UESF President Cassondra Curiel’s Opening Statement to SFUSD

Posted on March 17, 2023


Listen to the audio or read the transcript below of President Cassondra Curiel’s opening statement from our first bargaining session with SFUSD. 


“We are here today to address some of the most critical and necessary improvements this District can make to attract and retain the educators who support our students daily. Our days are filled with conversations with families, youth, colleagues, support givers, and caregivers.

With the knowledge and wisdom of these conversations, we show up to this table ready to fight for the schools our students deserve, the schools we deserve to work in, grow in, and see generations of families develop themselves in. We show up to this table with the conviction that we can win the schools our students, families, educators, and communities deserve, where a child can start with a wonderful, thriving Early Education program and we can nurture them through their memorable high school graduation, all in one city in some cases in one neighborhood. 

Throughout this bargaining period, we seek to address the improvements needed across various sections of our work so that we can do our job and support our students. We aim to address the unjust and inequitable wage gaps between those who work in our most critical areas and among our most vulnerable student population so that their working conditions improve and thus allow our school sites to operate with more stability and clarity. We seek to address the glaring negative impacts of the poorly implemented and managed EMPower system. We aim to present improvements on the types of student support that school sites desperately need and which the students and communities we serve have been begging the District to address. If we are to satisfy the genuine and justified demand of our city to address the gaps in reading and math, most importantly, the many traumas our students are suffering three years after the start of the pandemic, then we must be serious about this bargaining period. The District has an opportunity to partner with us and bring additional improvements to our profession if it takes our demand of fully staffing schools seriously. 

We need fully staffed schools as colleagues, as students, as families, and as the entire District, so there is no corner of the work that we do not honor with our time and attention so that we continue to operate in a crisis mindset where we are constantly trying to fill vacancies instead of making sure our students are thriving. This District must attract and retain educators agreeing to significant and newsworthy advances in its employees’ pay and working conditions. And to guarantee this, we have built a historical bargaining team of 70 members who come from the field, from the classrooms and the counseling halls, from the schoolyard to the lab, from high schools, from middle schools to elementary schools, from Early Education Centers to teachers on special assignment at school sites and working to support centrally. We have crafted proposals that would significantly improve the working conditions in our jobs, making it possible to retain so many more of us and encourage and attract those we need to staff our schools fully.

 As I begin to close, I want to remind us of how we got here:

Three years ago, on this day, we closed our classrooms. We sent our students home with as many supplies as we could spare and scrounge. We responded to a global emergency with care and support with what we thought would be an extended spring break. What resulted in the following months was one of the most incredible professional lifts the nation has ever witnessed. This world’s “nation builders,” the one profession that creates all other professions, the veteran, the experienced, the mid-career, and the brand new, the volunteers, the one-on-one paraeducators, all of us collectively, the educators of this District, led the way in facilitating a mass pivot to the way that our schooling would be taught. We learned new technology, converted and created curriculum tools and resources, and shifted gears without hesitation and fault. For the first time, on a massive scale, we were in the homes of our 50,000 students, and they were in ours. 

We have collectively navigated the impacts of a disastrous global pandemic but not without consequences. The successes and the failures of our various government entities weren’t all that different from what we’ve experienced in public education for decades: a lack of funding, unclear and non-comprehensive plans, gaps in leadership, and over-prioritization of opinions instead of listening to the professionals. Consequently, educators quickly went from Heroes to Villains in the eyes of those who sought to undermine further the critical work we do, whether on Zoom, during a pandemic or fire drills,  active shooter drills,  state testing, IEP paperwork, hallway duty, and lunch monitor duty. 

We successfully ushered 50,000 students through shelter-in-place and back to full in-person school functions. But the invisible toll of this labor has gone largely unrecognized and unfortunately compounded by acts of disrespect. Understaffed, undersupported, and then with vacant positions, we spent last school year in some of our careers’ most challenging conditions and situations. Students and families, and the educators at school communities who work with and among them, needed so much more last year than what we got, what we had available them, and what we could even ask for. All of this happened while our contract remained open, while the District reported a deficit of over a hundred million dollars at the same time while the federal and state governments were issuing a historic amount of funds to education. Furthermore, we suffered the animosity of local and national media that drowned the voices of the vast majority of families who were in solidarity with us. 

All of this was topped by the failed implementation of the employee management system. This injury to a gaping wound caused more harm than we imagined. While teaching through one of the most challenging years in our profession, we have been hit repeatedly by the consequences of a poorly managed transition, impacting our very livelihood down to dollars and cents. 

Two years ago, we occupied the 3rd floor of this building in protest of the District’s egregious response to the Empower disaster and to come to an agreement on the necessary steps we required to see a way out. And still, this yet unresolved disaster continues to bring more problems every month. SFUSD can do better, and we will use this bargaining period to ensure it gets better because we deserve better. We deserve to be able to focus on the profession that we are best at and to focus on our students because they need us more than they ever have before. They need us to get more support for what they’ve been begging for. They need us to attract and retain our colleagues, so they have a teacher in their classroom daily. They need us to be fully present and able to care for them, not worrying whether we can make ends meet in this career from month to month. They need us to fight and win the schools they deserve.

Three years ago, we were at the negotiating table with you. We had been there since January when we moved to shelter-in-place and pivoted our entire District to online learning. We worked hard to come to agreements that would make this work. COVID bargaining seemed almost endless, and it was disappointing to feel that this was fine for the District, given we didn’t receive an equal response to our contract until the fall of 2021. 

This is why it’s so important that we’re bargaining in person now because we need to know, we need to see, we need to hear that you are as equally dedicated and prepared to work with us toward an agreement that will lead our schools into a real recovery and pave the beginning of a path towards a thriving school District. It was imperative for us to make sure that you see us, feel us, hear us, and see that this big bargaining team represents every corner, every title, every area of the span and scope of the work that you, yourself, and members do, day in and day out, for each and every student, that they all are able to see and hear and feel that you are partners in this very serious and critical task to improve and work toward the best this school district,  has to offer; has potential to be.

All of us in this room are the people who make this school district run and intend to make it thrive. We need to know that you come to this table with every intent, making every effort to listen for understanding, to consider all of the proposals we have to offer seriously and to engage meaningfully with us to agree to substantial improvements at a time when we have no more to lose but we can work together to build the abundant opportunities needed to create thriving conditions for our students to learn, for educators to work in, for this District to shine in. We look forward to coming to this agreement and being able to say that we’re ready to make these commitments before this school year ends. What we need is what our students need. What we need is what our schools need. We need what this District needs, and we hope you see that too.”