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We Have the People Power

We Have the People Power

The last two years have seemed and felt like ten. Prior to 2020, we were facing problems like chronic underfunding, the beginnings of a great educator exodus, attacks from those wishing to dismantle public education, and attacks from those wishing to destroy unions not only in our state but across the country.

I guess none of that was enough because in March 2020, the universe decided we needed a global pandemic. And then in 2021, the universe gave us relentless attacks on our profession, a concerted effort to roll back all of the racial and social justice rights that have been achieved over the last 50 years and extremist school board candidates pushing these attacks. But through it all, we’ve shown the world that when we join together, we are unstoppable.

Whenever I finish a 16-hour day and then have to be a mom and a wife, when I lay my head down at night, I’m comforted by the fact that I have the privilege of working side by side with teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, bus drivers, food service workers and many others across the state. This gives me hope — that we are on the right path to making public education as great as it can be because our students are counting on us.

We don’t have the vast resources that our opposition has but we have the momentum in public opinion and we have the people power of over 39,000 members across Colorado. We have the subject matter experts and we have the people who are committed to their professions. We have the trust and confidence of parents. We have the love and support of our students. All of which, our opposition does not have. But we need to harness our collective power because our opposition is raising money and firing up their base like never before.

We must remember that we’re in this for the long haul. And election season is approaching fast. The 2021 elections were a reminder that elections matter and bad elections can give us bad school boards. We need to come together to make sure we elect pro-public education candidates who care about our public schools and whose words match actions.

In a world where obstacles are continually put in front of us, we must rise to the challenge of advocating for the public schools our students, their families and our fellow educators deserve. When we advocate together, we know that we will be successful. The power of our union is the power of us.

I wish you rest and rejuvenation over the summer and I look forward to coming back together in the fall, fired up and ready to go for our students, our professions, and public education.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert speaks at a New America School rally

From the CEA President: Your Voice Matters

The second semester of the school year often brings a lot of excitement and things to look forward to: prom, spring break, graduations. It is also the time of year when the Legislature is in full swing and with that comes a lot of opportunity to use our educator voices. This year, however, it is shadowed by an overwhelmed workforce that is facing obstacle after obstacle – a devastating fire that upended thousands of students’
and educators’ lives, an ongoing and ever changing global pandemic, and extremist school boards taking dangerous actions to dismantle public education.

Though we are all tired, we will not give up. It has been empowering to see our brothers and sisters in Douglas County take collective action to stand against the harmful actions of the local school board majority. We have seen our members do the same in places where the same dangerous agenda is being pushed: Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Estes Park and Pueblo 70 to name a few. Recent history gives us good lessons on what is needed to win to save our public schools and we are committed to this fight. Our colleagues, our students and our profession deserve nothing less.

What’s been happening around our state is a great reminder of the need to win on our legislative priorities this year. The bill that will expand collective bargaining rights for all public employees, including educators, is needed now more than ever. It is clear that one election gone wrong can rip away the ability of educators to have a voice in our working conditions and the learning conditions of our students.

Certain politicians and wealthy special interests opposed to public schools have chipped away at state education funding and then turned around to point their fingers at educators as the reason our students are struggling. What they conveniently ignore is that they’ve strapped schools with an over $10 billion deficit in education funding over the last 10 years. That means students aren’t getting the education they deserve because educators don’t have the resources they need.

Even before the COVID pandemic, teachers and support staff didn’t have what we needed – and we’re still overwhelmed with excessive class sizes, outdated materials and paychecks that often don’t even pay the bills. Exponentially increasing workloads and bitter political vitriol over health, safety and history curriculum are causing intense educator burnout. There’s no surprise that the lack of funding, inadequate
conditions and burnout has led to a critical educator shortage. As educators from across the state flee the profession, Colorado is struggling mightily to replace them.

Colorado educators know exactly how to stop the downward spiral of our education system – after all, we are the ones in classrooms, cafeterias, buses and schools every day, guiding students through academic and personal hardships. The public knows this – nearly 3 out of 4 Colorado voters voice positive feelings toward teachers. But instead of valuing the expertise and knowledge of educators, those seeking to radically change and privatize schools know the easiest path to destroying public education is when education professionals don’t have a voice.

Your educator voice matters and that is why they are trying to silence you. But we will not be silent when it comes to our students and our profession.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

From the CEA President: Harvest November Victories

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons – the fresh, crisp air, football, pumpkin spice (yes, I’m on that team!), falling leaves and new beginnings. My oldest daughter turns 13 in October and so fall also holds that special place for me as well. When fall rolls around each year, for so many reasons, it is always me. A time to look back and a time to look ahead. Fall is commonly thought of as a time to harvest or to reap what has been planted. While I know that this fall has been full of tremendous challenges for us all, as we continue to valiantly educate students in the midst of an on-going global pandemic, it can also be a time for hope. A time to harvest.

In the CEA world, Fall is also that time of year when we kick into high gear with election season. Like most things this school year, this election season feels harder than those of the past. But every day, I remind myself of what is at stake education victory on election night. Whether it is a post on social media, post card writing, phone banking, talking to a neighbor, family member or friend, safely
canvassing a neighborhood, each day I do at least one thing to support election 2021, big or small.

