New York State Attorney General Letitia James told UFT members that “you are superheroes” at the union’s Spring Education Conference, where she accepted the John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education — the highest honor the UFT bestows.
James, appearing in a video address, dedicated the award to UFT members for rising to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.
“To every teacher who had to learn how to set up a virtual classroom,” she said. “To every school counselor, social worker, psychologist and speech therapist who had to find innovative ways to take delicate, in-person therapy and instruction online.”
James praised the effort that educators put into rapidly developing a remote instruction system and making it work. “Without capes, each of you uploaded your lesson plans and came up with creative solutions to keep your students engaged,” she said. “Yes, you are superheroes.”
Dewey was a philosopher and thought leader in education during the early 20th century who advocated for the professionalization of teaching. Previous awardees include Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, the Rev. William Barber II in 2017.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the award is not given every year and “can only go to a person who we deem has gone above and beyond, backing the values we believe in and making a difference with real change.”
Mulgrew spoke of James’ long history of advocacy for public education as a member of the New York City Council, as the city’s public advocate and in her current position as state attorney general. She was receiving the award, he said, “for her entire life’s work and her soul that always shines bright.”
He singled out her involvement in the campaign to give all public school students access to free lunch. The DOE adopted that policy in September 2017.
“Tish fought for universal free lunch,” Mulgrew said. “She didn’t understand why one child could walk into a school and get lunch and one could not.”