CORE brings message of Chicago's rank-and-file activism to NEA national convention

CORE members discussed activism with NEA Peace and Justice Caucus Committee at the National Education Association (NEA) annual meeting and representative assembly in Chicago July 2, 2011. NEA representatives and their leadership are meeting in Chicago to discuss and vote on key issues and policies impacting public sector teachers and national education issues. Some 9,000 educators from every state have come together to address the pressing issues facing the teaching profession, students and schools during the association's 149th Annual Meeting and 90th Representative Assembly (RA). The top decision-making body for the 3.2 million member NEA, the RA sets Association policy for the coming year.

Above, Lee White, John Kugler, and Jen Johnson during the NEA Peace and Justice forum. Substance photo by Elise Robillard.Jen Johnson (CTU executive board member and teacher at Lincoln Park High School), John Kugler (this reporter, currently also working for the Chicago Teachers Union), and Lee White (retired high school teacher and long-time CTU leader, delegate, and political activist) spoke on a panel of grass roots organizing from within a union caucus.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) is a group of dedicated teachers, retirees, Paraprofessional School Related Personnel (PSRPs), parents, community members and other champions of public education. We fight for equitable public education and hope to improve the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) so that it fights both on behalf of its members and on behalf of Chicago’s students. In June of 2010, CORE won the Union leadership election, unseating the incumbent party that ruled the union for 37 of the last 40 years. Currently, all four CTU officers (President Karen Lewis, Vice President Jesse Sharkey, Recording Secretary Michael Brunson, and Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle) as well as the majority of members of the CTU executive board are CORE.

In speaking of what it is to take over the largest Union local in Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, Lee White, CORE member, started out speaking of the difficulties organizing and mobilizing a diverse group of highly educated independent union members.

“I myself sometimes do not listen when they ask me to come out, but I know I have to because it is important that we stand together”

Going on with her talk, Ms. White did acknowledge that this was the first union group that she was part of that was all inclusive no matter what any individuals’ background or affiliation was. She did continue with explaining how CORE was an organization that included all of the stakeholders in education — not just dues paying members of the Union.

The next speaker was John Kugler (this reporter), CORE member and a Chicago Teachers Union staffer. I discussed the early organizing efforts going back to 2006, and the formation of CORE in 2008. The issues policies of then Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan of labeling schools and communities as "failures" thereby closing neighborhood schools and forcing students to relocate to other facilities outside of their neighborhoods. The Duncan policy of forced relocation increased violence in and around schools. The Derrion Albert murder was direct result of the policies of school closings that mobilized community and union activists to fight against school board policies that harmed children.

“I took activism as a practical matter to stop the violence I saw on a daily basis.”

After speaking to news organizations and getting together with other union members, it was “a natural progression to start openly challenging Board of Education policies during public participation time [at the monthly Board meeting] whenever there was a chance.” The results were going for a free-for-all of closing schools by the Duncan administration to stopping them altogether. To finally having legislation that mandates the Board Disclose its long-term agenda for community schools and facilities.

The last speaker was Jen Johnson, CORE member and teacher at Lincoln Park High School. She touched on the subject of continuity of activism and mobilization of individuals throughout the city.

“The hard part is that everybody is busy and has things to do, but the attacks from the ruling class never stop.”

Ms. Johnson reflected back on the early meetings of CORE in donated rooms and facilities with only a handful of activists. Back then it wasn't about running a union or affecting policy, it was standing up for what is right and fighting injustice. One of the most important factors that is left out of teacher organizations are the students. Any organization that wants to be successful needs to include all the people that are affected by the actions that are hurting a community or neighborhood. By 2008, CORE members were actively opposing Arne Duncan's school closing policies, despite hypocritical "hearings" that more closely resembled the Purge Trials than attempts to learn the difficulties facing the schools that served the heart of the Chicago ghetto and the city's poorest children. Many times, it was only CORE members, plus the people from the local school and its community and children, that defended the school slated for destruction. In January and February 2009, CORE members led the fight against the last round of closings proposed by Arne Duncan (who by then was U.S. Secretary of Education, but whose residue was left behind in Chicago). By 2010, while preparing for a fight for the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, CORE members were standing with their brothers and sisters against the continued and ongoing attacks on public schools through closings, consolidations, charter co-locations, and "turnarounds."

No one went into the massive details and hard work it took to win the votes in the June 11, 2010 runoff election against incumbent Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart and her United Progressive Caucus (UPC), but by midnight on June 11, 2011, CORE knew it was facing an even bigger challenge than it had faced in the opposition. CORE was now in power.

“It is not an easy fight; it is one that can be won. Just look at us. We never thought of taking over anything, but now we are at the first anniversary of our caucus taking over the largest Union in Chicago.”

CORE members also asked. Please spread the word that we have a National Conference to Fight Back for Public Education on July 6th for 9am to 5pm at Jones College Prep, 606 S. State, Chicago go to our website to register i


July 14, 2011 at 4:45 AM

By: Nancy Porter

Thanks to CORE

I just wanted to add my thanks to the CORE teachers who spoke at the NEA RA. The Peace and Justice members who heard the presentation were impressed and encouraged by the activism and forward movement for education.

March 18, 2013 at 3:04 PM

By: Francesco Portelos


CORE is an inspiration for us here in NYC. Hopefully we at MORE have the same outcome.

Francesco Portelos

Teacher exiled for speaking up

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