Member voices driving work of Unity Campaign


Education Minnesota’s Unity Campaign is focusing on electing pro-public education candidates this fall and fighting for what our schools and all of our students, no matter what they look like or where they come from, need to achieve their dreams.

This year has proven that our world can change multiple times within a short period of time. This year has also shown the immense importance of public schools and public educators on our society and in making the systemic change we need.

This fall, while the world is still changing, we have an opportunity to fight for what we need as public educators and what our students need to succeed. 

Our families and neighborhoods are stronger, safer and healthier when we come together in moments of joy and celebration, and of illness and crisis. Our public schools are more than a place where kids take tests, they are part of what ties our communities together and, during a normal year, a place where childhood happens.

For too long in Minnesota, we short-changed our public schools by letting the richest 1 percent and the big corporations pay less than their fair share. Some of our kids were forced to learn in packed classrooms, with outdated textbooks, in buildings that need repair, and it was usually kids in Black and brown neighborhoods. We spend less today on funding for public schools than we did in 2003. And the ripple effect from this crisis threatens to make things worse. We can’t repeat the same mistakes of the past. When this crisis ends, Minnesota must ensure all our children have equitable, high-quality schools that enable them to realize their potential.

Education Minnesota’s Unity Campaign is fighting for unbreakable solidarity within our statewide membership by March 1, 2021, for investment in our public schools that co-creates with students, families and community partners a student-centered public education system that is anti-racist, culturally sustaining and meets the needs of every student.

In 2018, we saw that educators have power at the ballot box. We need to do that again, electing pro-public education candidates this November to local, state and national offices. And then we need to use our collective voice again to hold them accountable to provide us the resources our schools need.

Educators in districts across the state are being trained as worksite unity team leaders, who will guide the work in their local unions. If you are interested in joining the campaign and connecting with your colleagues, parents and community members around this work, contact your local union president or Education Minnesota field staff.

The campaign and its goals are being led by a group of educators from across the state, as well as Education Minnesota staff, called the Unity Table. 

We want to introduce you to these team members so you can learn why they are committed to this work and being a part of the Unity Table. 

Members
“I want to make sure our members have the information needed in order to move forward with bold actions. It is easy to get wrapped up in your own classrooms or locals, and let someone else do the work of advocating for our students and colleagues. I believe we will need to inform our members and to get them engaged in local activities, and then we will be able to get them engaged in statewide actions.”
Kelly Wilson, teacher, Education Minnesota – OSSEO

“The time has come to fully fund public education, and we have the collective power to win it for Minnesota’s students, families and communities.”
Carl Soderberg, teacher, Duluth Federation of Teachers

“I have been an educator for over 25 years starting as a para, continuing as a classroom teacher and currently serving as a local president. Over the course of my career there is one thing that has been consistent, and that is the inconsistency of our public education priorities and funding at the state level. We have gained funding, we have lost funding, we have shifted funding and the impact of that cycle over time has taken a toll on classrooms all over the state. The ability for educators and support professionals to meet the needs of their students where they are at, and provide for them what they need to succeed, is a constant stress with lack of funding. Electing effective and courageous pro-public education advocates into public office is essential to guarantee the success of fully funding schools. Together we will do this!”
Stacey Vanderport, teacher, Mounds View Education Association

“A student’s opportunity to succeed shouldn’t be determined by their ZIP code, but that’s exactly what has happened due to our state’s outdated and complicated funding formula. It’s not right and I’m looking forward to collaborating with educational leaders from around the state to make sure equity for all our learners becomes a reality. I also think I bring a unique perspective as a teacher from a highly successful school district that is also annually one of the lowest (if not THE lowest) funded schools in the entire state.”
Jared Simpson, teacher, Education Minnesota–St. Michael-Albertville

“As Minnesotans, we make a unique promise to our kids that we will work to give them the best opportunities possible, no matter what they look like or where they come from. The Unity Table holds us accountable to that promise, saying, ‘What next steps will we take to support that work?’ Although we might not see it right away, many of the same struggles rural Minnesotans face are deeply shared by others across our communities. The work at the Unity Table is important to me because any successful plan for our future will rely on grounding our understanding in how poverty, race and class intersect statewide.”
Paul Peltier, teacher, Fosston Education Association

“I believe in working together to get things done. I believe there is value in numbers and that together our voices are heard. As a union, we all need to remain committed, become more involved and work together to expand our values. Knowledge is power. My number one goal is to get more people involved. We have a voice in numbers! Our schools need to be fully funded, including special education, which is a rising cost in rural schools. We need to elect officials that support education.”
Tracy Detloff, teacher, Education Minnesota New London-Spicer 

“I want to be a part of finding the solution to helping educational assistants be treated with respect. I feel we need to be given a livable wage and afforded the opportunity to choose our own health care company that fits our budget rather than be forced to accept what the district is making us enroll in. I feel ESPs of Color need to have higher leadership roles in our local/state/national unions. I feel we need advancement opportunities in our district without losing our union status or our job. I feel we need to be afforded a voice and not be penalized for it.”
Annette Davis, ESP, Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers 

“I joined the Unity Table Steering Committee to be a part of the work to get our union walkout ready. The actions required to fully fund our schools and create a just and equitable school system for all of our students means educators need to use our unions in different ways than we have in the past 15 years. The good news is where educators are doing this, they are winning real improvements for their students and families.”
Shaun Laden, ESP, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals

“I am excited to work with my peers through the Unity Table project so that we can build collective awareness and power in creating learning environments in Minnesota that truly engage each and every student. I am hopeful that our work will create a network of connections and competence as we synthesize multiple experiences.”
Julia Berry, teacher, Education Minnesota Local 2209 – Intermediate District 287

