07/24/2013

Plattsburgh, N.Y., team makes the most of TEACH

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Mary Lou Megarr believes her labor-management team has something that's unique. "This is not just a team of people. It's a culture," Megarr says of the collaboration between the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Teachers' Association and the Plattsburgh City School District. "We are used to working collaboratively, and that originated from attending TEACH," says Megarr, who is the president of the Plattsburgh local.

"When we first started coming to TEACH [previously QuEST], we would bring one or two members, but then we saw the value in coming as a team," says Rod Sherman, the local's former president. "Our participation in TEACH has opened up opportunities for the union and the district."

Plattsburgh team

In 2009, New York State United Teachers received a grant from the AFT's Innovation Fund to develop bold new initiatives in public schools. NYSUT is using the grant to look at teacher evaluation, and Plattsburgh is one of several NYSUT locals working with their school districts to develop the critical components of a new teacher evaluation option with the help of that grant.

"These are opportunities that we wouldn't have if Rod hadn't seen the bigger picture. Now, we are building on the legacy Rod has created and trying to move people forward," says Megarr.

"It's our past history together that allows us to continue our work," says Glenn Hurlock, principal of Plattsburgh High School.

This year, in addition to Megarr and Sherman, the 15-person team from Plattsburgh includes teachers, a teaching assistant, a school nurse, a principal, an assistant principal, the school superintendent and the president of the district's board of education.

The benefits of collaboration are clear on both sides of the table. "Our power and strength as a small school district is our ability to work together to get things done," says James Short, superintendent of the Plattsburgh City School District. Taking part in TEACH has given Short more respect for the day-to-day work that teachers do and the challenges they are facing.

"It's empowering to see the unity and the teamwork," says teaching assistant Lara Kinne.

Although time doesn't always allow for team members to get together in the days, weeks or months after TEACH, the bond created by taking part as a team keeps their connection strong. "Some of the seeds that get planted here don't get germinated right away, but the ideas don't get lost, especially if those ideas are good," says superintendent Short.

Paul Cole, an elementary school teacher, says coming to TEACH has been motivating. "We are all hearing the same message, and that is something we can all walk away with. When we go back home, we each have the same mission and that is to put kids first."

Other locals with labor-management teams attending TEACH 2013 are AFT St. Louis, Albuquerque (N.M.) Teachers Federation, Berea (Ohio) Federation of Teachers, Birmingham (Ala.) American Federation of Teachers, East Baton Rouge (La.) Federation of Teachers, East St. Louis (Ill.) Federation of Teachers, Kansas City (Mo.) Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel, Lawrence (Mass.) Teachers' Union, Meriden (Conn.) Federation of Teachers, North Syracuse (N.Y.) Education Association, Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Public School Teachers' Association, Syracuse (N.Y.) Teachers Association, and United Educators of San Francisco.

[Adrienne Coles/photo by Michael Campbell]