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Caucus of WE reveals leadership slate and campaign platform

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Amy Roat, a teacher at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences, will head an insurgent slate of candidates to run against the established Philadelphia Federation of Teachers leadership in the union’s 2016 elections.

At the group’s boisterous second annual convention at Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Old City on Saturday, Roat was named as the Caucus of Working Educators’ candidate to challenge current president Jerry Jordan, who has held the position since 2007.

The other members on the Caucus’ slate are:

  • Vice president: Yaasiyn Muhammad, teacher, Central High School
  • Special vice president for elementary schools: Peggy Savage, teacher, Richmond School
  • Special vice president for middle schools: Kelley Collings, teacher, Feltonville Arts & Sciences
  • Special vice president for high schools: Ismael Jimenez, teacher, Kensington CAPA
  • Legislative representative: George Bezanis, teacher, Central High School
  • Treasurer: Pamela Roy, teacher, Thomas Mifflin School
  • Recording secretary: Eileen Duffey, nurse, Academy at Palumbo
  • Associate secretary: Tasha Russell, teacher, Wagner Middle School

The group, made up mostly of younger teachers committed to social justice unionism, has been organizing since early 2014, focusing on issues including educational and racial inequality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and testing.

Roat and Collings are leaders of an “opt-out” campaign in Philadelphia to resist standardized testing. Roat, an ELL teacher, and Collings, a 6th-grade teacher, were among a group of activist teachers called the “Feltonville Six,” whose effort led to 20 percent of the school’s parents opting their children out of the PSSAs this year.

The caucus has patterned itself after similar movements in which established union leadership was ousted in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Milwaukee. WE, as the group is referred to informally, claims about 300 members.

Members of the Caucus of Working Educators are: (from left) Pamela Roy, Eileen Duffey, Tasha Russell, Amy Roat, Yaasiyn Muhammad, Kelley Collings, Ismael Jimenez, Peggy Savage, and George Bezanis. (Photo: Samuel Reed)
During the conference, about 200 members and supporters attended a day-long series of workshops on topics like organizing, using social media, and grassroots fundraising. They then poured into the church’s main hall for a closing session that had the atmosphere of a pep rally.

“Do you feel like you’re ready to take over Philly?” shouted Tamara Anderson, parent of a daughter at Hill-Freedman World Academy, as she opened the session to roars of approval and a drumbeat of pounding on the backs of the church pews.

“I am sick of austerity. I am sick and tired of cuts that disproportionately affect Black and brown children. Status quo unionism has put the PFT to sleep,” said vice presidential candidate Yaasiyn Muhammad, a history teacher at Central High School.

Ismael Jimenez, a teacher at Kensington Creative & Performing Arts High School and a candidate for special vice president, said, “We’ve been waiting for Superman so long, and all we’ve been getting is Lex Luthor.”

The group’s platform was also approved at the convention. Leaders said it had been drawn up after a listening tour that began in September.

Larissa Pahomov, an English teacher at Science Leadership Academy and a coordinator of the tour, said that almost 1,000 teachers and other personnel had given input through meetings at schools, restaurants, and other venues.

The caucus’ platform includes the following planks. (Read the platform in full below.)

  • "Fight for a strong contract."
  • "Become a democratic, member-driven union."
  • "Improve transparency and communication."
  • "Fight for justice."
  • "Reclaim our status as professionals."

In a brief interview after the session, Roat called the movement “a freeing or a re-energizing of our union to create the schools our staff and our children deserve.”

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