A step toward RESPECT

Seattle high school teacher Jesse Hagopian, a member of Social Equality Educators and a leader of the MAP test boycott at Garfield High School, lost his campaign to become president of the Seattle Education Association by 45 votes. In this article published at his I Am an Educator blog, he looks at the signs of growth in the fight for education justice in Seattle.

Jesse Hagopian rallying with fellow Seattle educators (Social Equality Educators)Jesse Hagopian rallying with fellow Seattle educators (Social Equality Educators)

THANKS TO everyone for your support for the Social Equality Educators' (SEE) RESPECT campaign in the recent Seattle Education Association (SEA) union election!

Our campaign generated more excitement than ever before--both inside the union and among social justice and education thought leaders who supported my run for president of the union. In the end, I came up just 45 votes short of becoming the next president of the SEA, in the biggest voter turnout in our union's history.

Given that no one I have spoken to can remember an incumbent being unseated in SEA history, and that I received more votes than were cast in the entire last election, it is clear that there is a new upsurge occurring in our union. I gave this interview to KUOW, Seattle's local NPR affiliate the day after the election summing up the results and laying out SEE's vision for schools.

While it's tough to lose by such a close margin, I am thrilled by the many accomplishments of this campaign.

SEE RESPECT candidates swept the high school executive board positions in the SEA, split the middle school seats, and won six seats overall! Dan Troccoli, the SEE candidate for treasurer, is in a special runoff election, the outcome of which we find out on June 4. (Please support our efforts by donating to Dan's campaign!)

Yet our campaign for RESPECT accomplished much more than just getting candidates elected. SEE set out with a goal of getting over 50 percent of the members to participate in the election--and we surpassed our goal, with over 53 percent of members voting. We said from the beginning that the most important element of a strong union is an active membership, regardless of who is running the union.

The SEA is becoming more active than ever, and SEE is proud to have helped sparked discussions and debates that have greatly aided in members' taking a greater interest in how to best organize our union. While there certainly have been some initiatives that the current SEA leadership has undertaken that have helped engage members (such as one-on-on listening sessions with members), there is no doubt that SEE is playing a vital role in activating the rank-and-file of the union around the key education issues of the day such as standardized testing, racial justice and the opportunity gap, and teacher evaluations.

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IN BUILDING after building across Seattle, candidates from the SEE's RESPECT slate explained our vision to hundreds of SEA members: The contract educators deserve, the schools our children deserve, and the city our families deserve.

We said that the contract we deserve would set caseload caps for our counselors and other Education Support Associates (ESAs)--something the district has repeatedly promised would happen at some future date and something our union has continually backed down on. We said that the contract we deserve would have fair and sustainable teacher evaluations that were not dependent on unreliable, curriculum-narrowing standardized tests. Unfortunately, in contract negotiations, SEA allowed Seattle to became the only city in the entire state to allow two measures of student growth in educators' evaluations, including the use of state standardized tests scores.

The RESPECT campaign argued that the schools our children deserve would replace zero-tolerance disciplinary procedures, which have resulted in African American students being suspended at five times the rate of their white peers, with restorative-justice models designed to help students solve their problems collectively.

We asserted that the schools students deserve would provide a holistic education that supports educators in promoting a multicultural education that is explicitly anti-racist, challenges gender bias and undermines homophobia. And we said that our union has partner with parents to make a public campaign during contract negotiations around lowering class size to achieve the individual attention our students deserve.

We were also able to make an argument during this election for the role our schools play in the overall health of our city, and lay out a strategy for our union to play a more proactive role in the issues--such as a $15 minimum wage, affordable transportation and affordable housing--that impact the families we serve.

Most importantly, in this election the Social Equality Educators helped to popularize a program that asserted that our union is strongest when we partner with parents and community organizations in a common struggle to defend public education from corporate education reformers. This idea was put into practice during last year's boycott of the MAP test, when we built a broad-based coalition that included the Garfield PTSA, the Seattle/King County NAACP, Parents Across America, the Garfield Student Body Government, hundreds of educators, and many others in the community.

The overwhelmingly positive response we received from teachers around the district to this strategy of coalition building shows the great potential for joining public education stakeholders in a common struggle.

The Social Equality Educators have only just begun in our quest for social movement unionism to achieve social justice inside and outside the classroom.

First published at I Am an Educator.