California Educator

August/September 2023

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Natomas Teachers Association's Mara Harvey, center, and Nico Vaccaro, third from left, worked with parents and community allies to elect new school board members last fall. Powerful Change Natomas educators and community organize β€” and win By Cynthia Menzel "It's gratifying for members to see they live in a community that stands behind their students and all that the union wants to do for students." β€”NTA President Mara Harvey S T U N N I N G S C H O O L B O A R D wins, organizing for com- munity schools and working together to change a culture of toxicity in district headquarters were all triumphs for the 600-member Natomas Teachers Association in the last school year. But the real win, says NTA President Mara Har- vey, is "galvanizing the community to support teachers. It's gratifying for mem- bers to see they live in a community that stands behind their students and all that the union wants to do for students." Harvey said the "wins at the school board were huge. We won two seats with such high margins, and we ran against candidates who were funda- mentally opposed to much of what teachers stand for." The 60% pro-teacher vote highlighted the unity communities feel when educators work together for transformative change in our schools. "I realized that there is support, strong support, for teachers and students in this community." NTA Political Action Committee Chair Nico Vacarro did a stellar job of organizing the campaign, and especially developing a strong volunteer network from the commu- nity, Harvey said. "Every time we talked to someone in the community, a parent or whoever, we tell them we're adding them to the volunteer list." It's particularly effective with parents who ask what they can do to help teachers. " We simply asked people to walk with us during the school board campaign. We knocked on every door in our neigh- borhoods during the election because we had plenty of volunteers to make it happen," she said proudly. NTA worked with the Central Labor Council, among other community groups. The cam- paigns helped identif y new leaders, and that , Harvey notes, helps grow NTA and its leadership. These school board victories spurred numerous changes in the school dis- trict. A controversial superintendent with a history of bullying educators and parents decided to step down. NTA also successfully negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding on community schools, ensuring a path forward to establish shared leadership in Natomas schools alongside parents, students and community allies. Moving Forward These last three years were a huge learning curve for Har- vey, especially balancing her teaching and leadership lives. "Relationships and face-to-face conversations are key learn- ings. Listening and understanding what the real issues are and helping people understand they have the power to fix things," she says emphatically. "Sometimes peo- ple need outside support, but the vast majority of our Continued on Page 49 47 A U G U S T / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 A

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