Caucus challenges union leadership

Members of the Caucus of Working Educators (from left): Amy Roat, Yaasiyn Muhammad, Ismael Jimenez and Kelley Collings. (REGINA MEDINA/DAILY NEWS STAFF)

THE 11,000 MEMBERS of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have been lulled to sleep by inaction, says the Caucus of Working Educators, a group within the union.

And the caucus wants to shake things up, including challenging president Jerry Jordan and his team in next year's election. A group of candidates selected by the caucus' elections committee has embarked on a listening tour of the district to hear the concerns of PFT members.

"We in the caucus have begun the process of waking ourselves up. It's a call to emergency and action to shift the culture of the union," said Kelley Collings, a caucus member and a math teacher at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences.

"It's time to poke the sleeping giant . . . and begin to demonstrate what's needed for public education in Philadelphia," said fellow caucus member Yaasiyn Muhammad, a history teacher at Central High School.

Collings and Muhammad are two of the four officer candidates recommended by the elections committee to run for the leadership. Ismael Jimenez, a history teacher at Kensington CAPA, and Amy Roat, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Feltonville, complete the slate.

The Caucus of Working Educators has a mission to energize the rank and file in partnership with students, families and communities. Founded in March 2014, it has 300 dues-paying members, a mix of district veterans and newcomers. It reaches another 5,000 to 6,000 members through email. (Dues cost $20 per year for PFT teachers, nurses and counselors, $15 for secretaries, support staffers and non-PFT members.)

The caucus has focused on racial inequality in schools, increased transparency and democracy within the union, professional development and the fight against standardized testing, the teachers said.

Current PFT leadership "has not engaged in enough outreach and consciousness-raising to create a situation where large numbers of teachers are even willing to come out" to membership meetings, Muhammad said. Six general-membership meetings are supposed to be held each year, he added.

"I don't think I see more than two a year," he said.

When reached for comment, Jordan said that "the PFT is a democratic organization and we have elections periodically and any member in good standing has the right to run."

Elections, set by the executive board, will take place sometime between January and April, Jordan said.

The caucus will develop its platform from its conversations with PFT members, and on Nov. 14 it will announce its full 36-member slate, including nine officers and 27 executive-board members.

The caucus will hold a south regional meeting with PFT members and interested community members Oct. 2 at SouthHouse pub, on 13th Street near Shunk.


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