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Through a pandemic and beyond

As we look back on the unprecedented challenges of the past six months and contemplate what this coming year will bring, we do so with a mix of emotions that veer between polar extremes. The pain our students, parents, and educators have felt after being abruptly cut off from their school communities has been unprecedented. On the other hand, the stories we hear every day of PSEA members continuing to feed, teach, and serve their students and their communities are incredibly inspiring.

Throughout all this, it has been PSEA’s overarching goal to keep you safe and healthy, protect your jobs and benefits, communicate as clearly and as thoroughly as possible, and advocate tirelessly on your behalf. PSEA is here to ensure your voice is heard clearly by those making the decisions that affect you - from your building administrators, to the halls of the state Legislature, all the way to Washington.

“I feel like I have a really good support system at the local, region, and state levels,” said Central Bucks ESPA President Deneen Dry. “So that’s very comforting to know when I’m dealing with this many people.”

As the head of an ESP local with more than 800 members, Dry understands the importance of keeping the lines of communication open.

“Having everyone feel like they can reach out and get an answer or someone to respond to them literally within hours, if not sooner, I think that has helped the transparency of things. And it has been fortunate that we’ve done that. I don’t go 24 hours typically without hearing from someone. And that is such a relief. The support has been phenomenal.”

Thinking global, acting local
So many of the critical communication efforts during this pandemic have been happening at the local level, facilitated by local association leaders and PSEA Field staff. Our UniServ representatives have been working diligently to answer members’ questions, protect contracts, coordinate with local presidents, and help amplify and connect local issues and inspiring educator stories to the broader membership.

PSEA staff are there to support the local leaders who are working tirelessly on their members’ behalf to deal with issues they couldn’t even have imagined six months ago.

Leaders like North Montco Technical Career Center EA President Robert Catanzaro, who retrieved needed supplies from teachers’ classrooms during lockdown and hand-delivered them to their homes. Or Quakertown Community EA President Ryan Wieand, who sent out a survey to district administrators and hosted a comprehensive Q&A session with members based on their responses. Or Conneaut Education Association President Mechel Golenberke, whose transparency and leadership as a relatively new local president has led to a well-informed and appreciative membership.

Conneaut EA is also one of four locals that came together for the “Teachers Love Crawford County” fundraising competition, which has raised nearly $17,000 for community members in need and has been featured in PSEA member publications as well as in the news.

“While keeping myself both informed and involved during this extraordinary time, my local leadership team has maintained a positive relationship with our administration as we support our members,” said Golenberke. “I feel that our administration respects what we are doing as our staff rose to the occasion to finish our year online, and continues to make adjustments necessary while we prepare to welcome new students this fall.

“For all that they do, I appreciate my members’ concerns, and I want them to feel that they are being taken care of, and alleviate some of their worries as we return in September.”

A family affair
For Washington EA President Barb Jones, representing the 126 educators in her district as a union leader is about more than any job description could convey.

“I’ve been a teacher in our district for 28 years, I was a student in my district, and my parents were both teachers in my district,” she said. “So I am a true Wash High Prexy, black and blue. I inherited it in my blood. My dad was a football coach, and my mom was a teacher. So I really care about my district.”

For her, having the extended family of PSEA to lean on, especially in times like these, is essential.
“I feel like PSEA has been absolutely A+ when it comes to reaching out to the local level so that we could guide our teachers in the right direction,” she said.

In addition to constant, open communication with her UniServ, Jones greatly appreciates the Zoom calls organized by President Rich Askey between March and June to coordinate various locals across the regions and allow them to work together to find solutions to common problems.

Putting it all in perspective
If there’s one thing this experience has taught us, it’s the importance of flexibility. For Jones, everyone she’s interacted with seems to be doing the best they can in a fluid situation. And that’s really all anyone can do. It’s something she hopes everyone involved in our school communities can keep in mind.

And for Askey, that flexibility, combined with a single-minded focus on serving PSEA members, is what this Association is all about.

“When members need us most, PSEA is there for them,” Askey said. “We’re absolutely committed to that and that is what we’re here for. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re not going to stop protecting and supporting our members - not for a single moment.”