(Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 15--The St. Paul teachers union president will step down to take a top leadership post with the national American Federation of Teachers.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, who has led the St. Paul Federation of Teachers since 2005, will become AFT's executive vice president, one of three highest offices in the national union. She ran on the candidate slate of newly re-elected AFT President Randi Weingarten, who has called Ricker "one of the most-forward-thinking union leaders nationally."
The 3,300-member St. Paul Federation under Ricker's leadership has gotten national attention for its initiatives. In tandem with the district, the union launched a program in which educators mentor and help evaluate less experienced colleagues.
It also greatly broadened its contract bargaining agenda to include issues from class size to testing -- and worked aggressively to enlist parent support for it.
Denise Rodriguez, the St. Paul federation's vice president, will take over the local union and serve out Ricker's term, which ends next summer.
Ricker takes on her new role at a time when the national union is smarting from a recent California court ruling rolling back teacher tenure and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limited the right of unions to collect dues from non-members.
"I am energized to take the baton at a time when all of our gains are under attack," Ricker said in addressing the AFT convention in Los Angeles.
She said she will embrace the union's priorities: fight what union leaders have called "a corporate takeover" of public education, work to scale back the role of standardized testing and advocate for high-quality early childhood education.
Although she is not required to step down as local leader, she said, "I would want to make sure both positions get undivided attention."
The AFT has about 1.6 million members, who also include nurses, childcare workers and others.
Over the years, Ricker, a former middle school English teacher, has joined St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva to tout their collaboration; she has also been an outspoken district critic at times.
In the two most recent contract negotiation rounds, the local federation greatly expanded the scope of proposals beyond pay and benefits to seek changes such as class size caps, a reduction in standardized testing and increases in support staff hiring.
The district sharply criticized these proposals, arguing they were too costly and tied the hands of district leaders. A strike vote was averted by a marathon negotiations session and a compromise agreement.
Silva said she is proud of her work with Ricker on the Peer Assistance and Review teacher evaluation program, which she said "demonstrably enhanced the teaching profession in St. Paul."
"Mary Cathryn brings passion to her job every single day," Silva said, calling Ricker a "tireless advocate for the teachers she serves."
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who has also worked closely with Ricker, called her "a smart and engaged leader for teachers in St. Paul."
Joe Nathan of the St. Paul-based Center for School Change praised Ricker's support for a district-charter school collaboration to increase college-credit class participation. He noted efforts to cultivate more diverse educators among the district's students and paraprofessionals.
"She is a practical visionary who's very open-minded and deeply committed to urban youngsters and educators," Nathan said.
He said Rodriguez, a Ramsey Middle School Spanish teacher, shares Ricker's forward-looking attitude and skills. Rodriguez, a 36-year district veteran, will step in for Ricker by the end of July.
Mila Koumpilova can be reached at 651-228-2171. Follow her at twitter.com/MilaPiPress.
MARY CATHRYN RICKER
Alma mater: Hibbing High School
Resume: Led St. Paul Federation of Teachers since 2005, middle school English teacher who has taught in St. Cloud; Camas, Wash.; Seoul, South Korea; and St. Paul
State leadership: Co-chaired Minnesota's Teacher Evaluation Work Group, served on the Minnesota Department of Education School Finance Working Group
Family: Married to an English language learner teacher, has two children who are students in St. Paul district
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