Oakland teachers propose new platform for union

They call themselves Oakland Teachers for Innovative and Equitable Schooling, or Oakland TIES. Their platform (which I posted in full, below) calls for better teacher retention, a more representative union, greater teacher control over working conditions, needs-based funding allocations, and union involvement in revamping teacher evaluations.

The small group — it has five core members — has encouraged like-minded candidates to run for a seat on the Oakland Education Association’s executive board in May.

Emily Sacks, a special education teacher at Redwood Heights Elementary and Manzanita Community School, said TIES is not a splinter group, despite fears to the contrary, and that it’s not affiliated with any outside organizations. (Great Oakland Public Schools has also taken an interest in executive board elections, but Sacks said there wasn’t a connection.)

“Really, it was about how we strengthen the union by getting more voices into the mix,” she said.

The OEA’s executive board has pushed for smaller class sizes, particularly in flatlands schools, and for other policies that affect the daily lives of classroom teachers and their students. But the volunteer board also gets involved in causes that relate less directly to the working conditions of its members — taking a stand against the Fruitvale gang injunction, for one, or protesting the federal bailouts of banks.

And the union’s leadership did not support school parcel tax campaigns in 2008 and 2010, though the extra revenue would have raised millions of dollars a year for its members’ paychecks.

“I just don’t feel like I know what the union does for me,” Sacks said.

Sacks said she feels strongly that it’s the responsibility of members to make sure their union is representative. So she began meeting with other teachers, including Greg Cluster from Metwest and Karen Pezzetti from LIFE Academy, to see if they could figure out how to boost participation in the OEA. They began with this question: “If there were different issues at the forefront of the union conversation, would more people get involved, and more enthusiastically involved?”

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Student-teaching in Oakland

I recently visited Sobrante Park Elementary School, and when I stopped by Michelle Ramos-Stokes’ second-grade classroom, I observed a class ritual — a language arts drill led by 8-year-old Shelly Currington. She seemed quite at ease in front of the class.

I caught some of the lesson on my trusty Flip camera. Enjoy.