“Since I’m teaching in my own classroom, I really enjoyed reading about the inspirational work my colleagues are doing,” says UCEA Grievance Chair Pete Rizzo. “Improbable Scholars is really a great read.”
It is easy to sense the pride that both Rizzo and UCEA Interim President Dave Pressey feel for what’s happening in Union City. As officers in the local association and longtime district employees, they couldn’t be happier that the district has gotten so much attention over the last few years. Even before David Kirp came to visit, the district has hosted President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, as well as Governor Chris Christie (twice) and his first Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler.
For Pressey, Union City feels like home, because it is. An administrative assistant in the Jose Marti Freshman Academy, Pressey is a lifelong resident and has spent 20 years in the district, working at 12 of its 13 schools.
“We have a very good relationship with management,” he explains. “Even during difficult times we can generally work things out.” The UCEA’s current contract will expire in June 2014 and local leaders are hopeful that bargaining a successor agreement will go relatively smoothly. “It isn’t easy but we’ll get it done,” Pressey adds.
Pressey and Rizzo credit Superintendent Stanley Sanger and Assistant Superintendent Silva Abbato for working to create that respectful and collaborative tone.
“Silvia has made a point of involving the UCEA in the creation of the district’s new evaluation system,” Rizzo notes. He explained that the district’s professional development program is focused on making teachers better and features a turnkey approach. Administrators understand that the district’s human infrastructure is its strength and there is no reason to change what’s already working very well.
A high school language arts teacher, Rizzo has been with the district since 1983. He grew up one block from Union City. When asked if he was surprised that Improbable Scholars made no mention of the UCEA, he answered that he thought it was actually a sign of a healthy labor-management relationship.
“Too often the union is shown as the bad guy or is blamed for a lack of progress,” Rizzo notes. “It was nice to read about members of the UCEA getting credit for the great work they do for the kids and families of Union City.”