California Educator

February/March 2020

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Page 47 of 63

A Y E A R A G O , Santa Rosa High School counselor Kris Bertsch-Rydell's questions to the district's superintendent and school board members led to her being punished with a notice of unprofessional conduct (NUC), threatening disciplinary action and termination. anks to the backing of her CTA chapter, students and the commu- nity, the veteran educator is now doing what she does best: advocating for students and her union, the Santa Rosa Teachers Association (SRTA). Santa Rosa City Schools management took issue with, for example, Bertsch's polite, professional emails to the superintendent, school board members and SRTA leaders asking for clarification on board policies on issues such as credit recovery, online schools and new graduation requirements for math. ey filed the NUC, claiming Bertsch's questions were inappropriate. "I asked to offer Pre-Algebra to make sure students are prepared. at was 'unprofessional,'" Bertsch said at the time. "As counselors, we need board policies as guidance for how we do our job. When I ask the ques- tion, I'm advocating for myself as a counselor to do my job, as well as for my students and my school." In addition to organizing activities in support of Bertsch , SRTA filed unfair labor practice charges. Students and colleagues rallied around her. e parties reached a settle- ment after district management agreed to rescind the NUC. e district agreed that its administrators would be trained on the union's rights and its employees' protected activities. SRTA agreed to join district administration, the school board and the California School Employees Association in a relationship-building process. "District managers also agreed to a training on the Educational Employment Relations Act," says SRTA President Will Lyon, adding that all of the advocacy mattered. "We resolved the issue and did right by Kris. Our members were highly engaged, and educators and the union are being treated with more respect." The union has your back For her part, Bertsch says she has lessons to share. "I am an educator, parent, community member, wife, colleague, daughter to aging parents, and a sister. I am exhausted at the end of the day and spread thin, like Vindicated and Validated Counselor wins fight against district with help from union, students By Cynthia Menzel most everyone else. Many times I hear from union mem- bers how busy they are and how glad they are that I had the time and energy to fight for them. I have no more time or energy than anyone else, I just prioritize and refuse to complain when I have the power to change my environment and advocate for my students. I can pas- sionately do this, because I know my union has my back. "Counselors are nurturers. We prioritize taking care of and advocating for others, often at the expense of our own health. District management questioned my integ- rity and slandered my name, all to quiet 'truths' that didn't shine a positive light on them. ey did this pub- licly to devalue my voice and intimidate SRTA. I was devastated by the accusa- tion, as my identity is so deeply seated in honesty, integrity, equity and justice. e experience affected my physical and mental health, and I was forced to ask for help. "Don't be afraid to ask questions or fight for students. Your union is standing up for you. is is why unions are so important in the United States. It's a checks and balances system between organizations and the workers who deserve safe working environments and a livable wage. " You shouldn't sit back and expect your union to do all the work for you. Become involved. Fight for your rights, the rights of your colleagues and the rights of your students. at empowerment makes all the difference, personally and professionally. "I was in awe of the level of student and parent sup- port I got. Many times, as educators, the only time we hear from a student or a parent is when they are angry or question your guidance, so I don't have a lot of expe- rience in accepting positive responses. When we are in the trenches, we often lose sight of our focus. "Reminder : It's all about the kids." " I can passionately advocate for my students because I know my union has my back." —Kris Bertsch-Rydell, Santa Rosa Teachers Association 46 Advocacy

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