Kudos to Kristin Golat-Defendis, MS 51, Brooklyn
Kristin Golat-Defendis was elected chapter leader at MS 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in May 2022, nearly two years into the reign of an abusive principal. The chapter had passed a vote of no confidence in the principal that March, but still nothing changed.
“Someone has to be strong for everyone,” Golat-Defendis said of her decision to step up even though she was in the final trimester of pregnancy. “I felt called. I knew I was meant for that role.”
Faced with a principal seeking to divide and conquer, Golat-Defendis and a core group of trusted members fanned out to have one-on-one conversations with colleagues. Then she called chapter meetings where members shared their stories of mistreatment.
To fearful members, she would say, “We have an opportunity to make a change for the better. You can be a part of that and join forces with us or you can stand down and watch and always wonder when you are going to be next.”
“There was a big domino effect over time,” she said.
That June, when she was on maternity leave but in regular touch with her colleagues, 41 members of the chapter filed the largest union animus grievance in the UFT’s history.
The contract violations continued in the fall: The principal wrote spurious disciplinary letters against members who spoke out; he didn’t show up at monthly safety meetings even as safety incidents rose at an alarming rate; he didn’t show up or was combative at consultation meetings; and he violated members’ contractual rights on programs and professional activities.
Michelle Arniella, a special education teacher and UFT delegate, said Golat-Defendis “made sure everyone documented everything. She ran a very tight ship.”
The chapter’s members wore buttons and union T-shirts to affirm their unity.
On Jan. 30, 2023, the chapter could declare victory: The principal was transferred out of the school.
Golat-Defendis said the experience taught her that the union is its members. “When you have an organized group of people fighting for the same rights,” she said, “it makes you realize how much power you have.”