.com. Thanks.

Marvin said...

Happy New Year and congratulations.

Ms. Peterson:

Do you think Mayor Gray's inaugural address had a direct message to DC teachers? Some say it did when he talked about the schools being for the children. As you know, some critics of educators have repeatedly made this point as they believe it has been overlooked as a priority.

Anonymous said...

Very good information about you for everyone to know and thank God for everything. Candi, what's happening with the WRONGFULLY TERMINATED CALLED RIF'D TEACHERS and EXCESS TEACHERS? Can you give us an update on them? Thanks!

Linda/RetiredTeacher said...

Congratulations, Candi, and thank you for fighting for the rights of teachers and children across the nation. As you know, D.C. is being closely watched, so what you do to support your colleagues and students will surely help others in similar situations.

Thanks, also, for letting us know about the details of your harassment. I wondered how you managed to keep your job while maintaining this blog. Teachers should always use their own computers at home to send emails or post comments on blogs.

Yes, teachers have a great deal of power that is often not realized. This power comes mainly from the majority of citizens who support them and from strong professional associations. Fortunately the citizens of D.C. understood what was happening to teachers and students and made their voices heard.

When I was employed as a teacher, I always felt that most teachers allowed themselves to be mistreated and often did little or nothing to defend themselves. However, when the courageous ones shared their concerns with outside agencies (newspapers, courts, social services, government, police etc.) they usually got excellent satisfaction. There are very strong laws in all states to protect teachers and so they don't have to put up with harassment or abuse at the workplace.

Thanks again for all you have done for teachers and students. Keep up the good work!

Linda/RetiredTeacher said...

One more point:

If you had not shared your comments publicly, you probably would have been quietly dismissed based on alleged low scores on Impact or some other trumped-up reason. However, because your opinions were so publicly expressed, dismissing you probably would have been very risky for the district. It's extremely important for teachers to understand this. Anyone who is abused or harassed on the job must speak up. By all means go through regular channels but if that doesn't work, seek help elsewhere. Believe me when I say that it works, especially with teachers who have permanent status.

Old School DCPS Teacher said...

OMG, Candi!! I'm so happy that this blog is going to continue and actually be the voice of the WTU. In many ways, it was the voice of the union when Parker was president. And now with you and Nathan in charge plus Rhee gone, we have a lot to be excited about. So moved to read about the harassment you went through; I figured as much but never knew all the ugly details. Remember that one of the membership's biggest concerns is IMPACT: the # of observations, the stress wondering when they're coming, not to mention the whole problem of our ratings being tied to test scores.
At least now as WTU VP, you'll be free to update this blog during work hours. Keep it up: we all read you daily.

Anonymous said...

I have MISSED you the last 2 weeks. I had been checking the site daily. Please dont leave it unattended that long again, you are too important to many of us. I come here to get the "real deal" info.

Your story is the song of many, many teachers and dcps workers who will never sit across from the "top officials" so we need you to be our voice on the injustices we face daily. PLEASE dont forget how you felt when they treated you badly because now they smile in your face and shake your hand when they see you.

Please get the Union on IMPACT and all this INCLUSION mumbo jumbo(the city doesnt want to pay for the sped teachers that are really needed, so they expect regular ed teachers to split themselves into 3 people and teach 1 lesson 3 ways- EVERYDAY/ALLDAY)

I look forward to working with the Union.


Katherine Cox said...

Congratulations, Candi. Many people have been watching the D.C. situation and admire you for sticking to your guns. Just stay the course. You and others like you will prevail.

E Favorite said...

Candi - I'm so glad it worked out for you -- and for DCs teachers. Others have not been so fortunate, but I do believe all DC teachers are better off now that they have you officially representing them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for all you have been doing for teachers here in DCPS!

I came to DCPS after more than a decade of passionate teaching, wonderful evaluations, and supportive colleagues and administrators.
I have been in DCPS for a year and a half, and never have I felt so demoralized or experienced such a lack of support from administration that I have here in this district.

Being a member of WTU has helped me in so many ways. I have never had to reach out to a union before, but being an outspoken member of my staff, have felt it necessary for numerous reasons which are mainly breaches of our contract.

