Mandy Manning for WEA President

(Editor’s Note: The steering committee of Social Equity Educators voted to endorse Mandy Manning for WEA President. Manning won the 2018 National Teacher of the Year award from the Council of Chief State School Officers. She teaches English Language Learners in the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. Last May, Manning visited the White House to receive an award honoring her from Donald Trump.

While receiving the award, she staged a silent protest. She handed Trump a stack of 45 letters written by her immigrant students, in which they explained their “hopes and dreams for the future” and their disagreements with Trump’s rhetoric and policies toward refugees and immigrants. In addition, she wore several pins on her dress — one that read “Trans Rights Now,” another from the Women’s March, an apple with the LGBTQ rainbow colors, plus pins from the National Education Association, Peace Corps and Teacher of the Year program.

More recently, motivated by her outrage at the Trump administration’s racist detentions of refugee and immigrant children at the U.S. border and the separation of children from their parents, she began organizing with other State Teachers of the Year to set up a group called Teachers Against Child Detention. They held a Teach-In for Freedom on February 17 in El Paso, Texas. Below is an interview of Manning by SEE member and Substitute Teacher Darrin Hoop about why she’s running for WEA President and what she hopes to accomplish if elected.)

Hoop: What are the main issues you want WEA members to know you support in your campaign for WEA President?

Manning: My 20 years in my classroom and visiting other people’s classrooms, has revealed, confirmed, and taught me a great deal about our education system and all we need to do to ensure ours is a system not that serves itself, but that serves our students and all of us who work in our schools. This means working to ensure ours is not a system of oppression, but one that believes in every child’s potential and in trusting, supporting, and respecting those of us working in schools to create learning environments in which all children can reach that potential.

As educators and education support professionals, we have the experience and expertise to lead this charge. After 10 years of active participation in Spokane EA and witnessing the power of our collective in our own state in others, I believe that our union and all of us working together, is our way to truly shape our schools into places of equity and community, not only for our students, but also for all school staff. With your support, I will be a leader who does not consolidate power, but who builds power amongst our members. 

We must empower locals to empower members.

WEA is a massive organization. Our members serve approximately 1.1 million students in 295 school districts across our state. With 21 Uniserv councils serving 400 locals representing nearly 95,000 members, it stands to reason that WEA is an organization of systems. We must examine these systems and ensure that WEA operates to support a bottom-up decision-making and leadership process that places members at the helm of our organization. Each of our locals has individual needs and we must equip our local leaders to empower their members to take the lead on action to meet those community needs. 

This includes empowering locals to work in solidarity to fight for the funding each community needs in order to meet the needs of their students. This fight should include restructuring our tax system to include a means for taxing the very wealthy – right now the focus is on a Capital Gains Tax, which would be a start. We must also reestablish levy flexibility, while also looking at funding inequity between districts. Much of this depends on the will of the body coming out of RA. We cannot back down from this fight – especially in light of the massive layoffs we are seeing across the state. We need local empowerment to make this happen. 

Equity can only be achieved through action.

During the 10 years I’ve been an active participant in my local association at various levels of leadership, I have seen forward movement in becoming an inclusive organization. Much of that focus has been on ensuring we recruit members of color and create systems of support for rural members to participate in their councils, locals, and our representative assembly. Now, the true equity work needs to begin. It’s not enough to invite participation, we must ensure every voice is heard and leads to action. Equity work must be intersectional, which means ensuring access for all of our members, particularly those whose voices have been limited or silenced throughout the history of our organization.

Beyond that, our equity work cannot only be inward. We must focus outward and ensure we are collectively working toward equity within our schools. This means supporting the implementation of ethnic studies in classrooms across our state and supporting Black Lives Matter in Schools, among other initiatives. This also means fighting for justice within our system by eliminating standardized assessments to make room for real teaching and make up for lost class days dedicated to testing. Eliminating testing will also benefit schools financially, as testing is excessively expensive and diverts funds away from the people in our system who are the ones directly impacting students. 

Transparency and clear communication are essential to developing trust and community. 

