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NYSUT United November/December 2023

NYSUT United A Union of Professionals logo

Everyone has
educators who
inspired them.

Our Educator
Inspired campaign
tells those stories.

November/December 2023
NYSUT UNITED [November/December 2023, Vol. 14, No. 2 ]
Director of Communications: James Morrison
Deputy Director of Communications: Anna Gronewald
Lead Editor/Copy Desk Chief: Clarisse Butler Banks
Assistant Editors/Writers: Riley Ackley, Emily Allen, Ben Amey, Molly Belmont, Kara E. Smith
Photo Editor: J. El-Wise Noisette
Lead Designer: Nicole Clayton
Art and Production: Dana Fournier
Advertising: Andrew Watson
Online Communications Coordinator: Bryan Thomas
Editorial Support: Julie Malec
NYSUT United is a member publication of the International Labor Communications Association, Metro New York Labor Communications Council, State Education Association Communicators.
Editorial and Production Department: 518-213-6000 and 800-342-9810 (toll-free)
Annual subscription: $15. NYSUT members receive a copy of NYSUT United as part of their dues benefit. Households with multiple members will receive only one copy. If you do wish to receive more than one copy, please call 518-213-6000.
Address changes: POSTMASTER: Member Records Department, 800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110
UFT member address changes:
New York Teacher, 52 Broadway,
12th floor, New York, NY 10004
NYSUT United (ISSN 21587914) and are official publications of New York State United Teachers. NYSUT United publishes six issues from September to June.
Advertising: Email Andrew Watson at or call 518-213-6000 or 800-448-4ADS.

NYSUT Affiliated with AFT square space NEA square space AFL-CIO

800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110
518-213-6000 800-342-9810
President: Melinda Person
Executive Vice President: Jaime L. Ciffone
Second Vice President: Ron Gross
Secretary-Treasurer: J. Philippe Abraham

ELECTION DISTRICT DIRECTORS: Jeff Orlowski, Donna Walters, Darla Schultz-Bubar, Jennifer Austin, Adam Urbanski, Andrew Jordan, John Kuryla, David Chizzonite, Jeanette Stapley, Laura Franz, Joseph Herringshaw, Juliet Benaquisto, Melissa Tierney, Sparrow Tobin, Sean Kennedy, Anthony Nicodemo, Tomia Smith, Frederic Stark, Gregory Perles, John Mansfield, Kevin Coyne, Kevin Toolan, Laura Spencer, Karen Blackwell Alford, Carl Cambria, Mary Vaccaro, Amy Arundell, MaryJo Ginese, Mary Atkinson, Anthony Harmon, Michael Mulgrew, Elizabeth Perez, Victoria Lee, Richard Mantell, LeRoy Barr, Felicia Wharton (CUNY Higher Ed, PSC), Penelope Lewis (CUNY Higher Ed, PSC), Roberta Elins (Community Colleges), Alissa Karl (SUNY Higher Ed, UUP), Jeri O’Bryan-Losee (SUNY Higher Ed, UUP), Thomas Tucker (SUNY Higher Ed, UUP), Philip Rumore, Jaime Francey-Henry, Dora Leland, Loretta Donlon (Retiree), Joan Perrini (Retiree), Thomas Murphy (Retiree)

AT-LARGE DIRECTORS: Cheryl Hughes, Michelle Licht, Andrew Bogey, Brian Ebertz, Nicole Capsello, Michele Bushey, Natalie McKay, Matthew Haynes, Samantha Rosado-Ciriello, Cordelia Anthony, Ronald Verderber, Nancy Sanders, Debra Penny, Michael Sill, Sean Rotkowitz, Thomas Brown, Janella Hinds, Leo Gordon, James Davis, Frederick Kowal, Florence McCue, Priscilla Castro (SRPs), Kim McEvoy (SRPs), Angie Rivera (SRPs), Deborah Paulin (SRPs), Karen Lee Arthmann (SRPs), Anne Goldman (Health Care), Stephen Rechner (Private Sector Higher Ed), Andrew Sako (Community Colleges), Pamela Malone (Higher Education) and Andrea Vasquez (Higher Education)
EX-OFFICIO BOARD MEMBER: Tyrone Hendrix, Executive Director
HONORARY BOARD MEMBERS: Thomas Y. Hobart Jr. (President Emeritus), Andrew Pallotta (President Emeritus), Antonia Cortese (Emerita), Alan B. Lubin (Executive Vice President Emeritus)
AFT VICE PRESIDENTS: J. Philippe Abraham, Shelvy Y. Abrams, Jaime L. Ciffone, James Davis, Ron Gross, Anthony M. Harmon, Frederick Kowal, Kara McCormick-Lyons, Michael Mulgrew, Andrew Pallotta, Melinda Person, Adam Urbanski
NEA DIRECTORS: Serena Kotch, Dora Leland
Alternate Directors: Sue Raichilson, Melissa Tierney
Executive Committee members are underlined.

To Our

We all have teachers who profoundly affected our lives, shaping who we are or igniting a new passion within us.

