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State lawmakers attend UFT forum

New York Teacher
Micahel Mulgrew standing in front of audience sitting at tables
Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew addresses the state lawmakers.

Assemblywoman Rodneyese Bichote speaking in front of people
Miller Photography
Assemblywoman Rodneyese Bichote asks a question.

The UFT welcomed newly elected and veteran state lawmakers to a breakfast forum on Dec. 18 to ask for their support for three union-backed education initiatives: the UFT Teacher Center, the UFT Community Learning Schools Initiative and the Positive Learning Collaborative.

“We do a lot more than a traditional union does,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said to the state senators and assembly members gathered at UFT headquarters. “We use millions of dollars of our union dues money to run programs that help children.”

One of these programs is the UFT Teacher Center, which has helped New York City educators obtain high-caliber professional development for 40 years. Currently, 116 schools across the city have a UFT Teacher Center inside their buildings, each furnishing faculty with the knowledge and skills to better serve their students.

“They teach; they provide feedback; they invite other teachers in the classroom so teachers can incubate innovation,” said UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus, the new executive director of the UFT Teacher Center. “Teachers love it. They need it.”

The UFT’s 31 community learning schools were another hot topic at the legislative breakfast. The initiative transforms school buildings in high-need communities into community hubs by enabling them to offer services such as health care, food banks and after-school programming that address their school community’s needs.

“We as educators understand we can’t solve every problem that walks into the classroom with each child, but we can design a whole system to address it,” said Mulgrew.

UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford pointed to the many indicators that the union’s initiative is delivering results. “What you’ll see are fewer suspensions, healthier children, graduation rates that are up and English language arts and math scores that are up,” she said. “And you’ll see people who are happier to walk into their school buildings.”

The union also highlighted the Positive Learning Collaborative, an initiative jointly run by the UFT and the Department of Education that shifts schools away from punitive discipline and works with the entire staff of a school — from teachers to cafeteria workers to school safety agents — to create a positive and inclusive school culture.

“In the end,” said Mulgrew, “it really is about training everyone to work together as a team in the school itself.”

He credited the Positive Learning Collaborative, which will be running in 23 schools in January, with a drop in student suspensions.

Mulgrew also spoke about the opportunity, now that the Democratic Party controls both houses of the state Legislature, to finally provide New York City schools with the additional state aid ordered by the state court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case.

“School funding is always the biggest issue up in Albany,” he said. “We just want it done.”