By ED FINKELSTEIN
A new leadership era portends great things for Teachers Local 420 as newly elected President Sally Topping and her new executive board were sworn in and took office July 1, the day veteran president Mary Armstrong retired after 30 years with the union, 14 of which she served as president.
Thanking her members for their confidence, Topping said she plans an aggressive program to bring the union’s members and leadership into the process of developing a new direction for Local 420 members, who serve 24,000 children in St. Louis Public Schools.
“Our members have a wealth of experience, not only in teaching, but also in other organizations where they’ve held, or continue to hold, responsible positions,” Topping said. “We need to take advantage of those talents.”
Topping is starting with a “listening tour,” visiting every one of the District’s 77 schools to hear from members and shop stewards to learn what they need in the classroom to help them better serve their students and what they need from Local 420 to make that possible.
In addition to meeting with her members, Topping plans to meet with the district’s administrative leadership and both the elected Board of Education and the appointed Special Administrative Board to let them know the union wants to work as partners in helping the school system reach its maximum potential for teachers and students alike.
“As professionals, our teachers are the key to making this school system one of the region’s best, and our union’s leadership team will do everything it can to support their efforts towards that goal,” she said. “We take our professional role in the lives of children and their families very seriously.”
It’s a vision Topping shares with her leadership team.
“We are indeed better together,” added Vice President for Political Education Ray Cummings. “Our Executive Board and members know we have challenges ahead. We will work with all supporters of public schools for the benefit of children and working families in our community.”
Topping understands the need for input from classroom teachers. She taught first, third and sixth grades for seven years in the public schools and taught for two years at the Imagine Charter School, giving her an understanding of the full spectrum of the district’s educational efforts.
She also brings to the task the legal and political skills gained in 24 years as a lawyer in family and real estate law, as a former hearing officer for the Missouri Bar Disciplinary Committee, and as an alderwoman in the City of Brentwood.
As an experienced litigator and negotiator and now an experienced on-the-ground teacher, she stressed: “I’m determined to help our union and our Labor Movement grow and fight for what’s right for our members, their families and the children we teach,” Topping said. “It will take all of us, our teachers, our local’s leadership and our involvement with the other unions that in turn will make us a stronger advocate for our own members and our children.”
Local 420 represents 2,300 teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians, safety officers, teacher assistants, instructional care assistants and other paraprofessionals in the St. Louis Public Schools.
In addition to Topping and Cummings, the new leadership team includes First Vice President Linda Bell, Second Vice President Alan Mitchell, Treasurer Andrea Boaz, Vice Presidents Scharad Hutchin (Membership), Steven Hill (Policy Enforcement), Geralda Lyles (Certified Employees), Dorris Walker-McGahee (Paraprofessional Employees), Bobbie Richardson (Secretarial Employees), Shirley James (Leadership Development), and Jan Ward (Communications).
Other officers are: Administrative Committee members Annette Collins (Middle School) and Lillian Parson (High School), Retiree Chapter members Chairperson Pat Laughlin, Vice Chairperson Karen Darris, Secretary Phillip Graves, Treasurer Al Katzenberger, Retiree Liaison Harvey Cloyd, Secretary & Clerical Chapter members Chairperson Gina Brown-Hall and Vice Chairperson Machael Cleveland, and Paraprofessional Chapter Chairperson Theda Wilson.
Positions still open include the Union’s secretary, Professional Issues vice president and Paraprofessional Chapter vice chairperson.