Monday, September 10, 2012

OEA at the RA

OEA at the RA

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Reports from elected OEA Delegates to the
National Education Association Representative Assembly (NEA RA) in
Washington DC

Trish Gorham, OEA President

I have attended many Representative Assemblies, but this was the first time I headed the delegation as your President. That has given me the occasion to reflect on the OEA delegates you elected as your representatives to be a presence and voice for all OEA members and the students we teach. And represent they did. In a body of almost 10,000 delegates, the participation of the Oakland delegation was not to be surpassed. OEA Delegates were running for national office, debating at the mike, serving on committees and caucuses, and strategizing and forging alliances with colleagues from across the country. From the first meeting of the California Delegation at 7:00 am through the end of the NEA RA session around 5:00 pm, your delegates represented Oakland in a way that should make you proud.

Of particular pride to me are the faces you see below. I know that there was not a more diverse or inclusive delegation in the convention hall. We reflect the best that is Oakland. We are Oakland. And we are the OEA.


 Excerpts from reports of three other OEA delegates to the NEA RA follow

Relena D. Ellis, Ed.D - Early Childhood Education Teacher

Naming and Enumerating:  The Many Sides of Advocacy

The Oakland delegation to the 2012 NEA Representative Assembly (RA) remained true to form to their tradition of progressive, bold, advocacy for educators, children and families. I was proud to be a participant, and grateful for the votes of confidence from my fellow OEA unit members who made it possible for me to go as an RA delegate. Once again, California was the most prolific in introducing New Business Items (NBI), Resolutions, and Amendments, but OEA was still the relatively top runner in that arena. OEA’s NBIs, Resolutions, and Amendments questioned the dubious, negative, and sometimes regressive practices of school administrators and local, state, and US government officials. They also offered constructive options and alternative implementation of some of those practices. Some of the many issues that the OEA delegates introduced were opting out of testing, hiring of more ethnic minority teachers, allowing new teachers to exercise their rights as unionists without penalties, tax initiatives, student loan forgiveness, and various concerns with US military involvements.

Some of the NBIs, Amendments, and Resolutions put forth by our delegation were adopted by the nearly 10,000 delegates from across the nation, and some were soundly defeated. However, there is no doubt that California, especially the Oakland Education Association delegates, heightened awareness for many participants. One NBI that I introduced to the delegation had to do with “Parent Trigger” laws that had been adopted at the recent Mayors’ Conference. The RA delegation voted to adopt my NBI #12. The “Parent Trigger” law allows parents to initiate proceedings to reconstruct, remove, or replace the staff of an underperforming school. It also allows for the school to be transformed in to a charter through the parent-initiated process. It does not encourage the usual collaboration between the school site personnel and parents. It is being heroically portrayed in the propaganda movie, Won’t Back Down to be released at the end of September. 

Keith D. Brown
Social Media at the #NEARA2012 by @keithdashawn

The NEA Representative Assembly historically has been a huge tree-killing event with thousands of flyers, policy handbooks, and daily newspapers featuring new business items parading through the convention hall. However, this year in the nation’s capitol, many delegates opted to go “green” (environmentally, if not politically) by receiving information by tablets, smart phones, and laptops. Delegates utilized social media at The 2012 Representative Assembly. The official hashtag (a way of categorizing information) #NEARA2012 was used by delegates for restaurant recommendations, sharing photos of fireworks on the 4th, scheduling DC sightseeing trips, and making dates. Of course, plenty of discussion about policy debated on the RA floor was tweeted, also!

Some delegates and locals used twitter to publicize their positions on resolutions. Some hot topics on debated Twitter included a new business item submitted by the NEA Board of Directors on the misuse of standardized testing, a failed NBI on parent opt out of standardized testing, and a controversy around NEA leadership maneuvers to object to consider a NBI submitted by Oakland delegate Mark Airgood calling for the removal of Secretary of Education and Race to Top champion Arne Duncan.