Melinda Person smiles leaning in to take a picture with Ron Milligan
NYSUT President Melinda Person with her high school social studies teacher, Ron Milligan.
Melinda Person smiles leaning in to take a picture with Ron Milligan
NYSUT President Melinda Person with her high school social studies teacher, Ron Milligan.
I was blessed with many such educators. Mrs. Brock gave me the confidence to do math in second grade. Mr. Henry, my sixth-grade music teacher, encouraged me to use my voice. Mr. Milligan, my high school social studies instructor, unveiled the realities of educational inequality, inspiring my path in teaching and advocacy. They left indelible marks on my life.

The deep impact educators leave behind was highlighted in September when tragedy struck our NYSUT community. A horrific bus crash during a school trip took the lives of two educators from Farmingdale: Gina Pellettiere, the band director, and Beatrice Ferrari, a 26-year classroom veteran and retiree who had returned to mentor students. In the wake of their tragic deaths, we witnessed a massive outpouring of support from current and former students. The scope of their influence is impossible to measure, but it was clear that both of these educators touched and inspired thousands of lives. Great teachers live on forever in the hearts and minds of their students.

Top ring spirals


Oct. 28–Nov. 5

General election early voting

NYSUT Community Colleges logo
Nov. 3–5

44th Annual NYSUT Community College Leadership Conference, Saratoga

GO VOTE graphic
Nov. 7

General election

Nov. 13–14

NYS Board of Regents meets, Albany

Womens Committee Logo
Nov. 17–18

NYSUT Women’s Committee meets, Albany

SPR Recognition Day graphic
Nov. 21

New York State School-Related Professionals Recognition Day

Dec. 1–2

NYSUT Subject Area Committees meet, Latham

Dec. 11–12

NYS Board of Regents meets, Albany

Please note, some or all of these events may be conducted as virtual meetings.

On the Cover

Cover design by Mark Sharer.
[ Fighting for you ]

Vote Yes on Prop 1

Red Banner with Nov. 7th typography
Vote YES on Prop 1, because every student deserves opportunity typography

Voting YES for Proposition 1 corrects a decades-old unjust flaw in our laws. It will ensure that students in New York state’s smaller cities finally receive the same opportunities as those in other districts. Proposition 1 is about correcting a mistake and about fairness.

[ Fighting for you ]
red cancel symbol

Educators prevent book bans in two NY districts


ccording to the American Library Association, book bans are at an all-time high. For those who think it couldn’t happen in their community, meet Emilie Bastian, librarian at Clyde-Savannah Junior/Senior High and Kelly O’Brien-Yetto, an English teacher at Galway Junior/Senior High School.

Bastian had been a teacher in the Clyde-Savannah English department for more than 20 years before she became a school librarian. In 2022, she filled a post that had stood empty for many years and took on the difficult job of reviving the secondary school’s dormant library program.

“The library was in pretty significant disarray, and I was trying to fix it up,” said Bastian. “It had not been weeded in some time, there was a lot of older materials. I ordered new books and reconfigured the space.” She also drafted a guidebook to help the district deal with book challenges, based on existing school policies.

It was a project that would prove to be quite prescient.

[ Fighting for you ]

Horseheads school professionals voiceless no more


rganizing isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it. A group of nearly 40 school social workers, social work assistants, occupational therapists and physical therapists in the Horseheads School District learned that in August when NYSUT helped them unionize after a nearly year-long struggle.

For decades, the members were part of the Horseheads Support Staff Association, a catchall group of 10-, 11- and 12-month employees. The group encompassed 21 different job titles and negotiated contracts but wasn’t a real union. It didn’t hold officer elections or union meetings. The school superintendent appointed its president. And the HSSA didn’t represent employees in discipline cases or charge members union dues. Trapped under the thumb of school administrators, the employees felt their concerns weren’t being addressed.

“We were frustrated with the contract in 2022,” said physical therapist Alisha Tenbus, who spearheaded the organizing effort. She noted that the flat dollar amount raises approved across the board were minimal for those making close to six figures and since “the contract was voted on and approved by all the 12-month employees before we even saw it” it left the 10- and 11-month employees voiceless.

After unanimously signing cards to affiliate with NYSUT, the group sought voluntary recognition but soon hit a roadblock. The district claimed they were ineligible to join NYSUT because they were already represented by a union — the HSSA.

[ fighting for you ]

Commack security guards affiliate with NYSUT


t was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After decades on the job and unblemished work records, in early spring two Commack School District security guards were let go for a mistake their colleagues considered a minor oversight.

“One guy was in his 80’s and doing overnights and they basically bullied him to resign — it just wasn’t right,” said security guard Joe Hendrickson.

The action accomplished in a matter of weeks what Hendrickson and fellow security guard Tom McFadzen had sought for the last seven years — it convinced the guards to unionize. “A couple of guards were hesitant … but as soon as I mentioned the guards forced out, they signed on,” said Hendrickson.

The group reached out to NYSUT since “they work in schools and are more in line with what we do,” said McFadzen noting that, like educators, the guards’ chief concern is the well-being of students.

The 65-member Commack Security Guards Association provides 24/7 security year-round for the district’s eight schools and one district office building.

