New Haven NHFT Union Presidency Up For Grab As Former Teacher Of The Year Launches Bid

New Haven Federation Of Teachers (NHFT) Election Heats Up As Longtime Union President Faces Stiff Challenge From Below.
 
 
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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Oct. 29, 2018 - PRLog -- He has led the largest teachers union in Connecticut for more than a decade, maintaining a tight grip on the New Haven Federation of Teachers, commonly known as (NHFT).

But union president Dave Cicarella is about to learn the hard way that failing to advance the true interest of the union's membership carries a heavy price:  Cameo Thorne, current director of the school system's Restorative Justice Program – is mounting a formidable challenge hoping to defeat Mr. Cicarella in the upcoming election.

Mr. Cicarella's long record at the helm of the union – including a spate of teacher layoffs late last year, coupled with new executive hires with "no plan to fulfill commitment to the union" for administrator layoffs – has come under direct attack as union members clamor for change.  The district had about 1,930 before the layoffs kicked in, but is now down to a fraction of that, having lost a whopping 135 positions, according to sources.

The layoffs have been particularly painful and have triggered a host of logistical headaches for the remaining, ever-shrinking workforce as Cicarella bent over backward to accommodate changes and shakeups deemed not in the best interest of teachers – changes that critics claimed have led to significant spike in stress and anxiety among hundreds of teachers.  "Teachers are not valued for their expertise and that has created a much larger problem," said Thorne, who has vowed to introduce teacher-friendly policies that address the issue, if elected.

Her statement is backed by a 2015 survey among New Haven teachers that confirmed increasing stress that continually affect a significant segment of the teacher workforce as they struggle to handle more work with much less and "in contracted hours."

"It should be clear to everyone by now that the net result of the last ten years under Mr. Cicarella's leadership has brought nothing, but more teacher layoffs, with mandate after mandate from the central office, creating endless layers of impossible, inconsistent and developmentally inappropriate requirements," explained Thorne, the charismatic, one-time Teacher Of The Year who has vowed to bring a "fresh, nuanced, and innovative problem solving perspective" to the NHFT.

She also noted the union has not adequately advocated for public education – something she intends to change if elected president.  "Under my leadership, members will not only have a union that asks about their needs and work with everyone to meet them, but one that also partner with families and community on our shared interests," stated Thorne, who sees the role of the union president as one  of advocacy as well.  "Public education will be among my top priorities."

Slated for December 4, the election has drawn three candidates, including union executive vice president Tom Burns, who has served alongside Mr. Cicarella for years and is not seen as an agent of change as he remained part of the status quo, according to critics.  "He's been there next to Cicarella and has done nothing to stop him with these layoffs," according to one of the teachers.

That leaves Cameo Thorne as the most likely successor to Mr. Cicarella, who has been blamed for low teacher moral, massive teacher layoffs as well as a management style that failed to sync with teachers expectation.  Thorne's in-your-face approach is being lauded across the board by fellow teachers thirsty for change.

Sheryl Hershonik, a former principal at Worthington Hooker School who has known Mr. Thorne for decades, believes Cameo Thorne has what it takes to be an effective union president, saying her work over years speaks for itself.  "Her extensive work over the years with both teachers and students lend critical support to her mission of providing the best teaching-and-learning environment for all," explained Hershonik.

A former executive board member of NHFT herself, Hershonik recalled that as a teacher, "Ms. Thorne challenged students to think critically and review all sides of an issue before making decisions – work that continues today as the lead trainer for the Restorative Justice Program."

"She has supported and worked for positive work environment, understanding that when teachers are respected, supported, engaged, heard and allowed to innovate and create in the classroom, students remain engaged and are challenged to do their best," she added, noting, "her work as part of the leadership team of the teacher-run HSC speaks to her commitment to a quality work environment for teachers and to providing the best opportunities for student learning."

Through her campaign for the presidency, Ms. Thorne has already rattled off a long list of priorities she intends to tackle in the first few weeks, including sustained advocacy for "smaller class size, respect for teachers and increasing support for what she described as "work-life balance" initiatives.  "As president, I will implement policies that allow the union to ask about your needs first and works with everyone to meet them," she said, noting that it is vital that the union leadership "partner with families and community on shared interests. "

An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers local 933, the New Haven Federation of Teachers remains one of Connecticut's largest teachers union, at one point boasting almost two thousand teachers.  Its current assets are estimated at a little over half a million dollars with executive and administrative staff numbering around 30 employees.
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