By Scott McLennan
O rganize to inspire. Inspired to organize. Either could have been the slogan for the MTA’s 2015 Summer Conference.
Held the first week in August, this year’s
Summer Conference was somewhat scaled down in
comparison to the events of previous years. But the
work that was done during the time members spent
together is certain to have a deep and lasting impact.
Those who attended conference programs in
Springfield and Natick found themselves being
challenged to rethink their ideas about organizing.
They also put theory into practice with visits
to MTA members’ homes and schools to discuss
important union and education issues. “It’s been a
converting experience. Talking to people one on one,
that’s powerful stuff,” said Heidi Lahey, president of
the Wachusett Regional Education Association.
Lahey took part in the MTA Organizing
Institute, a new Summer Conference leadership track
designed to help locals learn strategies to engage
more members in ongoing union activities.
Organizing Institute training culminated in an
afternoon of visits to the homes of members of the
Holyoke Teachers Association for discussions about
the state’s decision to put their school district into
receivership — and about the implications of that
decision for the wider community.
Lahey said she felt skeptical at first about the
effectiveness of face-to-face meetings with teachers
she did not know. But after listening to a few HTA
members, Lahey had a new appreciation for the
remarkable work that teachers routinely do in a
district whose students struggle with poverty and
Such field work was a new experience for
many others, as well. When Wendy MacMillan of
the Brookline Educators Union and Pat Partridge
of the Belmont Educators Association traveled with
a couple of MTA staff members to several HTA
members’ homes, the Holyoke educators spoke
openly about their concerns about receivership.
One pointed out that student growth in Holyoke
is actually better than it is in some surrounding
communities, yet that did not slow the state’s rush to
take over the district. Another detailed the devastating
effects of poverty he saw in his classroom. Still
another drew attention to failing discipline policies.
Both Partridge and MacMillan said afterward
that the conversations got them thinking about
broader education issues, particularly those they do
not routinely encounter.
H olly Silva of the Barnstable Educators Association echoed that sentiment during the Organizing Institute’s post-visit debriefing.
“It was great to go out, meet people and talk about
education,” she said. “That’s something that when
we have kids in front of us, we’re too busy to do.”
The Organizing Institute’s goal — training
union members to become better at identifying
what fellow educators see as problems and then
collectively coming up with solutions — was
also reflected in other Summer Conference
programs. Like the institute, longstanding tracks
for new members and new presidents took place
in Springfield, while the MTA Next Generation
Leadership Program was held in Natick.
“Leadership is about being with people and
listening and marching together,” MTA President
Barbara Madeloni told the Summer Conference
attendees during a reception on Aug. 3. “We need to
In his keynote address, Jackson Potter of the
Chicago Teachers Union recounted how educators
in his city used their 2012 strike to draw the
community’s attention to the dire consequences that
privatization has for public education.
Potter made connections between the
punitive use of standardized tests, the closing of
neighborhood schools and the proliferation of
privately run charter schools in the city.
He also talked about how businesses are using
loopholes to avoid taxes, thus robbing public schools
of vital funding. The striking teachers successfully
made the public aware of threats to public education.
Above, from left to right,
Heather Emerson of the
Association, Inna London of
the Framingham Teachers
Association, Mary McCusker
of the Westford Education
Mulroney of the FTA and
of the Medfield Teachers
in a program for local
leaders. At left, Jie
Frye, left, and Claretta
Community College Council
members from Bunker
Hill Community College,
attended a session of the
New Member Program.
Photos by Scott McLennan