[ fighting for you ]

Homer TA members score pay raises, maternity leave improvements


omer Teachers Association members notched a big contract win earlier this year, negotiating long-sought maternity language, new stipends for coaching and advisory positions and healthy salary increases. Local leaders credit strong union solidarity, open communication and a positive labor/management relationship with the achievement.

from left: NYSUT LRS Deborah Lloyd-Priest with Homer TA negotiation team members, Karen Exelby, HTA President Robert Nasiatka, Mark Bertram, and HTA Vice President Jennifer Greenfield lean in together for a group photo
From left: NYSUT LRS Deborah Lloyd-Priest with Homer TA negotiation team members, Karen Exelby, HTA President Robert Nasiatka, Mark Bertram, and HTA Vice President Jennifer Greenfield. Missing from picture: Jim Baldwin, head negotiator, and Kevin Douglass.
“My favorite part is that we started early,” said Robert Nasiatka, Homer TA president, noting that 88 percent of the local’s 214 members voted yes. He explained that the negotiations team and administrators opened the contract a year in advance to hammer out hundreds of contract language changes before reaching the bargaining table. “It made the tougher parts of the negotiations, like money, go smoother,” he said.

Six months before formal talks began, the local formed committees to hear member concerns. “It gave everyone ownership in the process,” explained Nasiatka.

The early planning paid off. The team reached agreement after only two days of Facilitated Intensive Negotiations, a bargaining model in which both parties bring a targeted list of asks to the table with an eye toward reaching agreement within an intensive three-day negotiation period. The Homer TA’s new three-year contract includes annual raises of 6.5 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent. Negotiators also bargained 11 new paid coach and extracurricular positions. “We have many clubs running without stipends, sports with too few coaches, and we wanted to get stipends for the music and arts department and science extracurriculars,” said Nasiatka.

NYSUT Legacy Fund seal

Mari Martin,
30 years of union commitment

Mari Martin headshot
After more than 30 years as a tireless leader of the Livingston Manor Teachers Association, Mari Martin has done it all. She’s advocated for her fellow union members as president, vice president, secretary, grievance chair and negotiations chair. And even after stepping down from leadership roles in her final year of teaching, Martin remained a wealth of information and support for the current leadership.

“When members think of the LMTA, they think of Mari,” said Melanie Schwartz, who serves as LMTA co-president with Laurie Allen-Kuehn. “She is the heart, soul and backbone of our organization.”

To thank her for her many years of dedicated service, the LMTA honored Martin, a recent retiree, with a NYSUT Legacy Award.

“She will be deeply missed,” said Allen-Kuehn. “Mari, we wish you all the best in your well-deserved retirement!”

To honor an in-service or retiree activist from your area, visit

[ Fighting for you ]
overheated title

NYSUT assembles classroom heat report for legislators


his January, as legislators return to icy Albany, they will be confronted by a heatwave, with hundreds of educators taking the opportunity to speak up about spiking temperatures in their classrooms.

Each year, educators from across the state submit stories to NYSUT about excessive heat in their schools and how it adversely impacts their students. This September, with summer temps reaching an all-time-high, NYSUT assembled those personal accounts into a 200-page report, “Overheated,” which details the toll that excessive indoor temperatures take on our educators and students.

The report will be distributed to New York state legislators at the beginning of session to argue for the passing of bill A447/S3397, which would establish a maximum temperature in school buildings and indoor facilities.

“When schools are too hot, students can’t learn, and teachers can’t teach. Even animal shelters have maximum heat limits. Our schools do not, and it is disrespectful to both our students and educators,” said NYSUT President Melinda Person.

Faculty walk the hallways


In September, NYSUT President Melinda Person and Executive Vice President Jaime Ciffone visit Highlands Middle School in White Plains, to find out about their impending capital improvements. Temperatures were high, but the district is wisely investing in new HVAC and filtration systems across five buildings. Work is expected to be completed in Spring 2024.


Pathways to Leadership, MoCAA Project highlight NYSUT commitment to diversity, equity


he application window for the NYSUT Pathways to Leadership program is officially open. Offered through the NYSUT Social Justice department, the new initiative aims to support NYSUT members of color who are interested in taking on leadership roles within their union, workplace or community. The program was introduced at the inaugural meeting of the NYSUT Members of Color Affinity and Action Project, held virtually in September. The MoCAA Project and the Pathways to Leadership program are NYSUT’s latest efforts to highlight racial equity and social justice.


“The NYSUT Pathways to Leadership program is designed to support members as they work toward these goals,” said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, whose office coordinates social justice initiatives for the statewide union. “With a roster of four trainings, including an NEA Minority Leadership Training in Baltimore, it’s a demanding program. However, it’s a unique opportunity for participants to access a wealth of information and learn from experts.”

The project takes participants through a series of meetings, reflections, readings and discussions over the course of the year. Program content will be based on the interests and needs participants identify in their first meeting, so the work is tailored to individual goals.

The NYSUT Pathways to Leadership program will culminate with a leadership project and mentorship opportunities. The program begins Nov. 17–19 with an initial convening at NYSUT headquarters.


Educator-created foundation filling the gap in WNY community

Clarisse Butler Banks


or a relatively new organization, the Sweet Home Education Foundation is making a significant impact on the Amherst and Tonawanda communities — including some of the area’s newest residents.

SHEF started in 2019 with a mission to assist families and students in the Western New York community. The founding individuals were all educators, including several in-service and retired teachers and an adminstrator, said Lisa LaBrake, president of the SHEF Board of Directors.

Hunger was one of the many concerns board members shared. Shortly before the pandemic shut school buildings down, SHEF started a weekend backpack food program supporting 20 families. The SHEF backpack program is now a yearround initiative that serves more than 100 students with the support of LaBrake and teacher Bri VanHarrison.

