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AFT Massachusetts Announces Recipients of 2022 Distinguished Service Awards

AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos and Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan are thrilled to announce the winners of the union’s 2022 Distinguished Service Awards.

The Distinguished Service Awards are presented annually to AFT Massachusetts members who have demonstrated an outstanding level of service and dedication to their local union. Here are this year’s winners:

PreK-12 Educator

  • Sharon Nash, AFT Amesbury. A member of AFT Amesbury since 2001, Sharon has taught as a kindergarten and first grade teacher at the Amesbury Elementary School. She has served as a building representative, a member of the teacher unit bargaining team, an executive board member, and has held the office of elementary vice-president for two tems. As a member of the union’s coalition bargaining team, she helped to successfully implement six memoranda of agreements during the pandemic, and authored what resulted in being the elementary hybrid teaching and learning model in Amesbury. In the words of her colleagues, “Sharon tirelessly gives her best effort towards helping her colleagues navigate the working conditions/environment and job requirements. She is well-respected and consistently looks for ways to maintain and improve employee/administration relations by scheduling face-to-face conversations that facilitate mutual respect. She is a seasoned, exemplary, early childhood educator who cares deeply about our profession, and was pivotal to our success in keeping our schools safe and our members supported throughout even the early stages of the pandemic.” Congratulations Sharon!

Retired Member

  • Marilyn Flowers, Boston Teachers Union. A former English teacher at Boston Latin Academy, Marilyn taught for 32 years in the Boston Public Schools, and spent more than 20 of those years supporting members as a building rep at her schools. Marilyn currently serves as the BTU Retired Teachers Chair, a position she has been elected in to and held for the past eight years. In this role she worked to increase membership of the BTU retirees from over a thousand to three thousand. Through her efforts she has created a very successful Jazz Brunch and Toys for Tots Drive during the holiday season for retirees. She is an AFT Legacy member, the next President of the Massachusetts Chapter of The Alliance for Retired Americans, and a member of Program and Policy Council for AFT. In the words of her colleagues, “As an educator she created opportunities for her students to develop their English skills. She also would take her students out on Trolley tours to teach them about the city of Boston. At her school they would honor students who were inducted into their Honor Society. After the event she would have an event that celebrates the culture of all the students. Marilyn is very politicly active serving on her district ward committee and on the MA State Democratic Committee. It is with great honor that we recommend Marilyn for a Distinguished Service award!” Congratulations Marilyn!

Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel (PSRP)

  • Kafunda Banks, Boston Teachers Union. An Applied Behavioral Analysis Specialist and a member of the Boston Teachers Union for the past five years, Kafunda works with her fellow ABAs on many different levels. She is part of the Black Affinity Group for ABAs where she collaborates with her peers to help improve the relationship between colleagues and supervisors. She has assisted in the development of a mentor program to help further support her co-workers and continues to advocate for her colleagues. Kafunda serves on the BTU’s Collective Bargaining Committee, and has co-facilitated different BTU events, including parent forums. She is part of the BTU Inclusion Done Right Committee and has testified at City Council Hearings on inclusion in the past. In the words of her colleagues, “Kafunda brings knowledge as well as a calming nature to her fellow BTU members and families. She is a team-player who is always ready to lend a hand. She is one of the first to volunteer when it comes to improving services for students or conditions for her colleagues. Kafunda is also a strong advocate for students and serves on task forces for special education as well as the reopening task force. She is always advocating for her students, families and colleagues. Kafunda understands what her students deserve and is not afraid to speak up for their rights.” Congratulations Kafunda!
  • Irene Vershon, Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals. A Para-educator in the Springfield Public Schools, Irene has been an active member of the Federation since 1997. Irene has served as the 1st Vice President and is currently a Building Representative and the 2nd Vice President and holds a position on the Executive Board. She has served the Federation as a member of the negotiating team. At the end of this school year, she will begin her well-earned retiree life, marking a bittersweet milestone for her union. In the words of her colleagues, “Irene is inexhaustible. She is always the first person to volunteer for any and all union activities. Her vitality and creative approach to problem solving have been of immense benefit to the local over her years of service. Irene is the ‘go to’ person if you need something done, and you can always rely on her to do it well. Our union will miss her uplifting, fiery, indomitable presence. Her spirit will continue on in the many members she has initiated into our union and the existence of the many programs she helped create.” Congratulations Irene!

