When legislation passed in the 2013 General Assembly that changed the way public schools operate in Prince George’s County, lots of people had lots to say about it. The restructuring placed County Executive Rushern Baker in the driver’s seat of county schools and created a hybrid school board with some elected members, and some, including the superintendent, appointed by Baker.
Educators took notice. Now the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association (PGCEA) would be negotiating their contracts—working conditions, salaries, and benefits—with a school board loaded with county executive appointees. The Faculty Advisory Council (FAC) at High Point High School decided not to wait around to see what was coming next.
With the support of MSEA’s Innovative Engagement and Organizing Grant, the team at High Point took a vision of an active, connected, and collaborative team of professionals and built an organizing program to make leaders of educators across the age and career spectrum.
“When we say organize we mean not only to engage, but to agitate; not only to educate, but to mobilize; not only to bridge the gap, but to spur teachers to action,” said Alyson Harkins, a teacher at High Point and a member of the council. “Paying lip service to being pro-union is no longer enough. We must be able to move people to action.
“We expect challenges. The Organizing for Power program is about training our FAC to build strong collegial relationships with PGCEA members, setting the stage for coming together as one strong, powerful voice,” Harkins added. “We’ve already contacted colleagues from surrounding schools to join us.”
Two of three team workshops are behind them now—with guest speakers and organizers from professional labor and community groups sharing time-tested and new relationship-building tips and tutorials on how to engage members and prep them for a high-level campaign or action.
“We’re imagining a new scenario for PGCEA,” said Tawana Lane, a member of the council and PGCEA’s board of directors.
“If our careers or professionalism are threatened, we want to see our union springing into action, mobilizing thousands of members, visiting legislators’ offices, and organizing with the PTA, neighborhood associations, and fellow union members.
“Is such a scenario possible? Not only is it possible,” added Lane, “it is imperative, if teachers’ unions are to survive.”