“We provide breakfast, lunch and dinner on the weekends. Students come up with the menus based on what food we have available,” said LaBrake, a veteran English teacher and member of the Sweet Home Education Association.

[ resources for you ]
Native American actress Lily Gladstone on an NYSUT poster celebrating Native American Heritage Month

Poster celebrates Native American Heritage Month

NYSUT celebrates Native American Heritage Month, Nov. 1–30, with a poster honoring Lily Gladstone, a Native American actress of Blackfeet and Nimíipuu heritage. She grew up in Montana on the Blackfeet Nation reservation and made her 2012 film debut in Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian. She later went on to collaborate with filmmaker Kelly Reichardt in Certain Women in 2016 and First Cow in 2019. In 2023, Gladstone played a leading role in Martin Scorsese’s film Killers of the Flower Moon.

For her portrayal of a rancher in Certain Women, Gladstone was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and a Gotham Independent Film Award.

Gladstone is passionate about Native representation. She’s worked with Red Eagle Soaring, a Seattle-based youth theatre program that empowers Native American and Alaskan Native youth to express themselves through traditional and contemporary performing arts. Gladstone often sports Native designs on the red carpet, most notably at the Cannes Film Festival.

The poster is available to download at

[ OUR SRPs ]

Getting to know … Helen Barkley

Helen Barkley

Helen Barkley, a middle and high school teaching assistant, is president of the Warsaw Support Staff. She was interviewed by Angie Rivera, president of the Rochester Association of Paraprofessionals and SRP At-Large Director on the NYSUT Board.

Tell me about your job and why you love what you do.

There are many facets to what I do throughout a day, from working with my co-workers, with my students and being the president of my union. I am a teaching assistant and I love my job.

The administrators are a great group in my school, whom I not only consider my mentors but my friends. Co-workers are like my family. The students are a diverse group of children who keep me running in all directions and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As the students graduate and move on to their future, many of them still reach out to me and keep me a part of their circle. I feel very blessed to know I have made an impact in their lives.

How are you involved in the union?

I have been the union president for a number of years now. I feel very fortunate to be working with a group of people who voted me in for this important role. They trust me to do what is right for them and to be a sounding board as well as someone who will walk that extra mile for them. I have worked in many areas at the school, I have a broad idea of what everyone’s jobs are and how hard they work. I try to create an atmosphere where they know I am here for them and they have a voice.

How do you make a difference?

First and foremost, I try to make a difference in the lives of our students. We have students who need the extra love and guidance. They know I am available and will always make time for them. I support them academically, and supply them with school supplies.

Order your SRP celebration materials now!

SRPs Rise to the Challenge graphics

New York State School-Related Professionals Recognition Day is celebrated annually on the third Tuesday in November. This year’s theme is “SRPs Rise to the Challenge.” Celebration materials are available to download. Local presidents may also order posters, buttons and stickers. Stickers are also available for teachers to wear in support of SRPs.

Visit for celebration ideas and to download or order supplies.


Union offers members resources on dealing with trauma

Peer Support Line logo

ducators may find themselves in the difficult position of trying to make sure students have a safe space to process their trauma, while also figuring out how to deal with their own. NYSUT offers several free health and wellness resources for members. Our national affiliates also offer helpful classroom resources.

NYSUT resources
The Peer Support Line is a free service available through NYSUT Member Benefits for all NYSUT members and their families. The confidential helpline is staffed by trained in-service and retired individuals who can provide answers, resources and empathetic support when you need it. For more information or to speak with someone at the Peer Support Line, call toll-free 844-444-0152; to send a private secure message, visit

NYSUT members can receive one month free with a licensed BetterHelp therapist through our endorsed Member Benefits Discounts & Deals program. BetterHelp is a mental health platform designed to make professional therapy accessible, affordable, and convenient. These online counseling and therapy services are provided through web-based interaction along with phone and text communication.

[ Teaching & Learning ]

Why I teach

secondary-level English teacher Matt Haynes in a purple shirt and black and white tie


Matt Haynes is a secondary-level English teacher at Tri-Valley Central School in Sullivan County and president of the Tri-Valley Teachers Association. He also serves on the NYSUT Board of Directors.

When I was in eighth grade, life as I knew it suddenly changed: my parents — my two rocks still to this day — sat me and my two brothers down and told us they were splitting up. Being at the vulnerable age of 13, you can certainly imagine the emotions I was feeling. When it came to school, my motto turned pretty simple: keep my head down and fly under the radar.

Over my lifetime I have met many, many people who have had a positive impact on me. Thankfully, two of these people came around exactly at the right time: my high school science and social studies teachers.

Mr. McFee was my science teacher. What I most fondly remember about him was the absolute passion that he taught with. He made every lecture seem meaningful. The way he spoke, the passion he spoke with, was inspiring. I left his class with a newfound determination: to find something I cared that much about.

Mr. Walls was my social studies teacher. Yes, he taught me about history. But he also took an interest in my personal life. He would speak to me outside of class, generally inquiring about how I was doing. Quite simply, his kindness made me feel that I mattered.

