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OEA elections: a new leader, more calls for change

It’s election week for the Oakland teachers union, and that has extra significance this year. Betty Olson-Jones, the Oakland teachers union president since 2006 (since I’ve been covering Oakland schools!), has reached her term limit. She’ll be succeeded by Mark Airgood or Trish Gorham, who are running to replace her.

Olson-Jones has endorsed Gorham — as well as Steve Neat, Chaz Garcia, Vincent Tolliver, Janan Apaydin, Manny Lopez and Andy Young for seats on the union’s executive board.

Ballots are due on Friday. You can find the complete list of OEA candidates and their statements here.

A year ago, I blogged about a small group of teachers called Oakland TIES (Oakland Teachers for Innovative and Equitable Schooling) that proposed a new set of priorities for the Oakland Education Association. Four of the candidates for the 16-member OEA executive board endorsed by TIES members were elected: Kei Swenson, Toni Morozumi, Benjie Achtenberg, and Isabel Toscano.

This time around, a group of four candidates with similar ideas as TIES (which is no longer very active) — namely, about shifting the union’s approach and embracing a diversity of viewpoints — has emerged: Mark Hurty, Cary Kaufman, Marva McInnis and Angela Badami. Emily Sacks, a Redwood Heights special education teacher whom I interviewed last year about TIES, said she is endorsing all four.

Hurty, a second-year teacher and career-changer, even created a website for his OEA campaign. He says he feels the union leadership needs to bring more light and less heat in its dealings with the OUSD administration, that it should be open to new ideas (from revamped teacher evaluations to an online voting system to encourage participation in OEA elections), and that it should stop trying to advance its cause by maligning those at the other side of the table.

“I want us to be the big kid in the room,” he said. “We have such high moral ground under us that we don’t need to resort to some of the dirty rhetoric that gets tossed around.” (When I asked him for an example, he cited the phrase “education deform.”)

Do you agree?

Last year, fewer than 900 of the roughly 2,500 OEA members voted — less than half, as you can see from the results. How do you think turnout could be improved?

Do you feel well represented by the union leadership?