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Chapter Leader Shoutout

Kudos to Anna Willis, PS 896, Brooklyn

For restoring a union voice to a chapter that had none
New York Teacher
Anna Willis
Jonathan Fickies

It had been a rough few years for UFT members at PS 896 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The school had no chapter leader, delegate or paraprofessional representative, and an administration that placed excessive demands on the staff.

“There was a lot of turnover as a result,” UFT District 15 Representative Nancy Aromando said. “There were from three to five people leaving midyear every year, and a lot of unhappiness among those who remained.”

But all of that changed this school year after Anna Willis, a second-year, untenured teacher, took on the chapter leader role last fall.

“This is the first year that my phone isn’t ringing off the hook from that school,” Aromando said. “I haven’t had to bring anything from that school to my district consultation since December or January.”

As a participant in chapter meetings held by Aromando in the previous school year, Willis had observed that members were fearful to stand up for themselves. Willis began raising issues on their behalf in her regular UFT consultation meetings with the principal.

“I’m a strong believer that speaking up for what’s right can be done in a very respectful way,” she said.

Willis brought up the principal’s practice of sending lengthy weekly emails and asking staff to sign off on them several times. The principal would also print them out every Monday, which Willis called “a waste of school resources.” It stopped.

She pointed out that photocopy requests were not fulfilled in a timely manner yet staff had no direct access to copy machines. Now teachers are able to use the copiers prior to each school day.

Willis brought up in consultation that bilingual Chinese teachers were being forced to use their own time to translate the curriculum, which wasn’t available in Chinese. The principal no longer requires them to do that.

The newly invigorated chapter has a delegate and a paraprofessional representative now.

“Anna makes herself available even when she doesn’t have to and always has a positive attitude while doing it,” said Erica Ortiz, the new delegate.

Ivy Legaspi, the new paraprofessional representative, called Willis “the voice of reason” between staff and administration. “The staff are more confident and open to share their concerns knowing she will do her best to support us,” she said.

Related Topics: Chapter Leaders