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Chapter Leader Shoutout

Kudos to Sandra Amede, MS 61, Brooklyn

For pushing out a bullying principal
New York Teacher

Sandra Amede
Jonathan Fickies

“You can’t wear me down,” MS 61 Chapter Leader Sandra Amede says of her successful struggle to rid her Crown Heights school of a bullying principal and to rebuild a demoralized chapter in the two years since.

She was elected chapter leader in 2015 after a colleague noticed that although Amede was being harassed by Principal Shannon Burton like so many others, she was fighting back. After her election, Amede’s personal fight became a fight on behalf of the entire staff.

She fought the principal’s indiscriminate practice of putting letters in files and filed grievances on budget issues and on failure to hold consultation meetings. To fill vacant full-time positions, the principal hired per-diems and then didn’t pay them for the extra periods he required them to teach, she said.

“I warned him,” she said, “that I would continue to fight him as long as he violated the rights of our members and didn’t play by the rules.”

But it was when she noticed his absences and began to investigate that she hit pay dirt. Burton was missing until fourth period most days. Where was he? She turned her findings over to the DOE’s Office of Special Investigation, which found that he was working at another site as a professor.

In November 2016, Burton was removed from the building.

Equilibrium has returned to MS 61, a well-respected neighborhood school with a strong gifted-and-talented program. The UFT chapter under Amede’s leadership is also revitalized, with school-based committees staffed and functioning. “The library is full for monthly meetings,” Amede said.

“We’re well on our way back to normal, with a lot more staff coming to meetings — more than I’ve ever seen before,” said history teacher Rhonda Morman, who is a union delegate. “Sandra has earned the respect of staff for all she’s done.”

Amede, who has taught for 20 years, is “in a different place” with her new principal. It’s a relationship marked by cooperation, respect and a mutual agreement to “play by the rules.”

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