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Building new leaders, policy advocates for our union and beyond

Have you ever thought, “Who made up this policy? Have they even been in a classroom in the past decade?” If you answered yes, the CTU Teacher Leader Policy Fellowship is the program for you.

A key problem in education policy today is the lack of input from current classroom teachers, which is why for the past two years the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has sponsored a Teacher Leader Policy Fellowship within CTU. This eight-month program, designed to help grow members’ leadership and policy skills, helps classroom teachers translate their classroom knowledge into actionable policy.

The CTU/AFT fellowship provides educators with opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills to influence education policy. This includes framing practical policy positions that relate to improved student achievement, conducting research in classrooms and schools, engaging school communities and elected officials in conversations about education, and developing policy recommendations based on that research.

Prior year fellows have examined anti-racist teaching, principal effectiveness, retention of veteran teachers, language barriers on participation of Latinx families in local school communities, lack of SPED services, and lack of city and state funding, among other topics. Their research is aided by a variety of experts, such as professor Eve Ewing, education reporter Sara Karp, CTU leadership, and state legislators such as Rob Martwick, Celina Villanueva, Ram Villivalam, Omar Aquino and Robert Peters.

“Our Union is best known for its advocacy work through organizing in our school buildings and communities,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said. “The Policy Fellowship will help us grow and distribute CTU leadership—and these new leaders will support our organizing, legislative and contract campaigns, making us stronger and more unified as a Union.”

The brain child of CTU Policy Director Kurt Hilgendorf and Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson, the fellowship began in 2018 with 12 members and continued through 2019 with 12 more. The 2020 school year is like no other so CTU has selected a new cohort of fellows to learn how to influence education policy in these trying times.

The program is co-facilitated by previous fellows James Staros and Paula Barajas—which is a perfect example of how CTU intended the program to grow and distribute leadership. Past fellows from 2018 and 2019 cohorts have taken leadership roles at CTU as organizers, field reps, committee chairs, school delegates, Executive Board Members, and members of Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) committees.

If you are interested in learning more about this fellowship for the next round of cohorts, Kurt Hilgendorf, Paula Barajas, or Jim Staros for more information.

Jim Staros is a former high school social studies teacher and now a CTU field rep. Paula Barajas is a special education teacher at Rudy Lozano Elementary School.