SWEA President’s Convocation Address

2018-19 SWEA Convocation Speech

Good morning,

I’m honored and happy to address you again at the start of another school year.

My walk up music, if you didn’t know, was School Days by the legendary Chuck Berry.  This was something I remember listening to when I was able to drive to school in my family’s ’65 Chevy Impala wagon.

I am very proud that in this audience, there are several teachers, and an administrator, who were once my students. Thank you for choosing our profession despite your experiences in my class.

There has been both constancy and change since my last convocation speech in 2016.  Back then, many in this room advocated the candidacy of Dr. Carter for President.

Unfortunately, the nation didn’t get a non-politician with common sense, compassion, and vision, who values public education.

Instead, we got Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who before her truly astounding Senate confirmation hearing had never set foot in a public school as either a student or parent.  She’s a billionaire who has devoted much of her life to taking taxpayer money from public schools, and trying to send it to private, for-profit institutions in an attempt to dismantle the public education system that has made our nation so great. The New York Times reported a couple of days ago that Secretary DeVos is now looking at letting school districts use Federal funds to buy guns for educators, which would be unprecedented, and reverses long standing policy,

SWEA and administration might not always see eye to eye, but I’m pretty sure we both disagree with this policy.

For over half a century of SWEA’s existence, our town has enjoyed an outstanding school system that makes this community a very desirable place to buy a home and raise a family. I know the South Windsor residents in this audience would agree.

This is not just a coincidence- it is due to the dedicated work of all of the professionals in this room as well as those who have gone before us.  What did we need to achieve this school system’s success for so long?

  • We needed to be compensated at a level that excellence deserves.
  • We needed to maintain a professional working environment in which students could be educated to their fullest potential.
  • We needed union representatives who were willing to give of their time to support their fellow teachers as they flourished as professionals

This is SWEA’s legacy, and it is what we, as a professional union, must do now, more than ever.  Across the United States, there are hostile interests seeking to weaken teacher unions for private gain, and diminish our profession’s quality and respect.

  • In states with weak teachers unions, salaries are $8,000 less than the U.S. average and $22,000 less than the CT average.
  • In states with weak teacher unions, class sizes can be as large as 50 students.
  • In states with weak teacher unions, there can be no paid personal or sick days
  • In states with weak teacher unions, there are often no guarantees for teachers returning after maternity or medical leave
  • In states with weak teachers unions, there is often no professional preparation time, no free professional development opportunities, or even no multi-year contract that clearly defines a future salary schedule necessary to build one’s professional career.
  • In states with weak teacher unions, there are often pensions that have a small payout to professionals who devoted their lives to a career in service to their students.

As I stand before you today, we have a STRONG union organization.  However, going forward, we all need to remember Ben Franklin’s admonition to his fellow compatriots at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

A successful union such as SWEA has always maintained a constructive and professional relationship with administration at each school building and with Ellsworth. We can only continue to do this with your continued membership and active engagement in our organization.

Tonight, SWEA begins negotiations with the administration and BOE on our next contract.  We begin this process with a STRONG union behind us, unlike in other states where teachers must fend for themselves.  We have achieved so much together.  Let’s continue to remain united and resolute during a time when collective bargaining itself is under attack across the country and even on our doorstep here in Connecticut.

Do not hesitate to call on SWEA for support to help you take the initiative to insure that all of us provide our students with the best education.

None of you will face your professional challenges alone, because SWEA is strong.  On behalf of SWEA and our Executive Board, I give you best wishes for a happy and productive school year.