Anew MTA president and vice president will be elected on May 10, and I will end my tenure as president on July 15. This is
therefore my last MTA Today editorial.
Serving in MTA’s leadership for the past eight
years as vice president and president has been both
rewarding and challenging.
The rewards have been many, including pride
in the continued success of our schools. Over the
past eight years, our students have been first or tied
for first on the National Assessment of Educational
Progress exams in English, math and science. On
certain international assessments we rank higher than
Finland and just below Singapore. All of this is due
to the caliber of our students and the hard work of
you, our members.
But this has also been a time of great change
and big challenges. I have often felt like a captain
steering a ship through one typhoon after another.
During this period, we have experienced a
major recession and growing
public concern about the costs
of public employee health
insurance and pensions.
Nationwide, public employee
unions have been under
attack. Laws have been passed
in several states — including
Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio
and Michigan — making it
harder for educators to form
and sustain their unions and
exercise their collective
bargaining rights. Many state affiliates have lost
members and staff, as has the NEA.
In addition, demands for school improvement
have increased. Technological innovations have
exploded, changing how we teach and learn. Baby
Boomers have been retiring in record numbers,
bringing an influx of new teachers with new ideas
into the profession.
Despite these challenges, the state of our union
— the MTA — is strong and growing stronger. We
rode out the recession without any membership loss.
In fact, our membership has grown. Our MTA budget
is balanced, and the vast majority of our elected
officials recognize the importance of investing in
education and working with our members to improve
the lives of our students.
We haven’t been passive in the face of change.
We adopted a Strategic Action Plan that calls for
making our members the voice of education. We have
engaged more members than ever before and continue
to involve them through visits to local associations,
panel discussions, All Presidents’ Meetings, regional
meetings, member forums, UnConferences, regional
trainings, professional development opportunities,
social media, webinars and one-on-one conversations.
At the same time, we are trying to deal with
numerous new initiatives. Many of these are worthy,
but they are hard to cope with all at once. Topping
the list for K- 12 educators are RETELL, educator
evaluation, District-Determined Measures, Common
Core and PARCC. Higher education concerns
include demands to improve graduation rates and
balance the needs of our knowledge economy with
the needs of students on campuses that are full to the
brim and underfunded.
Believe me, I hear you when you say that the
work is overwhelming. I have carried that message to
the policymakers and leaders of our state and nation.
But we must move forward and be the architects of
reform — not the objects of it. We must stay engaged
in the policy debates and discussions that affect our
students and our profession.
This engagement is not only needed at the state
level. We need you as leaders and members to share
your ideas about your profession and the needs
of your students with district, school and campus
administrators as well as parents, political leaders, the
business community and community organizations.
If you don’t think your school committee
members are representing your interests, work to
elect better candidates.
If your local newspaper isn’t providing accurate
coverage of what your schools have accomplished,
write a letter to the editor.
If you believe that one candidate for governor
would do more than another to support your work
and your students, actively support that candidate.
MTA leadership and staff can support and guide
you in all of these endeavors, but ultimately it is you,
the members, who have the power to bring about
N ot all of our members agree with all of the decisions that I, the MTA Board of Directors and the delegates to the Annual Meeting have
made over the past eight years. We are a democratic
union of 110,000 members, and dissent is fundamental
to democracy. I welcome the debate. But when the
debate is over and votes are taken by the Board or the
delegates, we must move forward as one. That is the
definition of a union — working together as one.
I was elected vice president and president based
on a philosophy that I have been very public about:
We must be true to both our profession and union
Based on countless conversations, along with
member polling and focus groups, I believe that our
members want us to be both a professional association
that works on behalf of quality education and a union
that defends the economic interests of our members
— in that order. We cannot be successful in the
latter unless we promote the former. I believe that in
promoting quality education we have to be open to
new ideas. We don’t have to agree with every new
idea, but we also can’t say “no” to all of them and
remain relevant to our members, students or the public.
I also believe that seeking change through
dialogue and collaboration is the best approach.
Trying to force change through confrontation
should be a last resort, and it can only be successful
if we have laid a strong foundation for our
positions based on research, member engagement,
relationship building and political and community
My successor will face many challenges and
opportunities in the years ahead, including:
n What can we do to close achievement gaps
and increase graduation rates and college completion
n How can we build public support for more
resources for our students and schools, especially in
our Gateway Cities?
n How do we provide students with a well-rounded education that develops them as active
participants in our democracy while also providing
them with the skills they need to be prepared for our
n What new models of compensation can be
developed to attract and retain the most talented
educators and provide salaries on par with
n What improvements can be made in the
teacher preparation, licensure, professional
development and evaluation systems that will ensure
that educators are equipped to serve an increasingly
diverse student population?
n How can we end the perennial debate over
Commonwealth Charter Schools and work with
educators, parents and students to develop teacher-led and district-based innovation to reduce the
demand for charter schools?
n How do we transition away from an educational
system that treats all students alike and use new
technology and methods to move toward a more
individualized competency-based system that
challenges students and allows them to move forward
at their own pace?
I n closing, I must thank a number of people. Thank you, Tim Sullivan, MTA vice president, and Ann Clarke, MTA executive director-treasurer, for
your unfailing support during these challenging times.
Thank you to the Board of Directors and all of the
local presidents who give of themselves to advocate
for our members and students. Thank you to our
excellent and hardworking staff members, who always
put the members first. Thank you to all of my friends
and supporters who have given me the opportunity to
lead this great organization. Finally, thank you to my
wife, Susan; my daughter, Grace; and my son, Jack,
for making such huge personal sacrifices to let me
serve the members of the MTA. I believe that together
we have navigated these turbulent waters well.
Although I am term-limited as president, there is
no term limit on my passion for improving the lives
of our students through our schools, our colleges
and our profession. I will be an activist for quality
public education in some capacity. I hope to continue
working with many of you in the future.