When life gets overwhelming, I try to remember that adage of taking one bite of the way to do small things to ensure victory on election night, then we know that we will reap the rewards with school boards that value educators and support our students and our public schools. We know that there are those out there who are trying to that serves all students, regardless of zip code, skin color, or background. They are counting on us to be too tired to care. But they don’t know the will of educators and what we are willing to do to ensure a great public school for every child.

As the great labor leader, Cesar Chavez reminds us, “We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.” The Colorado Education Association is over 39,000 educators across the state of Colorado. We are powerful when we come together. We are powerful when we participate. We are powerful when students and public education. Let’s elect pro-public education advocates to our
school boards. Let’s support local bond and mill levy overrides. While the work is long and hard, the harvest will be bountiful. Si se puede!

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

From the CEA President: We Rise for Another Tough Year

I do not think that there is a single educator who does not deeply feel that this past school year was the most challenging year ever. This year marks my twenty-fourth year in education, and I think, like all of you, nothing would have ever prepared me for what this last year brought to us all. Educating students in the midst of a global pandemic while dealing with political, social and racial unrest is not something you learn about in your educator preparation courses in college.

Yet every single educator across Colorado did more than meet the challenge. As we look back on this past school year, there are many emotions that come to mind: triumph, exhaustion, sadness, joy, fear; you name it, we all felt it. There are many lessons learned and there are many ways that public education will be forever changed by the lessons of this past year. As we move forward, there will be time for deep reflection and analysis. But for now, it is time to rest and rejuvenate.

This also marks my seventh year experiencing education as a parent. My oldest daughter just completed sixth grade while my youngest completed third, and my middle fourth. Among the many things that happened this year, I got to experience them all not only from the lens of an educator or the president of the largest union in the state, but also as a mom. As a mom, my deep respect and passion for public education and educators only grew. I had a front row parent seat to the peaks, the valleys, and everything in between, of remote learning, quarantining, mask wearing, etc. There were days where I was amazed to the point of tears by what my childrens’ educators were doing to make learning happen. And learning definitely happened. I think my third grader sums it up best in her end of year letter to her teacher:

“Dear Mrs. B,

Thank you for being the best teacher ever! You have persevered the whole year. I’ve learned so much from you this school year. Challenging or not you can do it. I have enjoyed your class and (am) sad to leave it. I am going to miss you so much.”

“Challenging or not, you can do it.” Those words hit me hard. Perseverance. Whether you are an eight-year-old third grader, a first year teacher, a twenty-year bus driver, or a teacher about to retire, we all defined perseverance this past school year. Together we overcame the most challenging school year we will ever face. We are all changed by this past year.

After we all have some much-deserved rest, disconnection and down time, it will be our moment to define the future. While I hope that we will never have to experience a year like this past one, we know that every year holds challenges and obstacles to overcome. This next school year we will come back to the unknowns of moving forward after the most traumatic year our students and we have experienced. We will have critical school board elections. We may have challenges that we can’t even begin to think of right now, but what we know, what we have learned from this year, is that challenge or not, we can do it. I wish you a restful and rejuvenating summer. I look forward to continuing the fight for students and public education with you, the true champions. Be well. Take care. Rest. Get ready.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.

From the CEA President: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I have always been one for countdowns. As a little girl, I was well known for creating paper chains in order to count down to big events- the winter break, a big birthday, and of course, summer break. I know that many of us are counting down the days to some sort of relief as this has been one of the most challenging years, both personally and professionally, that we have ever experienced. While it may not feel like there is light at the end of this very long tunnel, we have to remember that we have been providing the light for so many.
As we near the one-year mark of teaching and learning in the midst of a global pandemic coupled with on-going racial, social and economic injustices, it can be hard to feel that there is hope on the horizon. Oftentimes when one is in the middle of something, it is hard to look clearly ahead or behind. When I look back and reflect on this past year, there is the pain of loss, and despair that we have all endured, but there are also reminders that bring me comfort and optimism.

I do not think that I will ever get over the awe I have when I think of the heavy lift each of you has done. Literally overnight, you adjusted the entire way of performing your craft. You found ways to connect with kids to ensure their learning, health and safety, whether it was from your kitchen table, a closet, in a socially distanced classroom with a mask on, in a school cafeteria half-full or on a school bus with one student per seat. We have all made, what sometimes felt like constant, changes, adjustments, and sacrifices to make education happen this year. While getting to this point should certainly be lauded, we all know that it has not been easy and has come at a tremendous cost.

If nothing else comes out of this, I hope that what does come from it is a lasting and renewed respect for the education profession and those who choose to do this work. While most of the things that we have been experiencing this year are not new because of COVID-19, they have all been exacerbated because of it. A bright light has been shone upon the inequities that exist in the public education system and the critical role of our public schools in our communities has been illuminated. We have seen the power and the purpose of educators and my greatest hope is that the world does not forget. For now, there is an opportunity not to just return to “normal” or simply “get back” to school. Now is our opportunity to ensure that the schools our students and we return to are better. It is our moment to envision and demand the future that we know our students and educators deserve. Yes, I am counting down to that day and I am confident that it will come. The day when you, the public school educators of Colorado, are treated and respected as the professionals that you are. The day that count down arrives, will be the best one yet.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the CEA.