Adam Urbanski, 42-year president of the Rochester Teachers Association, will face a challenge next month in union elections.
Earlier this week, nominations were submitted during RTA’s Rep Assembly for a slate of teachers and school staff who call themselves ROC Teachers in Action. Audrey Sowell, a Rochester City School District graduate who teaches at School No. 17, will run against Urbanski.
This represents the most significant opposition campaign the current RTA leadership has ever faced, ROC Teachers in Action says. The effort is to underscore the need for better representation and clear lines of communication—current union officers are retired or have been away from the classroom.
“As a champion for the teachers union, I firmly believe that transparency, inclusion, relevance, and communication are the cornerstones of a thriving and effective education system,” says Sowell. “By prioritizing these values, we can empower and support our classroom teachers, ensuring that they have the resources and support they need to provide the best possible education for our children.”
ROC Teachers in Action says it supports initiatives to increase staffing in schools, provide more mental health staff and resources, increase safety measures for staff and students, and create a more transparent and democratic union that better reflects, represents and includes more RTA members.
“The closer our teacher leaders are to the classroom, the more they understand the needs of our teachers who are working with students,” says Kellene Paul, a third-grade teacher running for RTA secretary.
The new group also wants the union to better reflect the demographics of the district’s teachers. More voices are necessary to involve teachers in the decision-making process, believes Kristen French, who is running for first vice president. French is a speech and language pathologist at School No. 15 and Special Services Department chairperson.
“As educators, we know how much inclusion and participation matter,” French says.
Amy Labrosa, a former RCSD student and current special education teacher at School of the Arts, agrees.
“I imagine our union can be more effective by fostering ways to increase member participation and by putting an emphasis on inclusion of all RTA members across the district,” she says.
Bill Best, a math teacher at SOTA who is running for RTA treasurer, sees an opportunity to improve communication between officers and members.
In addition to the five top officer positions being contested, ROC Teachers in Action also has more than a dozen candidates running for other department leadership positions within the union, officials say.
RTA members will vote in April.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].