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Local Union Spotlight: Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association

The members of this large and diverse union find great strength in solidarity. Teachers advocate on behalf of the district’s education staff professionals, and education staff professionals rally in support of teachers.

Rob Kriete

Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA), just finished his first year as the union’s leader. For the previous six years, he served as an Executive Board member. He has been a secondary school English teacher since 1993, working in both middle and high schools. Rob has “worn a lot of hats in the schools” — from department head to basketball and flag-football coach, while also acting as a professional development trainer.

Working with the Center for Teaching Quality, Rob served as a “Teacherpreneur.” In that hybrid role, he taught half the day and was a teacher leader in the district and state the other half. He also advocated for such hybrid roles in his district, which created a pilot program to have “Teacher Talent Developers” in some schools. These hybrid teachers teach half the day and work with teachers, newer teachers as well as veterans, the other half.

Q&A

With President Kriete

ABOUT THE UNION

What would you like people to know about HCTA?

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association is a strong union of close to 10,000 active teachers and education support professionals around the Tampa area of Florida. HCTA has been representing education professionals since 1921, and we have the most historic union hall in Florida, a 111-year-old restored cigar factory in West Tampa. When we moved to our current union hall in 2014, we also started the HCTA Professional Learning Center, which serves as a hub of activity and professional development for our members. HCTA has long been known as a leader in innovative thinking. We have partnered with our district on many ground-breaking programs. Our most recent partnership with our district is a community schools project. We hope the implementation of this research-based model will be able to be used as a standard for positive school reform throughout Florida. Every year we strive to better our contractual protections, pay and benefits for our members.

What is your union’s proudest achievement?

We at HCTA are very proud of our solidarity. Teachers have fought vigorously to improve the conditions and salaries of our education support professionals, and our education staff professionals have rallied in support of teachers in recent years. When HCTA and our district went to impasse over contracts, our solidarity was visible and palpable at every School Board meeting in the form of raucous rallies. We are a large and diverse district and union, but our solidarity is made clear to the public, and especially our school district, when our working conditions, salaries and careers are treated disrespectfully.

What has your union been doing that’s exciting?

HCTA has been collaborating with all our great public education stakeholders better than ever before. We have been working with our local legislators, local labor unions, parent groups, faith leaders and community leaders to create a community coalition to support our public schools. Together we were able to pass a local half-cent sales tax to help meet the many needs of our schools. We are looking forward to the implementation of our community schools project. Additionally, we have hosted a Community Town Hall to deepen our relationships and codify our collective mission to improve our schools.

What would you would tell the Legislature on behalf of members — what are your big issues?

HCTA believes that we need to increase the base student allocation (BSA) to allow local control over their public education dollars. We would like to remind lawmakers that all Florida voters — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — believe that every child deserves a high quality, fully funded, free public education. It is imperative that legislators comply to the will of the voters and abide by Florida’s Constitution to fully fund high quality public schools. Furthermore, a serious revamping of the current accountability system regarding school grades needs to occur, and we would very much like to see a moratorium on vouchers and charters.

ABOUT THE PRESIDENT

What is the best part of being president of your local?

The very best part of being president is getting the ability to see all the great things our members do to make our district special! Teachers and education staff professionals do so much for our students despite the obstacles our lawmakers constantly put in their path. There are great things happening in Hillsborough every day, and I am blessed to get to see more of it in this role.

How would you explain why union membership is important to someone who is not yet a member?

Membership transcends the individual benefits that each member receives, it gives each professional a true voice as an advocate for our public schools. If you truly believe that every child deserves a free, high-quality, properly funded public education, you must be a member. With so many forces working to diminish, reduce or privatize our public schools, we need each education professional to add to our collective voice to protect and improve our schools for the sake of our students and communities.

What should we know about you — or, what inspires you?

I am passionate about my work as an educator and union leader; I miss my classroom every day while doing this important work. I am blessed to have been inspired by the many students who I have the pleasure of working for, my incredible wife, an amazing elementary teacher herself, as well as the great people I have gotten to work with at schools and the amazing group of dedicated staff at HCTA. In short, although I may not have been monetarily compensated appropriately for the hours of hard work I have done, I am inspired that the work we all do is important and makes a difference in the lives of children.

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