Taking over the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is a fresh crop of faces, eager, just like their leader, Deborah Lynch, to move the organization in new directions. The new lineup, centered around Lynch allies who hail from the teacher trenches, represents the first wholesale shift in leadership since the union was founded in 1937.

Howard Heath, vice president

Heath replaces Norma White, a union staff member since 1975 who’s shifted to a job at a Teamsters Union local. Heath, 49, taught math and computer science at Lane Technical High School, at Addison and Western, for 28 years. He first ran for a CTU office in 1994 on a slate led by activist George Schmidt. Landing a high-school seat on the executive board four years ago, he became a frequent critic of president Thomas Reece.

At Lane, despite school reform, Heath found his teaching conditions inadequate; it was hard getting equipment repaired, he says, and he had no Internet access in his classroom. “I have a very good friend at Niles North, where they have three full-time computer technicians who take care of everything,” Heath says. “We have to negotiate into the new contract that computer labs are like science labs, and that computer teachers shouldn’t be assigned home rooms.” Heath chairs the CTU policies committee, acts as contract negotiations liaison and oversees insurance matters. “And, of course, I’m the tech specialist.”

Jacquelyn Price Ward, recording secretary

Ward takes over from Pamelyn Massarsky. A former primary teacher at Revere Elementary School in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, Ward, 39, had grown frustrated with Tom Reece and his team. “It was like they were the royalty, and we were the serfs,” she says. Now she chairs the union education committee, serves as the point person on legal issues and the Quest Center, and handles all correspondence and invitations. She is intent on chopping union dues. “They’re the highest of any local in the nation,” she claims.

James Alexander, financial secretary

“I’m 65, but a movin’ 65,” cracks James Alexander, who succeeds Michael Williams. A long-time business teacher at Carver High School (now Military Academy) on the Far Southeast Side, Alexander came to know Lynch when she headed the CTU’s Quest Center and he was coordinating a center-backed after-school program. He then ran on her slate three years ago. “Debbie seemed so bright,” says Alexander, who remains awestruck at having won: “To be successful in this way at this point in my life, is unbelievable.” He will now oversee membership and elections.

Maureen Callaghan, treasurer

Callaghan, the clerk at Stevenson School in Ashburn, helped organize the clerks into a citywide movement that won a pay upgrade from the Board of Education in 1999. Her ascension to the job of treasurer, the officeholder who pays the bills, ends the 17-year tenure of Melvin Simon. Callaghan, 56, becomes the first non-teacher ever to serve as a CTU officer.

Reconfiguring and eliminating old positions, Lynch has appointed other PACT stalwarts to her staff. Lou Pyster, a history teacher at Schurz High School and a high school CTU vice president the last three years, is in charge of mediation and arbitration, board budget analysis and class size issues.

Debby Pope, the new director of external communications, taught history at Schurz after becoming a teacher a decade ago, in her late 30s. “I was very hard-working,” says Pope. “But to be at a school on probation—and to be told to teach vocabulary by listing words on the board, against everything I had learned—was very distressing,” she says.

Sarah Loftus, a Kelvyn Park High art teacher and CTU high school vice president, is handling internal communications.

Robert Pickert, a former field staff worker with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is director of administration and negotiations. Allen Bearden continues as chief of the Quest Center, which hosts a yearly conference and runs teacher classes. Once Lynch’s assistant, Bearden is heartened at her rise to executive status: “She’s going to be an excellent leader, especially on professional development.”

Victor Gonzalez, a CTU field representative since 1987, has been elevated to lead the department that fields grievances and disciplinary hearings. He replaces Gail Koffman.

Koffman and other old hands at the CTU, including veteran lobbyist David Peterson, either took early retirement “or were asked to leave,” says Lynch.

Jackie Gallagher, the long-time press spokesperson and a former aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, has been retained as a consultant on legislative matters.

Henry Anselmo, a veteran school-union lobbyist new to CTU duty, will shoulder regular duty in Springfield. Lynch also tapped Laurie Glenn-Gista, a publicist who has helped her for years, to orchestrate what she calls “transitional p.r.”

The support staff at the 50-person headquarters basically remains in place, says Lynch, with no large-scale firings expected.

George Schmidt, the rebel teacher and Substance newspaper editor who played a key role in PACT’s win, has not been piped aboard. “It would have been nice to at least be asked,” says Schmidt, fired by the board last year from his position at Bowen High School for publishing questions on the Chicago Academic Standards Examinations, subject-area tests being developed for high schools. Asked about Schmidt’s absence from her ruling circle, Lynch says: “We brought in leaders from our caucus.”

The transfer of power from the Reece to the Lynch regime was chilly. “You could not call what happened a transition,” says one member of the prior order. “We were here until June 30, and they came in on July 1. It was not a friendly exchange of the baton.” Lynch says she had one brief transition meeting with Reece, who continues as president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “It was civil,” says Lynch of their huddle. “We [the CTU] are his biggest local, so it had to be civil.”

As CTU president, Reece ran the union executive staff in an informal—some say closed—style. “I didn’t have a lot of meetings,” says Reece. “I thought direct contact with people was the best way.”

Under Lynch, there’s a more organized atmosphere. “There are meetings and discussions about organization and about streamlining operations,” says James Alexander. “We are strategizing to see where we’re going.” One firm date on the weekly calendar: Lynch’s cabinet of officers and directors meets every Monday at 1 p.m.

Lynch is also keen on ending the lack of member access that Reece was often criticized for. “At every level of the union, we’re going to be providing democracy,” she says. The monthly House of Delegates meetings are being redesigned to allow lots of discussion and debate, and Lynch promises regular regional meetings and frequent officer visits to schools.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.