Under 35

  • Tracy Curtin, Boston Teachers Union. A 5th year educator and a building rep at the Pauline Shaw Elementary School in Boston, Tracy teaches 3rd grade and has been a leader in the fight to save the Shaw School, a vibrant school community that only goes up to third grade but has space to go to sixth grade, from cuts that would harm the school community. When the school received word in December that the they would be losing a third-grade classroom rather than receiving the year-by-year grade expansion promised several years ago, Tracy played a key role in bringing together BTU members, as well as families, students, and community members to share their concerns and make a plan to be heard. Besides her role as a building rep, Tracy is also a leader in the BTU's Housing Justice Committee, which is dedicated to organizing for safe and stable housing by empowering families and providing access to resources, training, education, political advocacy, and networking. In the words of her colleagues, “it is clear that Tracy is instilling social justice values in her students. Her classroom is filled with students whose different needs are met, with students who advocate for themselves and others, students who take care of each other, and truly value not only her as an educator but the school community and the classroom community she has fostered. As a union leader, Tracy never focuses the attention on herself, but instead does the essential work of building relationships and building up others to have their voices heard. Tracy also exemplifies the social justice union model – she understands that we build more power when we stand together and in solidarity with students, families, and community members.” Congratulations Tracy!

Municipal Librarian

  • Mary Frances Best, Massachusetts Library Staff Association. A former president of the MLSA and current Supervisor of Adult Services at the Milford Town Library, Mary Frances started her union career in 1994 by organizing her coworkers at the Milford Town Library. She organized all the library staff – from pages to professionals, paraprofessionals to custodians – into one union: no one was left behind! Not one to rest on her laurels, she ran for president of the MLSA in 1996, was elected, and served in that capacity for 22 years until 2018. During the time, Mary Frances guided the MLSA through difficult years of budget cuts, recession, and downsizing. Serving on the AFT Public Employee Program and Policy Council (PPC), she has ably represented the interests of public employees at the national level and made sure that librarians have a voice in the AFT. In the words of her colleagues, “Mary Frances has always been an activist. She marched with Civil Rights groups, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, while in college in Texas in the 60s. She also participated in two national Climate Marches and a Women's March. While volunteering with the Black Panther Party in the 1970s in their Brooklyn, NY Breakfast Program, she joined demonstrations to free the BPP members who had been unlawfully incarcerated. Mary Frances has also been an active member of the labor organization Women in Leadership Development (WILD). She’s been a tireless advocate for amplifying the voice of women in the labor movement. She has been committed to unionism and social justice throughout her career, and is a true example of a union activist.” Congratulations Mary Frances!

Worker Justice

  • The Lynn Teachers Union’s Racial and Social Justice Committee (Chairpersons Kendwy Valdez Torres, Micheal Brown, Michael Lopez, and Phil O'Connor). The forty-two members of this dynamic and eclectic group, ranging from three to twenty-seven years of teaching experience, came together during the height of the pandemic to work together to effect change in their classrooms, schools, and district for their students, the community, and themselves. A month after the murder of George Floyd, the Lynn Teachers Union held the first Racial and Social Justice Committee meeting via Zoom. The group has grown and strengthened since our first meeting and has been instrumental in making significant changes at the district level. Members of the committee have met with the district to give open and honest feedback on professional development trainings, and successfully advocated for the creation of an affinity group for staff of color which continues to meet monthly with Kendwy and Micheal as the facilitators. The Lynn Public Schools recently met with the SOC Affinity Group to collaborate with members in recruiting teachers of color for the district. The Committee also worked together to create a list of books that address anti-racism and equity, and raised $7,000 to bring this literature into the classroom. The committee purchased seven book titles for all eighteen elementary schools in the district, and the transitional junior/senior high schools received 75 books to be distributed to students. Members of the committee who are kindergarten teachers were invited to participate in a development of an anti-bias, anti-racist curriculum for kindergarten with social standards imbedded. The kindergarten curriculum rolled out this school year. In the words of their colleagues, “The Racial & Social Justice Committee members exemplify the characteristics of distinguished service for our union and community. They have increased the activism of new members and members rarely active in union activities. The district has embraced this committee with deep respect and acknowledgement. Their advocacy for staff of color has given members a safe place to voice their emotions, concerns, and needs. The curriculum work and literature donations have allowed members to grow professionally in the area of social justice.” Congratulations to the members of the Lynn Teachers Union’s Racial and Social Justice Committee!

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2022 Distinguished Service Awards!

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