[ a closer look ]

NYSUT campaign captures real impact of educators


t’s no secret the teaching profession has come under increased fire in recent years. Extremists are turning curriculum into culture war issues. Some politicians are seizing the opportunity to demonize public education and divide voters. Certain media outlets are amplifying these stories to stoke even more outrage.

Thankfully, these efforts are largely failing.

Polls show most Americans trust their children’s teachers and value public school education. And we know that almost everyone — regardless of age, region of the country or personal belief system — can thank at least one educator who transformed the way they see the world or themselves.

That’s why NYSUT has launched “Educator Inspired,” a sprawling new multimedia campaign to honor these untold stories and pay homage to the educators whose impacts ripple across entire communities.

[ Teaching & Learning ]

A happy note for Rochester music teacher


t’s a sunny August afternoon when elementary-aged children would typically be playing outside and soaking up the final days of summer break before heading back to school.

Zachary Arenz smiles wearing a patterned floral button up shirt and standing in front of the Flower City School No. 54; New York State 2024 Teacher of the Year badge

2024 New York State Teacher of the Year Zachary Arenz, Rochester TA. Students at Flower City School No. 54, below right, are drawn to the safe space created in his classroom.

Instead, a half dozen kids are not only willingly, but happily sitting inside a classroom at Flower City School Number 54 playing their instruments with Zach Arenz.

“The students always want to be with him,” said school Principal Demitria Lawton-Greggs. “He brings that sense of warmth and love.”

Arenz, who has taught vocal, general and instrumental music to students from elementary to high school in Rochester city schools since 2013, was named the 2024 New York State Teacher of the Year by the state Board of Regents.

“Zach has earned the respect of his fellow teachers and the affection of his students,” said Rochester Teachers Association president Adam Urbanski. “He represents the excellence and dedication of so many other teachers in our district and throughout our state. We are so very proud to be his colleagues.”

[ teaching & learning ]

JEDI Institute supports student success at Suffolk CC


he demographics of Suffolk County Community College’s student population are changing. Now, thanks to a joint program launched by the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and college administrators, its faculty and staff are learning how to change with them.

JEDI Institute participants sit at a large round table playing the Achieving the Dream board game “Finish Line"


JEDI Institute participants play the Achieving the Dream board game “Finish Line.” The game is designed to help higher education faculty and administrators increase their awareness of the barriers to student success. Teams “walk in the shoes” of 10 students as they navigate their journeys through college and explore the impact of college policies, practices and culture on student progress and success.

“Our students have more needs post pandemic, we have more returning adult learners and nearly 40 percent of our students now identify as Hispanic,” said Cynthia Eaton, FASCC secretary. The FASCC is led by NYSUT Board member Dante Morelli.

To keep pace with student needs, the FASCC and administrators launched the JEDI Institute, a professional development program that explores concrete ways to make the institution more just, equitable, diverse and inclusive — JEDI — for students. The program idea originated in 2021 during an April book discussion focused on equity issues that included the college’s chief diversity officer.

“I suggested developing a summer institute and our chief diversity officer wanted to do it,” said Eaton. “We’d tried establishing a diversity program before but nothing stuck.”

After drafting a program in collaboration with administrators, Eaton and the FASCC applied for and won a $35,000 American Federation of Teachers Back-to-School Grant. A JEDI pilot launched the summer of 2021 with classroom and non-classroom staff. The JEDI Institute incorporates many aspects of NYSUT’s Many Threads, One Fabric diversity, equity and inclusion teachings, such as “looking at issues of race/ethnicity, gender and class,” said Eaton.


NYSUT takes a stand against breast cancer


his October, thousands of NYSUT members across the Northeast stood strong against breast cancer.

Margaret Ward, a retired paraprofessional at PS 146 in Brooklyn and member of the United Federation of Teachers, has participated in Making Strides of Brooklyn for six years — long before her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer this past February.

“I was doing it all the time, supporting the cause, never knowing breast cancer would hit so close to home,” said Ward.

NYSUT has been a flagship sponsor for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer for 21 years and, during that time, members have raised $16.6 million to support groundbreaking breast cancer research, ensure greater access to quality care, influence public policy and provide critical patient support.

“NYSUT is proud to support Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. To all of our members who are facing down this diagnosis, we want to say, ‘We are here for you,’ and to all our members who have loved ones battling this disease, we want to say, ‘We know what you are going through,’” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, whose office coordinates the statewide union’s social justice initiatives and who lost one of his sisters to the disease.


Safety priority #1 for school bus drivers


s head bus driver for Sandy Creek Central School District, Amanda LaRock’s highest priority is safety, not just during National School Bus Safety Week, but every week.

“My goal is to keep my students safe, and to teach them how to keep themselves safe, too,” said LaRock.

LaRock, a member of Sandy Creek Professional Staff Association, has been driving for the district for nine years, ever since her children were young. Initially, she took the job so she could be at home with her children, but she soon fell in love with it and in time, the passengers on her bus became her kids, too.

Each day, school bus drivers like LaRock transport 2.3 million children to and from school. Many of these School-Related Professionals are out on the road before dawn, and crisscross the state taking students to athletic events and school activities long after night falls.

School bus drivers complete mandatory safety training three times per year, in addition to any training needed to get and renew their commercial driver’s license and endorsements.


