A jubilant crowd of nearly 1,700 UFT members celebrated the dawn of a new era, with true education reform once again the focus of the city’s public school system, at the union’s annual Spring Education Conference on April 26.
The first New York City mayor to attend the conference in 20 years, Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed what he called the “natural partnership” between his administration and the UFT. “I am devoted to working with you to prove what public education can be,” he said.
Toi Ferguson of PS 686 in Brooklyn said she felt “inspired and hopeful” by all that she saw and heard at the daylong event at the Hilton Hotel, which kicked off with a 90-minute town hall forum featuring UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Hillcrest HS Principal David Morrison, who was there with the school leadership team, staff, parents and students, observed that the conference and in particular the morning dialogue that put students and teachers first offered “an exciting preview of what’s ahead.”
Mulgrew spoke of the “amazing opportunity” that the new collaborative partnership provides. He said that New York City is now the one place in the country that has a mayor and a teachers’ union as partners in the fight to save public education.
He called on UFT members to move beyond the frustration and harassment of the past 12 years and embrace the challenge of “being part of making the New York City public school system the best in the country.”
The mayor made a similar appeal. “It may not have been easy when city leaders said you were part of the problem,” he said, “but, from the bottom of my heart, you are part of the solution.”
De Blasio cited teachers as the heroes of the day that astronauts once were. “You are the only ones who can take us to the places we have to go,” he said.
After the morning town hall, participants attended a range of workshops on critical issues facing educators today and visited a large exhibit hall whose most popular booths highlighted the work of career and technical education high schools.
In her luncheon greetings, Karen Magee, the newly elected president of NYSUT, stressed the importance of mobilizing and engaging the entire statewide membership in the battles ahead. “Be the union!” she urged the UFT members.
Among the other union leaders and elected officials to speak at the luncheon were AFT President Randi Weingarten, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Public Advocate Letitia James.