Chapter leader shoutout

Kudos to Patrick Bernal, Marble Hill HS for International Studies, the Bronx

For ensuring members have a voice in school decisions

Patrick Bernal, Marble Hill HS for International Studies, the Bronx Revitalizing the UFT chapter at Marble Hill HS for International Studies in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, says Chapter Leader Patrick Bernal, has been an important learning process for everyone.

When he was elected nine years ago, Bernal said he found widespread misconceptions about the DOE-UFT contracts among both the administration and the young staff, many of them former Peace Corps volunteers. Many believed, for example, that block programming had been permanently approved when the school opened in 2002.

Bernal took on the challenge of “separating fact from fiction” and of educating members about their “right to be part of the conversation, their right to have a say.”

He explained that the contract requires that school-based options such as block programming be voted on each year by the UFT members in the school because that process provides them with “an opportunity each year to discuss what we may want to do differently as a school and what is important to us professionally and for our students.”

When the administration began assigning work to be done during nonteaching professional time that had been self-directed, the teachers at the school pushed back. “Teachers want a say in how our nonteaching time is spent to ensure that what we are doing has educational value,” he said. After a long struggle between the administration and the chapter to reconcile differences, a complex SBO now includes two assigned periods a week with the rest of the time self-directed.

“It’s been a bumpy road,” Bernal said, but he reports members are now informed and fully engaged in schoolwide decision making. The staff is now broadly represented on the UFT consultation committee, the School Leadership Team, the school’s PD committee and the school cabinet. He can also boast 100 percent enrollment in COPE, the union’s political action arm.

An ELA and English as a new language teacher for 13 years, Bernal taught in Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer before becoming a New York City public school teacher. He now serves as a model teacher, a role that has enabled him to mentor many of the school’s new teachers.

Science teacher Olivia Ramirez said Bernal has been able to forge a strong, well-informed chapter because he is so knowledgeable and because he listens to and supports members. Becoming a member of the Consultation Committee, she said, “showed me a different dynamic of how things work and made me want to be more knowledgeable about my membership in the union.”

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