Retirees encourage Floridians to stick with their union

NYSUT Union For Life logo

group of NYSUT retirees traveled to Dade County Florida in August to encourage United Teachers of Dade members to stick with their union. In early May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made it illegal for school districts to automatically collect union dues through payroll deduction and required that all locals have at least 60 percent of their members registered as dues payers by the end of October or face automatic dissolution. The NYSUT retiree activists joined volunteers from across the nation to help UT Dade members sign up to pay their dues through their bank accounts. They also encouraged them to vote yes on the union’s new contract. Spearheaded by Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar, and supported by the American Federation of Teachers, both efforts were successful.

Florence McCue, ED 51-53 at-large retiree director; Diane Torstup, RC 16; Caren Levant, RC 15; and Miriam Hanan, RC 43 retiree consultant helped register Florida unionists for automatic dues payments. McCue is pictured at the far right with other volunteers.

[ voices ]

5 Questions for…Sara Wadsworth

5 questions for typography
Sara Wadsworth

Wallkill Teachers Association


You teach sixth-grade math and English, but you’re also a mom, EMT and volunteer firefighter. How do you wear so many hats?

Whenever I’m asked how I do it all, I always jokingly say, “badly.” I suppose the real answer is with a lot of support and by figuring out one role before adding another.

Of all these roles, teaching is where I’m most comfortable. I’ve been teaching since 2007, but I’ve wanted to be a teacher since the seventh grade. There are always challenges in education, but I have a strong team of colleagues I can lean on to get me through it.

In 2021, my husband and I started off in the Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corps. After we moved to a district where firefighting and EMS was combined (Gardiner Fire and Rescue), we decided to branch out in that direction, too. My 6- and 8-year-olds have become accustomed to the pager going off and either me or my husband dashing off to the station on our designated night. They know it’s not every night and that people out there really need help sometimes.


Why did you choose to become a firefighter?

I always wanted to be a firefighter as a teen, but I suppose I thought as a small (just under 5 feet tall) girl, I wouldn’t meet expectations or requirements. That was silly. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

[ classifieds ]

Real Estate Sales

FLORIDA — BUY SELL rent. Specializing in country club, active adult communities and beach areas from Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and surrounding areas. Serving NYSUT members for more than 18 years. Call Elly and Ed Lepselter. RE/MAX Advantage Plus, Boca Raton, FL. 561-302-9374.
EXIT REALTY PREMIER Elite — Your Southeast Florida connection for buying or selling. Sheryl Volk 561-389-8670 or
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH — Three-bedroom, two-bath condominium. NYSUT discount. 716-830-4635.
MARCO ISLAND, FLORIDA — Three-bedroom, two-bath condo. Monthly, seasonal. 518-869-5422.
TEACHERS, TUTOR NEAR home/work. All subjects/grades/licenses. Long-term: 718-886-2424.
WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE — Old watches and vintage fountain pens. Watchmaker/collector pays top dollar for chronographs, automatic and vintage wrist and pocket watches, cases, vest chains and parts. Running or not, I want them dead or alive! Fountain Pens: Cartier, Eversharp, Montblanc, Namiki, Parker, Pelikan, Waterman. Email: or call or text Mel at 646-242-4720.
ARE CLASSROOM DISCIPLINE problems ruining your teaching career? Make classroom misbehavior a thing of the past. FREE book for NYSUT-UFT members. Act now! Why wait? Email: (Please include your name and address) or write: Free discipline book, 1941 Edward Lane, Merrick, NY 11566.
RETIRED TEACHERS! Grand Tour of Ireland, Oct.10-19, 2024. Organized by a retired teacher with Lingo Tours. Round trip airport bus from New Paltz, N.Y. Go to For more information, call 845-532-4733.

[ resources for you ]

Poster celebrates tennis legend Billie Jean King

tennis player Billy Jean King on an NYSUT poster celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning/Queer+ History Month
NYSUT celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning/Queer+ History Month, Oct. 1–31, with a poster honoring tennis player Billie Jean King.
King won 12 Grand Slams in singles, 16 Grand Slams in women’s doubles, 11 Grand Slams in mixed doubles and was a member of the victorious United States team in seven Federation Cups and nine Wightman Cups. King is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987, the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and in 2006 the USTA National Tennis Center in New York City was renamed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A longtime advocate of gender equality and social justice, King founded the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 in recognition of her work advocating for the rights of women and of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities; in 2013, she was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

The NYSUT poster is available for download; limited quantities are free for NYSUT members and leaders at the statewide union’s online publications ordering catalog,

Student loan webinars available

The updated calendar of student loan webinars is now available. Sessions fill up fast so don’t delay. NYSUT offers the webinars in partnership with Cambridge Credit Counseling. Thousands of NYSUT members have already taken advantage of this free union benefit.

The webinars feature a live presentation and Q&A session. A Cambridge certified student loan counselor will walk you through the latest updates and help you get on track. Attendees will also receive free access to the Cambridge Student Loan portal, along with the opportunity to schedule one-on-one counseling sessions.

To register, visit

[ passings ]

George Altomare

headshot of George Altomare

A teacher, passionate organizer and unionist, and a founder of the UFT, George Altomare died Aug. 20; he was 92.

George began his career in 1953 as a social studies teacher at Astoria JHS. He would later go on to help recruit high school teachers into the elementary school-dominated Teachers Guild, to create the United Federation of Teachers in 1960.

