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by Michael Hirsch | December 20, 2012 New York Teacher issue
When it comes to the bulk of formal and informal tasks at a school — such as ably and calmly handling a distraught parent, preparing that key document or ensuring that everyone gets paid — it’s the school secretary who’s the gatekeeper, crisis manager and responsible grown-up who sees that the work gets done.
“Too often that skill is unrecognized or uncultivated,” said Mona Gonzalez, the UFT school secretaries chapter leader. “Our expertise doesn’t just come from brains and personality, but from skills training, too.”
Plenty of that was on tap as the School Secretaries Chapter held its annual training seminar on Dec. 8, which brought more than 100 school secretaries to UFT headquarters in Manhattan.
The day featured skills workshops, especially important given how secretaries’ responsibilities can sometimes change at a moment’s notice. A session on payroll operations was offered by school secretaries Connie Donahue and Marie Brauer.
Aracelia Cook, a school secretary and the chapter leader at PS 677 in Brooklyn, walked members through the responsibilities of pupil accounting, while Faye Huegel, Rita Prior and Nickie Zambardino offered guidance on purchasing. UFT Treasurer Mel Aaronson addressed the entire group on planning for retirement.
The secretaries also donated items for Hurricane Sandy relief.
Gonzalez warned members about the dangers of out-of-license personnel — such as school aides, parent coordinators, family paras and community associates — performing or misperforming critical secretarial duties.
“That is why it’s important that you file grievances, especially when a secretary retires and a principal replaces the retiree with a nonlicensed individual,” Gonzalez said. “Stopping that practice ensures the school runs well.”
Gonzalez reminded the participants that the union won a major arbitration based on the DOE’s Special Circular 31, which delineates the duties of a school secretary.
“But that arbitration win is just a piece of paper if you don’t file the grievance,” she said.
Gonzalez also addressed workload overload, especially at schools with only one secretary, and the need to file workload disputes.