Karen Magee was elected as the new president of New York State United Teachers earlier this month after delegates voted to replace Richard Iannuzzi, who led the union for nearly 10 years.
Before NYSUT, Magee taught elementary school students in Harrison, Westchester County for nearly 30 years and was president of the Harrison Association of Teachers. She was tapped for a three-year term on the statewide teachers union, which has more than 600,000 members.
Magee enters her new role at a time when education is at the forefront among issues in New York. NYSUT has advocated against policies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Education Department, such as the Common Core learning standards and teacher-evaluation system.
Magee said her years of experience as a teacher and work at the Harrison Association of Teachers and the state Teachers Retirement System puts her in a solid position to represent NYSUT’s education priorities.
Lives: West Harrison
Education: Bachelor’s, Mercy College; Master’s, Manhattanville College
Family: Three children, ages 24, 22 and 16
Previous position: President, Harrison Association of Teacher
Current positions: President, NYSUT; Trustee, NYS Teachers Retirement System
What are NYSUT’s top three priorities? Magee pointed to the Annual Professional Performance Reivew of teachers, education aid in the 2014-15 state budget and the ousting of the state Education Department’s commissioner, John King.
Q: You were an elementary school teacher?
A: I was a teacher in Harrison for 30 years in elementary education at the Purchase Elementary School. I started as a kindergarten teacher and eventually settled in around fourth or fifth grade for the bulk of my career. I was licensed as a special education and general education teacher, but moved on to just focus on general education along the way.
Q: You also hold several leadership roles in education?
A: Five years into my career I got involved in union work starting as a building representative and working my way up to vice president of the Harrison teachers union and finally, for the last decade or so, as president.
I have also been involved with the area labor council for 10 years as an officer. I am a trustee for the New York State Teachers Retirement System, which is really incredible work that I get to do there. We manage a $100 billion fund of pensions for folks who work in the schools such as superintendents, principals and teachers.
Q: You’re no stranger to NYSUT?
A: I have been on the NYSUT board of directors for three years prior to being elected as president. I was also on their policy board and a graduate of the NYSUT Leadership Institute. So I have pretty deep and broad NYSUT roots.
Q: How does your previous work prepare you as president of NYSUT?
A: The work I have done in the past obviously put me in the trenches. I have an understanding of what is going on with the rank and file and the concerns of the rank and file. I know what is going on in regards to the impact of testing and lack of funding among school districts.
Q: What is NYSUT’s top priority?
A: Restructuring of the Annual Professional Performance Review.
[The APPR requires school districts and BOCES to conduct annual evaluations on teachers and principals.]
As an organization, we won’t shy away from accountability. But it’s about getting a model that works, and we’re not there yet.
How do we come up with a one size fits all document? You can’t measure art like science and we didn’t take into account how you would measure physical education teachers and special-needs teachers. We have to rethink the entire model, and we have to admit that it is a mistake.
Q: What is another issue that you and NYSUT’s members are looking to tackle?
A: In the state, 70 percent of school districts do not receive the funding they deserve. They are actually owed a total of $8 billion.
We’re at a point where the schools are having hard times making ends meet to educate our students.
Funding is way up on our list and when I say funding I don’t just mean K-12 but also higher education. We are not funding higher education to the degree that we should be. That makes the cost of degrees so much more expensive.
Q: NYSUT’s members want state Education Commissioner John King out, period?
A: My members have taken a vote of no confidence for the education commissioner. The policies of the state Education Department have to be well thought out and include teachers in the discussion process.
We decided to roll out a new model [the Common Core learning standards], and there is no professional development for teachers. My members want the commissioner gone.
Q: What are some things NYSUT has planned for the near future?
A: We have a statewide tour of school districts planned for my first 100 days in office, where we will take a look at the huge disparities among neighboring districts. We’re also looking at Syracuse, which filed a lawsuit this month.
[The Syracuse Teachers Association sued the state Education Department recently over its teacher evaluation system, arguing that the evaluations hurt teachers with disadvantaged students].
Since I have been president for two weeks, I have met with John King, Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.