George created and led the UFT Strike Committee and Organizing Network. He served as the union’s vice president for high schools for 25 years, and later helped found the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter.

NYSUT members across the state were treated to his musical talents, as George could be counted on to lead RA delegates in singing “Solidarity Forever” to close out the annual convention.

George is survived by his longtime partner, Vera Campbell.

Kathryn DePerna | May 22, 2023
Fairport Educators Association

Beatrice Ferrari | Sept. 21, 2023
Farmingdale Federation of Teachers

Claud Henry | Aug. 17, 2023
United Federation of Teachers

Alice Jankowski | Sept. 2, 2023
Copiague Teachers Association

Ronald Mincio | July 14, 2023
Bay Shore Retired Teachers Association

Gina Rose Pellettiere | Sept. 21, 2023
Farmingdale Federation of Teachers

Carolyn (Cole) Reynard | April 18, 2023
Wappingers Congress of Teachers

Bonny Robinson | May 13, 2023
Half Hollow Hills Retired Teachers

Obituary submissions must include decedent’s full name, union affiliation, date of death, and contact info for the person submitting the notice. Send notices to Julie Malec, NYSUT United, 800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110-2455; or email

Quotes - Left
Quotes - Right


Quotable typography
“Solidarity is everything. There’s strength in numbers — always has been, always will be.” We stand with @UAW as they fight for fairness and a good contract. #StandUpUAW (@AFTunion)

In our library we celebrate banned books and share them with our community! #ReadBannedBooks #freadom #librariesareforeveryone @UABookBans @ALALibrary @NYCDOEOLS (@PS28Library)

When workers succeed, we all prosper. Let’s celebrate the victories that benefit us all, because TOGETHER we can achieve greatness! TOGETHER, we win! #1U #UnionStrong (@GPBrentBooker)

Becky Pringle
I want to recognize all the educators out there who prepare and serve school meals. You school lunch heroes play a critical role, making sure our kids are loved and ready to learn. #WeLoveOurESPs #NSLW23 (@BeckyPringle)

Locations The Band
Workers everywhere are standing up and saying enough is enough. These greedy corporations benefit from our division. Don’t let them win. Solidarity forever! #Solidarity #Labor #Worker #UnionStrong #1u #UnionProud #Teamsters #WGAStrong #SagAftraStrong #UAW #locationstheband (@LocationsTheBan)

[ Member Benefits ]

Assistance with credit & debt management available


he pause on student loan payments at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic helped to serve as a financial stimulus for many Americans. Consumers were able to use these additional funds to help meet other expenses such as mortgage/rent, car payments, utility bills, insurance premiums and credit card balances.

illustration of man and woman rejoicing with a flying money bag in front of a house
With the end of the student loan forbearance, though, there is a great unknown as we head toward the end of 2023 — are family budgets actually in good shape? During the pandemic (and especially over the past 18 months), consumers began putting more of their expenses on credit cards as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in an effort to control inflation.

Over that time period, credit card balances have increased roughly 17 percent while the average interest rate is now at 22 percent, putting a terrible strain on family budgets. Meanwhile, default rates on many types of loans are rising again and beginning to top pre-pandemic levels — resulting in a perfect storm of sorts.

Union members do not have to face this uncertainty on their own. NYSUT Member Benefits has partnered with Cambridge Credit Counseling to assist NYSUT members with better understanding debt consolidation and student loan repayment options.

Through this partnership, members have the opportunity to pay down their debt in a way that can actually result in significant savings without damaging their credit, which can occur when settling accounts or taking out additional loans. Instead of paying interest rates over 25 percent, Cambridge’s clients have paid down their accounts at an average rate of just 8 percent — creating room in their budgets to meet other expenses.

[ Your ERS Pension ]

ERS: Service credit for school district employees


ervice credit is a core component of your New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System membership. The benefits you are eligible to receive, and the amount of those benefits, are related to your service credit. For most members, your total years of service will directly affect how much your pension will be. Service credit is also a factor in the calculation of death and disability benefits.

Earning service credit

As a member, you receive service credit for paid public employment beginning with your date of membership. That credit is based on the number of days you work, which your employer reports to us. The number of hours in a full-time day is set by your employer (between six and eight hours) and reported to us.

If you’re a school employee working full-time, you receive one year of service per school year, even if you only work 10 months of the year.

For part-time work, your employer calculates days worked by dividing the number of hours worked by the hours in a full-time day. For example, if a 40-hour work week is considered full-time for your position by your employer, and you work 20 hours a week for a given school year, you will receive half a year of service credit.

[ Your TRS Pension ]

Prep for retirement by attending a NYSTRS seminar

Q :

I’d like to attend a New York State Teachers’ Retirement System Pension & Retirement Education Program (PREP) seminar to plan for my retirement. How do I register?

A :

Smart move. It’s always a good idea to get a jump on financial and retirement planning. Attending a PREP seminar will help you understand your NYSTRS benefits and provide essential retirement planning tips. Topics covered include information about your pension, disability coverage, loans, vesting and death benefits, financial planning and Social Security. The sessions also discuss estate planning and the general retirement process.

Free PREP seminars are held from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. statewide, but you must register in advance. For information, or to register, visit and search for “PREP” or call 800-348-7298, ext. 6180. When calling for a reservation you’ll need your EmplID or Social Security Number, email address and home phone number — and the same information for your spouse/companion if they’re a member and plan to come too. When you attend the seminar bring your latest benefit profile with you.

