High-school vote heavy for Lynch-Walsh

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Deborah Lynch-Walsh won an overwhelming majority of high school teachers and more than half of elementary school teachers in her victory last month over Tom Reece, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

A Catalyst analysis of school-by-school vote totals shows that Lynch-Walsh won a whopping 72 percent of the high school vote and 53 percent of the elementary school vote. Overall, she got 57 percent of all votes cast in the election.

Traditionally, high school teachers have shown more militance, which grew as the School Board swept into a number of low-performing schools with its reconstitution and intervention programs. Elementary teachers were believed to have been more comfortable with the status quo. This election is the first in which school-by-school tallies were made public, a change Reece supported under pressure from Lynch-Walsh and her ProActive Chicago Teachers & School Employees Caucus (PACT).

Lynch-Walsh completely shut Reece out at 14 schools, Addams, Ames, Ariel, Holden, Kilmer, Morrill, Mt. Greenwood, Otis, Pickard, Rodriguez, Salazar, Stevenson, Stewart and Wacker.

This was the third run against Reece for Lynch-Walsh, a teacher at Marquette Elementary. Her slate of candidates also took 39 of the 48 seats in the union’s legislative body.

“We were simply getting out there and telling teachers that the election was about respect, recognition and resources,” Lynch-Walsh says. She credits PACT’s success to running a visible campaign—circulating literature and visiting schools to talk to teachers about issues she’s most passionate about, including reducing class size, raising teacher salaries and the need for the board to recognize teachers as professionals and partners.

At Otis Math & Science Specialty School, one of the schools that Lynch-Walsh swept, Yolanda Smith, a first-year union delegate and Lynch-Walsh backer, says she had to do very little campaigning for her. Teachers were more receptive to her than Reece because she’s recently been a teacher, she says.

“She’s in the trenches with us,” says Smith. “She’s involved with the parents, the community, the administration. She relates to us directly.”

Meg Conroy, a second-year teacher at Morrill, agrees. “She’ll be more effective because she knows what’s going on in the classroom today. It makes sense to support her.”

“This was more of a vote against Tom Reece than for Deborah Walsh,” says Jeraldyne Saines, a teacher at Nia Community School. “He was not in touch with his constituents.”

Other teachers interviewed by Catalyst expressed a desire for greater union activism in school reform and for higher pay.

Carol Gaul, a teacher from Cameron Elementary, supported Tom Reece in the last election, but changed her vote this year. She says she felt that concerns with teacher shortages, teacher quality and classroom size should be addressed by the union leadership. “It’s time for us to be more pro-active about education and not just keeping jobs,” she says. “We have to think of what’s best for our students.”

In the weeks leading up to the election at Morrill Elementary, some teachers wore buttons that read “Dump Reece.” One teacher cites concerns about salary and benefits as the main reason. “We’re not getting our due,” she says. Under the current four-year teacher contract, teachers received a 3 percent increase the first year, and get 2 percent each year thereafter.

But Stacie A. Wilson, a teacher at Black Magnet, says Reece is getting an unfair shake from teachers. “Everyone wants to compare Tom Reece to [the late] Jackie Vaughn, and he’s not,” she says. “He just goes about doing things another way. He still worked for the best interest of the teachers. With him, we always got something.” Wilson’s father, Melvin Wilson, is the current CTU treasurer and lost re-election to PACT candidate Maureen Callaghan, a school clerk at Stevenson Elementary.

A Lynch-Walsh supporter agrees that Reece suffered from the comparison to Vaughn, whom he succeeded when she died in 1994. “I think teachers thought that if he was part of the Jackie Vaughn regime, that his thoughts and his way of doing things would be in line with hers.”

Lynch-Walsh says the union plans to make a case for reducing class size to boost student achievement. She also plans to suggest that the board lift the city residency requirement in an effort to remedy the teacher shortage. Another primary goal is to establish an effective working relationship with the school administration.

“They started reform with the premise that it’s the teacher that’s the problem in low-performing schools, and we question that premise,” she says. “Involving us in improving our schools will be much more successful than just imposing reforms on us.”

“We as professionals need to have a say as partners,” she says.