“I believe a reawakened labor movement, standing alongside the communities we are a part of, is the only way out of the widespread immiseration and rampant inequality that define our current moment in history. This reawakening has to be nurtured and nudged as we all relearn how to use the tools our predecessors in the labor movement throughout history have handed down to us. I’m proud to be a part of this committed group of educators and community partners who believe a better world is possible.”
Matt Williams, instructor, Minnesota State College Faculty

“We must stand up to protect our students, public education and our profession! I am ready to stand beside my brothers and sisters to stand up for statewide (and nationwide) change! I have been working hard in my local to build a relationship of collaboration and partnership. I believe the Unity Table needs to take the same stance with our partners in other education advocacy groups and work together to demand change from our Legislature.”
Kate Schmidt, teacher, Dakota County United Educators

“We want each member of Education Minnesota to be engaged in what we do for each other and recognize how together we can all be agents of change for our children. Building on our union and advocating for equity are the biggest ways in which I am invested in this work. As educators, we’re instrumental in other people’s stories every day. I want to be a part of Minnesota’s story by opening new opportunities in our collective bargaining and bringing hope to everyone we impact, regardless of where they live.”
Diana Ortiz-Hedges, teacher, Minnetonka Teachers Association

Education Minnesota staff
“Unity Table work is important to me because I have a nephew in elementary school and a niece who will be soon. I want their teachers to be the best and the brightest. Right now, the rate of attrition in the teaching profession is increasing. More educators are leaving because the lack of funding is taking its toll personally and professionally. We need to do everything we can to attract and retain the best and the brightest to the profession; students and educators both deserve better.”
Donna Leff, Mankato office field support staff

“I believe unions and public schools are two of the last places where a truly-held value of collective good is lived out each day in this country. We desperately need tangible examples of all that is possible when we do more and do it together right now. In a moment where fully funding schools is also about food and housing security and community health, the work we do in this campaign and at the Unity Table is, to me, a true and real effort to work toward a different future where we put us before I. I am so excited about making that real.”
Andrea Cecconi, negotiations specialist

“Every person working in education, whether that work is done is a classroom, a lunchroom or in a union office, has had a unique experience. Because of this, it is important that Education Minnesota bring together a variety of perspectives when embarking on the ambitious fight for full funding. All of our members’ and students’ voices need to be heard and considered throughout this campaign. I am hopeful that the Unity Table will help discover and share those voices.”
Vanessa Pulkrabek, Bemidji office field staff

“It is important to have a diversity of voices in the room. While it is easier to make decisions in isolation, what is best for the organization at large is to have thoughtful discussion with multiple perspectives.”
Bridget Moore, organizing specialist

“I am a strong believer in organized labor as a vehicle through which workers (and yes, educators are workers) are humanized and able to obtain the respect they deserve. As a person of color, I view the union structure, if implemented using an anti-racist lens, to be an essential way we can create a workplace that attends to intersectional issues of labor practices and racial and gender equity to the benefit of all students. This work, of holding table together, of co-creating a campaign that can change the face of public education for the students of Minnesota, is the most important work of this time and place. As an educator who committed many years of my life to union leadership, I could not imagine not being part of it. I am grateful to be here.”
Kimberly Colbert, racial equity organizer

“I believe schools have been underfunded for years. I believe public schools are the foundation of a democracy. I cannot pass up an opportunity to help every student receive the education they deserves.”
Aaron VanMoorlehem, Apple Valley office field staff

“The Unity Table will provide an opportunity to learn and understand what full funding of schools means to every educator around the state, taking that understanding and moving forward with empathy and unity toward a goal that education is a necessity for purposeful and prosperous students. I’m excited for the chance to hear and learn from educators who face difficult challenges with basic rights like equity, mental health and safety in the classroom. As a parent of young children, I know advocating for the basic needs of educators is a necessity. I’m excited to start this work and make full funding of schools in Minnesota a reality.”
Ilissa Morrow, field services executive assistant

Education Minnesota leadership 
“We are in the middle of a health crisis, a racial crisis and an economic crisis. Public education is at the center of all three. I cannot think of a more critical time for uniting around fully funding for just schools than now. I could not be more proud of the commitment of the leaders on the Unity Table and the efforts of all our worksite unity leaders across this state!”
Denise Specht, president, Education Minnesota

“In being a part of the Unity Table, I am most excited about first, the people who I am fortunate to sit with. A mix of members, staff and leadership, these are the people who are working together, building a visionary path around the very important work Education Minnesota must do around social justice, equity and school funding. These are the requirements we need to focus the conversation for what public education must be moving forward in Minnesota. I am proud of our purpose and the conversations we have had in virtual spaces!”
Bernie Burnham, vice president, Education Minnesota

“The work of the Unity Table brings together all the voices of our organization to focus on making needed changes to public education. The collective thoughts and discussions with everyone serving on the Unity Table energizes me to see even more clearly the needs of our current students and the reasons we need to advocate for the changes that will provide them with the best education possible. I look forward to the work and sharing it with our members to build the power necessary to bring about real changes to public education.”
Rodney Rowe, secretary-treasurer, Education Minnesota

“Learning and leading is what the Unity Table is all about—and that’s what I find exciting! Bring together smart and strong leaders from around the state. Connect them with skilled and motivated staff from a variety of departments. Then ask them to guide the campaign and bring others along with us. It’s a simple idea with the potential for great power.” 
Sara Gjerdrum, executive director, Education Minnesota