As we enter a new era of unionism under the Supreme Court Janus decision, it is more important than ever that we believe in our union leadership, at every level, from state to council to local, all the way to the building level. This means we need leadership who aren’t too distant from what’s happening in our classrooms and in our schools. Leaders who actively listen and involve all voices in decision-making. And, leaders who trust member experiences and empower members to act on their own behalf. We must develop effective means of two-way communication between members and leadership and being transparent in how WEA operates and why.  

We must focus on connection.

Along the lines of transparency and clear communication, our organization must focus on building connections – connections between building reps and members, between local leadership and council leadership, and connections with state leadership. We do this by respecting one another, viewing every local as essential to our organization, and working together with an asset mindset. We all have strengths and experiences to bring to the table and we must honor the fact that we have different but equally important needs. Our association must ensure we are honoring all voices and working for the needs of all communities and locals, regardless of size and geography. We must also make leadership affordable and accessible to all members and encourage all members to participate. 

Members deserve bold, inclusive leaders for the future of WEA.

Authentic leadership listens and acts. If trusted with the role of President, I will be available and visible in your communities. WEA is member led and driven. Therefore, we must work to ensure members have access to leaders and to leadership. An authentic leader doesn’t endeavor to maintain or hoard power, but rather gives power. With your support, I will listen to you and act with you. Our power is in our collective and I intend to strengthen that collective.

Hoop: The SEA’s Center for Racial Equity is organizing around five themes of NBIs, Continuing Resolutions, and Bylaw Amendments for the WEA RA. They are: 1. Ethnic Studies 2. Recruitment, Retention, and Support of Educators of Color 3. Anti-White Supremacy 4. Adoption of a Racial Equity Analysis Tool for NBIs 5. Equitable Race/Ethnicity Selection of WEA Forms/Data Collection.

What are your thoughts on these issues? How do you see them connecting to the issues around supporting our immigrant students you are organizing and working on? 

Manning: Ethnic Studies Absolutely, we must see this implemented across the state – in order for that to happen, we must also look at implementation and ensure training in order to effectively roll this out – if teachers aren’t properly trained or are not bought in, it could be more detrimental than effective and we know this work saves students’ lives. So, we must do it right.

Recruitment, Retention, and Support of Educators of Color – This will require true assessment of our systems. How can we expect educators of color to work within a system which actively oppressed them as students and now does the same to them as educators. This conversation is bigger than teacher prep programs and support in the first few years – it will require an entire system overhaul. I’m sure you’re familiar with her work, but Dr. Bettina Love’s new book “We Want to Do More than Survive” gives an idea of how we can begin this work.

Anti-White Supremacy – This is essential. If we don’t work to end white supremacy, none of these other themes will be accomplished.

Adoption of a Racial Equity Analysis Tool for NBIs – Yes, and we not only need to assess our NBIs, but also the system through which they are accomplished, starting with an assessment of our Association.

Equitable Race/Ethnicity Selection of WEA Forms/Data Collection – This is something that once accomplished at the WEA level needs to extend into the schools. 

Personally, I am also passionate about immigrant children rights. I started Teachers Against Child Detention with Ivonne Orozco (2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year). We must demand an end to immigrant child incarceration and work to provide supports for the children we have traumatized through our actions as a nation. We must also empower school districts with the tools and information they need to ensure their schools are safe places for our immigrant youth and their families. I am working on NBIs to support these causes. 

Hoop: Why should educators support a capital gains and other progressive taxes to fund education?

Manning: We have a regressive tax system that is not effectively funding our schools and places the burden on our lowest earners. A Capital Gains Tax is a beginning to fix that problem – focusing on making the very wealthy pay their share, if not more. 

Hoop: Do you support a coordinated statewide day(s) of action of all WEA locals this school year to push for this including a variety of actions up to a statewide strike?

Manning: YES

Hoop: If you are elected and could help lead this union, what kind of campaign and/or actions would you argue the union should take to win a capital gains tax? Keep in mind, right now 22 locals in Oregon are planning a May 8 walkout for funding and other issues and there will be a NBI put forward at the WEA Rep Assembly in Spokane by Social Equity Educators calling for a day of action in solidarity including a statewide strike.

Manning: I’m actually working on this right now. I want to plan daily actions individual members can take in the days leading up to RA – and provide community efforts as well. Stay tuned.