The value of collaboration in local communities

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"When we engage and mobilize our members, we are making real progress," AFT President Randi Weingarten told convention delegates, kicking off a July 18 convention general session that included three local elected officials—all strong allies of AFT affiliates—who have been working with the union to help improve their communities.

Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym talked about how poverty and inequality lie at the heart of the injustices in our country. The answer is local organizing, she said. "It's a movement that I've been a part of. It's a movement that I've been a beneficiary of." She noted that the delegates' "love of our children is in itself a deeply political act. Now is the time to take to the streets and to the polls. We have everything to win."

Los Angeles Unified School District board of education member Steve Zimmer knows the power of community collaboration. The work that the school board, United Teachers Los Angeles and the school district did together raised graduation rates in the city by 25 percent. "The forces of market and corporate reform come after us because collaboration actually works," said Zimmer.

"We know that in order for the promise of public education to be true, it must be true for every child who comes to the schoolhouse door," he said. "The names of children may have changed but the dreams haven't changed. These are our kids, our schools, our dreams, our future."

Plattsburgh, N.Y. school board member Rod Sherman says years of collaboration between the school district and his union have benefited his community, too. Sherman was the president of the Plattsburgh Teachers' Association for nearly 40 years until he retired in 2012. Early in his presidency, his local went on strike, which resulted in unifying teachers with parents and the community. "We took that unity and worked to create a better school district for our kids," said Sherman.

Even in retirement, Sherman continued to work with his union and the school district. This spring, Sherman won a seat on the school board. "I am humbled that the community trusts me. I believe that those years of collaboration helped to build that trust."

[Adrienne Coles, Annette Licitra]