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Camille Falci, the pupil accounting secretary at IS 5 in Elmhurst, Queens, and the borough’s UFT Secretary of the Year, says it’s easy for her to go to work every day. “I love my job,” Falci said at the 31st annual School Secretaries of the Year Awards Luncheon on May 6 at UFT headquarters in Manhattan. “We’re a family.”
Members of that family, including social studies teachers Tamar Odabashian and Christina Vasilakos, came to support her. “They’re my ‘daughters,’” Falci said of the pair, who are about the same age as her firstborn.
“If I ever have a problem, work or personal, I know where to go,” said Vasilakos. “So many people love her.”
Such esteem was shown to all the day’s honorees, who were welcomed by School Secretaries Chapter Leader Mona Gonzalez and entertained by the Jazz Band from Pelham Preparatory Academy in the Bronx, led by teacher Steven Oquendo.
UFT Secretary Howard Schoor told those gathered that the union is “the sum of all our parts. You are as important as any other worker.”
What does a school secretary do? No matter what classification — principal, payroll, procurement or pupil accounting — Norma Gavillan of Fordham HS for the Arts, the Bronx Secretary of the Year, said not all of a secretary’s duties are in the job description.
“We are mediators … we are counselors … we are problem solvers … and we are friends,” she said.
Marie Brauer of PS/IS 180, a school secretary for 18 years, received the Goldie Colodny Award, the chapter’s highest honor for an in-service member. Named after the founder of the UFT’s School Secretaries Chapter, the award recognizes service to the union and the chapter.
Brauer saw faces in the audience that she remembered from the countless workshops and union activities she has been part of. “I take your words of wisdom everywhere I go,” she said. “I spread them out like seeds germinating.”
Laura Tamburo, a union special representative for salary issues and liaison to the school secretaries chapter who retired in 2015, received the Annette Carlucci Celebration of Life Award, given in honor of the committed unionist who was Tamburo’s colleague and friend.
“In the ’90s, Annette and I realized we shared the same vision — to unite all members into one strong union,” said Tamburo, who started out as a payroll secretary and was the first school secretary elected as a UFT chapter leader.
“We do our jobs with pride and we work tirelessly,” said Nancy Panetta of PS/IS 180, the Brooklyn Secretary of the Year. Panetta said she learned the value of a union when, after 23 years, she lost her job in private industry.
Tracie Fields of Eleanor Roosevelt HS, the Manhattan honoree, learned that lesson early from her mother, who was a Bronx para rep for the union. “All she talked about was the UFT, and we laughed and called her a union queen. I’m proud to say I have become my mother,” she said.
Rebecca Pietromonaco Mele of the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership, that borough’s Secretary of the Year, declared she is “truly my father’s daughter.” Her father, Emil Pietromonaco, was a longtime chapter leader who retired as UFT secretary last year.
“Secretaries must see the bigger picture,” Pietromonaco Mele said. “We need to educate and advocate and be more involved. We need to be a voice.”
What is your favorite winter-themed children's story?
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen
Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen
The Mitten, by Jan Brett
Total votes: 108