However, Oakland delegates’ call for Secretary Duncan’s removal was loudly heard through the twitterverse as OEA’s “Dump Duncan” sign was tweeted and retweeted by many RA delegates and published on many education blogs.


OEA’s twitter handle is @OaklandEA. Let’s get some action on twitter this school year and make use of social media. Social media can be an effective organizing tool. We can use Facebook and Twitter as a way of connecting with members and becoming more relevant for the techies. #Oakmtg is a hashtag that is used in Oakland City Council and School Board Meetings. We can use social media to voice our opinion if a gavel tries to silence us at a board meeting. How can the OEA use social media to build a stronger organization? Please tweet your ideas to @OaklandEA or post on our Facebook page.

Jim Mordecai
Navigating the Maze: Amendments to the NEA Constitution

Last year, at the conclusion of the Chicago 2011 NEA R.A meeting, I submitted two amendments to the NEA Constitution to be voted on in 2012. The first motion was an attempt to get the NEA delegates to endorse, as an NEA priority, the defense of collective bargaining. The second motion was to endorse tax reforms that reduce the gap in income between the wealthiest and all other economic classes.

Because both motions were amendments to NEA basic documents they were printed in the NEA official magazine, NEA Today and the NEA leadership team from the fifty states (NEA Board of Directors), took a position on both amendments. At first, the Board of Directors’ position was to oppose both amendments. But, that position was later changed with the Board of Directors from California vigorously pointing out in debate that it was foolish to put leadership in the position of opposition to collective bargaining. NEA leadership changed to a position of no position on Constitutional Amendment 1. But, the NEA Board of Directors maintained its opposition to the second amendment. To get the NEA Leadership to change its position was a political victory for me even before the RA opened, as no organization likes to change an official position.

Unlike New Business Items that are voted on by voice from the body, Constitutional Amendments are voted on by secret ballot. After debate on the floor, 90% of the delegates voted to pass Constitutional Amendment 1 as amended: NEA will “promote, support and defend public employees’ right to collective bargaining…”

I withdrew the Constitutional Amendment on taxes, deciding it was a better fit as being submitted as a Legislative Amendment. However, it was defeated as a Legislative Amendment.

Representing your OEA colleagues at the NEA RA, the largest democratically elected decision-making body in the world, is a great experience. All OEA members should consider running for the next NEA RA in Atlanta, Georgia (July 1-6, 2013). Elections for OEA delegates will be held in March.

See, and upcoming issues of the OEA Advocate for more details.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trish Gorham’s Remarks to School Board on 8.22.12

30% of the Resource Specialist Teachers have had their assignments drastically and needlessly changed.

I don’t even entirely fault the technician who created this plan. She was given a structural puzzle to solve: maximize student caseloads and reduce travel time between assigned sites. 

So, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, like a Tetras game, and ONLY THEN were the humans considered. And if they had to be massively moved in order to justify the puzzle, so be it.

THIS is the essence of the rot at the soul of this district. As was demonstrated previously by the closure of 5 schools.

And I am NOT saying there aren’t structural changes that need to take place that WILL cause discomfort and pain.

But, until you put people ahead of process, people ahead of structure, people ahead of grand visions, we will never move forward in any meaningful way.

And what if the special ed student projections for the sites are wrong? With over a thousand students redistributed through school closures, those figures may prove to be wildly off. So the teachers move again?

Troy Flint, the District’s official spin-doctor, said there were “major shortcomings in the way this was handled.”

It’s okay. We all make mistakes.

Accept it. Own it.
Hit the pause button and rethink it.
Don’t, once again, double down on a flawed process.

Let teachers return to their original sites.
Take a real assessment of site caseloads based on real enrolment.
And THEN consolidate, as needed, putting the HUMAN, not structural, need first. 

For the sake of over 500 of our most vulnerable students and their families who are affected by this proposed outrage, DO THE RIGHT THING.