First woman of color elected to lead L.A.'s largest teachers union
The L.A. teachers union has elected the first woman of color, Cecily Myart-Cruz, to lead the organization, part of a familiar and experienced team that will include outgoing union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who was elected as a vice president.
“I’m proud of the way we have worked with members to create a union that is inclusive, that is a fighting union, that cares not only about educators, but about parents, the community and students,” said Myart-Cruz, 46, who as union president assumes a role of influence and power in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation.
Myart-Cruz received nearly 69% of the vote to represent some 31,000 Los Angeles teachers, school nurses, counselors and librarians. The next closest was Marisa Crabtree, with nearly 11% of the vote in the five-candidate field. Crabtree had proposed to turn the union more toward classroom and teaching issues, while deemphasizing politics.
But Myart-Cruz said she sees the fight for political influence as essential to improving teaching and classroom learning conditions.
A little over a year ago, United Teachers Los Angeles went on strike for six days, bringing a focus to overcrowded classrooms and staffing shortages. While Caputo-Pearl headed that effort, Myart-Cruz was a key advisor. Caputo-Pearl is barred by term limits from seeking a third three-year term.
“The work is not done. Our educators need the resources and our babies need the resources as well,” Myart-Cruz said.
“By almost any measure, Caputo Pearl has been a strong and effective leader,” said Charles Kerchner, professor emeritus of the Claremont Graduate University School of Educational Studies. “The plan to swap offices with Cecily Myart-Cruz would essentially keep the leadership regime in place. That creates stability in ideas and agenda.”
All the same, Myart-Cruz emphasized that she will be fully in charge when she takes office in July.
The momentum from last year’s strike carried over into the May election of Jackie Goldberg, a union-backed candidate, to the school board. But soon after, L.A. voters defeated Measure EE, a parcel tax that would have increased local resources for schools.
The union is currently engaged in a high-stakes, big-money battle with supporters of charter schools for three contested seats on the seven-member Board of Education. If even one union-endorsed candidate loses, the direction of the board could shift away from some union priorities. These include limiting the expansion and spread of nonunion, privately managed charter schools and pushing for higher pay and increased school staffing.
Myart-Cruz, a district parent and single mother who identifies as biracial, black and Latina, has 25 years of teaching experience in elementary and middle schools. She has long been part of the union’s activist wing and helped lead a campaign to remove principals whom the union felt treated teachers unfairly.
As a regional chair she also helped organize a yearlong boycott against some standardized testing to take on what the union described as the “overtesting” of students. Union leaders argued that students took too many standardized tests and wanted the number reduced because they take away from learning time.
The new president also has been active at the state and national level in teachers unions.
The election turnout was low, but that’s been a consistent recent pattern in union internal elections. Close to 5,300 union members cast ballots out of about 31,000 eligible voters.
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