without a day off. Though their working conditions
were deplorable, Brown said, what finally drove
the porters to overcome their fear of organizing
was the tremendous level of
disrespect shown by their
employer, George Pullman.
Pullman insisted that
all porters be called George,
based on his own first name.
Pullman “didn’t even see the
need to call these men by
their own names,” she said.
The union eventually
signed a collective bargaining
agreement with Pullman in
1937, providing porters with
a living wage that made the job one of the most
desirable in the African-American community.
Through Randolph’s vision, the union grew
more powerful over the decades. But still, Brown
On Saturday, workshop presenters delved
into topics such as destroying the school-to-prison
pipeline, talking about immigration status in schools,
grassroots organizing, and diversity challenges in the
Luncheon speaker Clayola Brown recalled
her own activist background as a teenager working
alongside her mother to organize a textile factory in
South Carolina. Since then, Brown has committed
herself to working for labor and civil rights. In
2004 she became the first woman president of the
Randolph Institute, which is located in Washington,
D.C., and named for Asa Philip Randolph, who
organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,
the first predominantly African-American labor
union, in 1925. Decades later, Randolph was a key
figure in organizing the 1963 March on Washington.
In the 1920s, porters slept in baggage cars
and sometimes worked for three or four months
said, 50 years after the founding of the institute,
Randolph’s premise — that labor’s fight is indeed a
fight for social and economic justice — “is just as
much needed now.”
She urged participants to be activists, to build
honest relationships that help develop trust, and then
“expand relationships beyond your circle.”
Priscilla Bartley, a second-grade teacher at the
Horace Mann School in Newton and a member
of the Newton Teachers Association, said she
felt motivated by the “really powerful” keynote
speeches at the conference, as well as by a
workshop she had just attended called The
Mindful Classroom. She said the techniques
she learned during the session taught her to “be
present in the moment — not just in teaching, but
To see more photos of the EMAC Conference,
Continued from previous page
Randolph Institute leader urges listeners to ‘expand relationships’
T he state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has voted to place the Southbridge Public Schools into receivership.
The vote, taken on Jan. 26, was nine in favor,
with board member Ed Doherty abstaining. Doherty,
who represents labor on the board, said he could
not support the receivership process as long as it
removed workers’ collective bargaining rights.
As MTA Today went to press, Education
Commissioner Mitchell Chester had not yet named
a receiver for the district and was serving in that
role in an interim capacity. The Southbridge School
Committee has been relieved of its duties.
At a public hearing in Southbridge the night
before the vote, no consensus emerged on whether
receivership would be the best option, though there
was general agreement that leadership of the district
had broken down.
S outhbridge Education Association President Joan Sullivan spoke at the hearing and delivered a petition signed by union
The petition read in part, “As noted in the
DESE’s district review, leadership of the schools
is in disarray. With the district’s persistent lack
of a vision or coherent plan, educators have been
working with minimal guidance from the central
administration. Southbridge educators want to share
their expertise to benefit the district, and that will
only occur when there is stable leadership that views
Sullivan told the BESE that the district needs
more enrichment programs and wraparound services
for all students and that standardized tests should not
be the only measure of student progress.
Several SEA members spoke, making the point
that educators are frustrated and want to be partners
in moving the district forward. “We feel like we are
rowing very hard, but without direction we don’t get
anywhere,” said SEA Vice President David Williams.
As noted in a district report by the Department of
Elementary and Secondary Education, Southbridge
has had seven superintendents over the past seven
years, with similar turnover in high school principals.
The district is also lacking key positions. It does not
have an ELL director, even though the district has
approximately 350 English language learners.
Susan Grant, one of the district’s few ELL
instructors, echoed other SEA members in telling
the BESE that despite the challenges, she chooses to
teach in Southbridge.
The DESE will next begin to assemble a local
stakeholder group that will discuss what should be
included in a turnaround plan that will be developed.
The SEA will have representation in the group.
Southbridge is the third Massachusetts district to
be placed into receivership, following state takeovers
of the Lawrence and Holyoke public schools.
The SEA and the MTA are working to ensure
that educators in the district will have a strong voice
in whatever plans emerge — and that members’
rights are respected in the process.
The night before the vote, Southbridge Education Association President Joan Sullivan told the
Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that an improvement plan for the district must
include educator input and provide more resources for students.
Photo by Scott McLennan