My main wish is that more teachers would actually speak up and demand the support and protections offered to us in the contract, instead of merely sitting back content that they have a job. People are afraid at my school to speak out as they see what happens when you do. We have already lost many teachers this year due to the poor treatment they have received.

Thank you for all you are doing for us! I am so happy to have you and Mr. Saunders there supporting us. Hopefully we can finally create better environments for our students and ourselves in DCPS.

Candi Peterson said...

Reply to Marvin:

I hear what you are saying about Gray's speech. I believe time will tell. I don't want to presuppose what Gray meant as politicians are famous for cliche's. Let's give him a moment to be in office and then after some time, I think we will be able to size Gray up on the education front. Certainly educators must be at the table demanding that our voices be heard, no matter who is in office.

Candi Peterson said...

Anonymous @ 4:03
As promised we have referred the wrongfully terminated teachers' case to our law firm, Joseph, Greenwald and Laake for review. We will have the meeting with this group in January. Stay tuned for more details coming to you soon.

Anonymous said...

This almost brought me to tears..................., but I'm shouting and celebrating your victory. Remember my Grandmother's words "When you dig a ditch for someone...........dig two because you are going in one." Also, Be careful who you kick and hurt on your way up because you will meet them on your way down." Ms. Henderson's sleep should be interrupted with visions of your face. Be blessed and continued good luck.

Sheila H. Gill said...

Incredible and Best Wishes, Candi!

Continue to walk by faith and not by sight. You are a true example of a "Phenomenal Woman" from the bottom UP! I appreciate U for sharing your thoughts as well as giving others an opportunity to express their views in writing!!!

I'm confident that you will hold individuals accountable for their actions, too. Thank you for keeping us informed. I, too, would like to encourage others to stay connected and be actively involved. No PAIN, No GAIN!

Linda/RetiredTeacher said...

Question: Who makes children their highest priority?

Answer: The men and women who care for them at home and school make children a priority. Yes, parents, guardians and teachers. Who else would it be?

Anonymous said...

What is the status of the teachers who were terminated this summer due to license and IMPACT issues? Weren't their cases referred to an attorney before the new administration (you guys) came into office. If not can we sue Parker for breach of fiduciary duty and malfeasance? In this case really gross malfeasance? Does he have professional insurance that we can tap into?

Marvin said...

With each day, it seems Mayor Gray makes it clear that he will continue the Rhee-forms.

And his dashing son will soon be headed to a position in education, according to unreliable sources.

Anonymous said...

I am so proud of you! I feel a relief and support with you and Nathan. Stay professional and documentative.

Five To Go said...

Candi, you are a true leader. I too, missed your blog over the last two weeks. I am glad to see that this excellent blog site will be the official blog site for the washington teacher's union. Please let us all pray that mayor Gray will NOT keep K. Henderson-aka Miny-Rhee. I do not trust Henderson at all. DCPS needs an experienced Superintendent, not a learn as you go clone of Michelle Rhee. Please our school system needs experienced leadership.

Anonymous said...

Hi Candi!!! Thanks for your inspirational story!!! I try to encourage my colleagues that as long as you are doing what you are supposing to be doing as a human being and a teacher "the gates of hell should not prevail". Keep up the good work. So how are our friends at Takoma? How did the new school look? I have only heard great things about Principal Taylor.

Anonymous said...

Hi VP Peterson! This off the subject: Are Instructional Coaches supervisors ?

Anonymous said...

According to the Post today Henderson is unofficially Gray's pick for chancellor. Feeling so demoralized - is there no hope?

Candi Peterson said...

Reply to Anonymous @ 9:31:
Instructional coaches are not supervisors.

Candi Peterson said...

Takoma moved to Meyer elementary school looks pretty good. The WTU is still working on getting teachers their gift cards which was negotiated by WTU with the Office of the chancellor. We are also looking into filing claims for teachers possessions that were lost in the fire.

Tarrence said...

I remember this just a few years back, its crazy how much has changed since then, Spingarn hig school is even closed.