Urbanski to face opposition in union vote

Print More

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]

14 thoughts on “Urbanski to face opposition in union vote

  1. I read last week that should Urbanski win; he plans to retire in two years anyway. I don’t know if he will follow through, but if I were a voter, I’d be skeptical about throwing the whole system into chaos. Now it’s likely, should he retire, that whoever is elected now as VP will step up to fill his slot on an interim basis. It’s hard to understand that after 40 years of an ongoing trend of student failure and now an exodus of teachers, Urbanski has much to be proud of post-pandemic. But he does have a sweet deal collecting a full salary without stepping into a classroom. On the issue of pervasive racism, everyone has their perspective and solution. Honestly, I don’t know what it would take to make equity a reality or how much and how fast the system could adapt. Mr. Eagle is a loud and consistent voice who wants change. I wonder what he would do if he were in charge. It seems like an overwhelming intractable problem that, as far as I know, no public school nationwide has been able to solve to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. I don’t know how much latitude Mr. Urbanski has in making the sort of systemic change the city needs.

  2. “Teachers…..have the courage to change the leadership.”

    Want to bet???

    I’m NOT a gambler, but I’ll gladly take bets on this one.

  3. Gee,
    I wonder if there is a model somewhere of how to increase high school graduation rates, and in general improve scholastic outcomes in challenged public schools?

    I quote:
    “The UR partnership has allowed East High to try new approaches and practices, resulting in an increase in graduation rates. East High’s graduation rate has jumped to 85 percent in 2020-21 from 33 percent in 2014-15. Annual suspensions have dropped by 90 percent from 2,468 recorded suspensions in 2014. The dropout rate has fallen to 15 percent from 41 percent in 2014-15 while attendance has increased to 90 percent from 77 percent in 2014-15. ”

    All that is lacking is the will to make it happen or do we want to continue down the same insane idiotic path that is so destructive of human potential and financially disastrous (and please help me with the math: 42 years x $1 B per year= ???)

    • How (specifically) was East High able to make all of that “progress”??? Their approach brings new meaning to the term “creaming,” which is frequently utilized to characterize public charter schools __ not to mention their minuscule numbers (compared to the gigantic populations of most of the RCSD’s other High schools).

  4. I hate to admit this, but way back in the ’70s, when I taught in RCSD, I was young, idealistic, and not fully prepared for what I encountered. I was the only teacher in the building who did not join the union. My issue with the union then and now is they focus almost entirely on getting more money and seldom fight for the things that make teaching effective. Social workers, qualified administrators, supplies and equipment, experienced mentors, effective ways of dealing with disruptive students, but most of all, working on proactively and consistently engaging with parents and caregivers. Students cannot learn if they aren’t fully supported at home, or by the greater community. Objectively, Urbanski does his job as he sees it well: to protect his members and get them as much money as he can. What is needed now is a union leader that works collaboratively with other stakeholders to achieve success. I left teaching after three years to work for private industry, where I felt valued and had the support resources I needed to be successful. I believe that when most people start working in teaching, they want to make a difference in children’s lives. The union must have leadership that is about more than increasing salaries. A change in leadership is no guarantee that working conditions will improve, but at least it’s an opportunity to get a younger and different perspective on what members need and want to help children be successful.

  5. I hope they are successful. We need to try something different because clearly, what the RTA’s been doing for the past several decades hasn’t worked to achieve the desired results. It is time for a change.

  6. My Prediction: Urbanski will win by a landslide.

    Why? Two reasons:

    1) He ALWAYS brings home the bacon $$$, ALWAYS (regardless of the overall financial standing of the RCSD ).

    2) He offers iron-clad-protection regarding massive, race-based cognitive dissonance and chronic fragility, which guarantees that those who don’t want to (obviously the vast majority), do NOT have to deal with one of the district’s most pressing and critically important issues, e.g. the herd of elephants in the living room >>> https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/local/communities/time-to-educate/stories/2018/07/13/racism-rcsd-rochester-city-school-district-howard-eagle-investigation/760499002/ .

    But then, on that particular front, the alternative regime would not be much better, if at all. They also do NOT plan to deal with the herd. Otherwise, it’s reasonable to THINK it would be part of their platform. However, they KNOW if it was __ that would automatically mean hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands of votes down the old proverbial, racist drain: https://www.rcsdk12.org/domain/14423


  7. This is very encouraging news! The RCSD Teachers Union and more importantly the students of the RCSD need a new leadership and new thinking to improve graduation rates! I hope that many citizens of Monroe County will support these candidates.

      • “…citizens of Monroe County [EXCEPT those who are RTA members, do NOT get to vote for] these candidates.”

        Ergo, the ongoing, decades-old continuation of the deeply entrenched, pervasive, RACIST status-quo __ period.

    • It’s true that “the students of the RCSD need new leadership and new thinking to improve [not only] graduation rates,” but more importantly, MANY other realities and conditions that lead to improved graduation rates. Yet, it is vitally important to understand that, even if the new aspirants could defeat Urbanski’s regime, which is just NOT likely __ they would represent teachers, psychologists, and social workers __ NOT “students.” And no matter how much Urbanski and others spew super-hyper rhetoric about ‘what’s good for teachers, is also good for students’ __ don’t you believe it:


      • How anyone….anyone can support the current leadership (Urbanski) is mind boggling. Decades of raises and decades of student academic results in decline. They say that before an alcoholic can sincerely embrace reality and accept therapy there is no hope for recovery…..the RCSD has been on the bottom for decades. It has become predictable and almost become accepted as in the norm. Either they cannot teach the way kids learn, or…..they have to admit that the students in the RCSD are uneducable. It’s one or the other and nothing in between. I’m on the side of students who CAN DO! Period. Teachers…..have the courage to change the leadership.

      • “How anyone….anyone can support the current leadership (Urbanski) is mind boggling.”

        Thus, your mind is “boggled” via the overwhelming majority of predominantly white, suburbanite-dwelling RCSAD teachers. I’ve already explained it to you (above).

Leave a Reply

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