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Our PSRPs can be powerful change agents but only if we speak up loud and proud

In many ways, the beginning of this new school year feels the same as other years.

Our clerks, the backbone of our school communities, were the first ones to return to work. A week later our PSRPs and educators joined them and this week our students returned. We’re excited to get back to our buildings, to see our colleagues and students and to anticipate all the new year has to offer. 

But, in other ways, this year is different.

To start, we’re heading into our buildings with a safety agreement in place with our boss. Last year, our clerks bravely led the fight for safety by refusing to return to buildings without adequate COVID mitigations. This year, COVID is no longer wreaking havoc on our school communities and it seems we’ve convinced CPS — at least for the moment — to work with us instead of against us when it comes to safety.

That’s not to say we won’t have problems and conflicts in our buildings. We will. But, the key to surviving those challenges this year is the same as it’s always been: our solidarity and unity. As a PSRP for life, and a former school clerk, I’ve got a few tips to offer for surviving the new school year:

  • Get to know your delegate. Share your concerns and ideas for improving the working and learning conditions in your school. Collaborate with them on projects and events to build solidarity and unity in your building. Help them organize union meetings and encourage other PSRPs to get involved, too.
  • Be an active CTU member. Join a CTU committee. Attend and speak up at your PPC, PPLC  and Local School Council (LSC) meetings. Consider joining those committees or running for the LSC in the next election. The PPC (Professional Problems Committee) helps us enforce our contract and the PPLC (Professional Personnel Leadership Committee) provides a powerful opportunity for members to lead the discussion on curriculum and instruction.
  • Reach out to your school’s miscellaneous workers. With budget cuts, many principles are turning to miscellaneous workers — parents and even laid off CTU members  — to do our jobs because they cost less. But these workers can and should join the CTU to receive the better pay and benefits we’ve fought so hard for. Explain the advantages of union membership and ask them to sign a union card.
  • Get to know your school’s parents. The parents in your building can be powerful allies for making change. They understand that our working conditions are their children’s learning conditions. Build relationships with your parents, share info with them and engage them in school activities.

I know that sounds like a lot because the first few weeks of a new school year can be tough.  And this year started earlier than most so we didn’t get the full summer break we needed. But the days when we could just shut the door to our office or classroom and just mind our own business are gone.

CPS schools are facing critical staffing shortages this year and those shortages are causing class sizes to explode in schools serving our Black and Brown students on the South and West Sided. Our students with disabilities, the most vulnerable in our buildings, aren’t getting the busing and other accommodations they need and are legally entitled to. And we don’t have enough mental health services to deal with the stress and trauma our students bring to the classroom every day. 

As the frontline workers in our schools, PSRPs see how these problems manifest throughout the building. We know when things are running smoothly and we’re the first ones called when problems arise. And, we usually know how to fix them. 

We can be a powerful agent for change. Together, we can make this school year the best it can be for our colleagues, our students and our school communities. But we must work collectively in our buildings, have faith in our mighty union and use our voice — to speak up loud and proud. 

Christel Williams-Hayes is CTU Recording Secretary and PSRP for life.