Q :

If I don’t want to attend a PREP seminar in-person does NYSTRS offer remote options?

A :

Yes, they do. During the COVID-19 pandemic NYSTRS produced video versions of the PREP seminar modules. These are posted on the PREP page of the NYSTRS website along with the PREP workbook, which is broken into chapters that correspond with the video modules. You can also set up a one-to-one appointment through your MyNYSTRS account. From MyNYSTRS, go to Tools > Schedule a Consultation to book either a phone or video consultation. Since appointments are usually booked several months out, there’s also a special scheduling section if you’re planning to retire this year.

Other online resources include NYSTRS’s Ready to Retire page with links to retirement-planning publications, videos and forms. If you have a MyNYSTRS account, you can also run projected benefit estimates and securely contact system representatives with specific questions. For general questions, email the system’s Information & Communication Center at or call 800-348-7298, ext. 6250.

[ Local Unions in Action ]

NYU ‘teach-ins’ school students about the union

group of UCAT members union


Union value is one of the first lessons taught at New York University thanks to the activism of the UCATS and other campus bargaining units. For the last few years, the Coalition for Labor Action by Workers and Students, a campuswide NYU pro-labor coalition group, has hosted campuswide “teach-ins” at the start of the fall and spring semesters.

“Teach-ins are an opportunity for each union to send a representative to tell students about their union, the members they represent and any issues impacting their union,” explained Stephen Rechner, president of UCATS, which represents 1,200 members at NYU.

As part of his presentation, Rechner brings copies of the group’s contract to help students understand the value of union representation and see what a contract looks like. “It’s important to put a contract in their hands to show them that it’s a readable document and explain how important it is for members to read their contract and understand their rights and benefits,” said Rechner, a NYSUT Board member.

Last year roughly 100 students attended the teach-ins.

Lansingburgh Teachers Association

Lansingburgh Teachers Association group dressed in Halloween costumes smiling in front of a school bus


Lansingburgh TA came out in full force to participate in a “Trunk or Treat” event designed to create a safe, fun place for students in the community. LTA members made up almost half the vehicles at this spooktacular event. The event had teachers and other local community members dressed up in costumes with their vehicles elaborately decorated, as students in the community walked around collecting treats. “It was great to see our students outside of the classroom and they get to see us in a different light. Something like this just makes the community stronger,” said Peter Allen, Lansingburgh TA grievance chair and a teacher at Rensselaer Park Elementary School. In addition to the sweet treats, educators handed out hundreds of books. The local is led by President Jason Blackmur.

Teachers Association of Cheektowaga-Sloan

The TA of Cheektowaga-Sloan teamed up with Teamsters Local 449 to establish a 24-hour freestanding food pantry in Cheektowaga near Buffalo. Dubbed the Little Free Pantry, the 5-foot-wide wooden unit stands outside the Teamsters’ headquarters at 2175 William St., and offers free nonperishable food and personal items. The effort is funded in part through the union’s participation in the NYSUT Local Action Project. Led by President Amy Kochan, TACS is a second-year LAP local.

Miller Place Teachers Association wearing pink to support breast cancer


Miller Place Teachers Association

The Miller Place TA was the top fundraising team at the Making Strides of Eastern Long Island walk in Riverhead on Oct. 1, raising $5,687 for breast cancer research. Thanks to the work of the many NYSUT locals who participated, donations from members representing Team NYSUT totaled nearly $10,000 overall, making it the top corporate fundraiser. The Miller Place TA is led by NYSUT Board member Nancy Sanders.


Kudos typography

It’s an honor

Nancy Kane, United University Professions–SUNY Cortland, received an NEH Summer Institute grant to study Jesuit physical education and ballet history through St. Louis University.

In print

Linda Bessellieu, Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association retired, has published two children’s picture books for early readers. My Protest: Please Don’t Erase Our History! is a nonfiction book against attempts to erase Black history. My Protest: If I Could Peek Into Heaven …To See What My Daddy Is Doing is a fiction about coping with loss. Both books are available at

Debra Burke, Schenectady Federation of Teachers, has published Reaching And Teaching Trauma-Impacted Students. This comprehensive professional resource is designed to support Pre-K-6 grade educators with transformative practices, strategies, and activities for building a compassionate and engaging trauma-invested classroom. The book is available at

Todd Feltman, Professional Staff Congress–Hunter College chapter, has written Transforming Into A Powerful Third, Fourth, or Fifth Grade Navigator of School Success. The book was published by SchoolRubric.

Somnauth Narine, United Federation of Teachers retired, has published Rage from the Backwater, a realistic fiction novel.

Jan Yager, PSC–John Jay College chapter, has published the first two books in her Fairy Tale Sequels series, Book 1 – Little Red Riding Hood and Book 2 – The Three Little Pigs. The books, available in e-book or print editions, feature a retelling of the classic tale, the author’s original sequel and activities for readers.

Kudos recognizes the accomplishments of NYSUT members. Have good news you’d like to share? Email; include Kudos in the subject line.

NYSUT United | November/December 2023

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NYSUT represents teachers, school-related professionals, higher education faculty, professionals in education, human services and health care, and retirees.

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Thanks for reading our November/December 2023 issue!