From Pasadena to San Francisco, staff make a difference every day

Nothing better illustrates the theme of this fall’s Classified Conference, “Celebrating Our Role in Quality Education,” than the staff who go above and beyond the call of duty. 
The honorees were nominated by their unions and selected as Members of the Year because they are positive role models for workers and students, contribute to the success of the local, and are committed advocates of high-quality education.

Denise Albright has worked at Pasadena City College for 17 years, first in the bookstore and now as a secretary for Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, or EOPS. Albright has moved up steadily through the union ranks serving as secretary of what is now Local 6525, the newly affiliated AFT union representing instructional support staff. She also served as president of the campus Classified Senate.

Never one to sit still for long, Albright also mentors young women on the Lady Lancers college basketball team, helping girls balance sports and academics and make good personal choices. She has been known to buy student athletes meals and lend them money for books.

“The other night my husband asked me if I know the meaning of the word ‘No.’ I guess the answer is ‘No,’” Albright said.

Roderick Carraway was honored for his leadership in reuniting the district’s classified staff. When he began working for Berkeley Unified in 1996, all classified belonged to one union.

A few years later, paras, instructional assistants, and clericals affiliated with the AFT, but Carraway — a maintenance technician — and about 160 custodians, food service staff, and bus drivers joined the Stationery Engineers. “Local 39 had no experience with school workers and had trouble enforcing the Education Code,” Carraway said. “We lost ground in the contract. I was instrumental in getting them in, so I wanted to be instrumental in getting them out.”

Since reunification in 2011, Carraway has helped negotiate separate contracts with the goal of creating one agreement that will provide the best terms for both groups. He is also a site rep and a member of the grievance, safety and budget oversight committees for the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees. “I always tell members this is about us. 
By myself, I can’t do much, but more gets accomplished when we work together.”

Deana Frederick is an administrative secretary at Dutcher Middle School and has been a member of the Turlock Classified AFT for 13 years.

When the 2008 financial crisis led to budget cuts, some of the 130 union members blamed the local for layoffs, furloughs, deferred cost-of-living adjustments and other staffing changes.

“For a long time I was a passive union member, but I moved into leadership because I didn’t believe the animosity was appropriate,” said Frederick, who volunteers as the local’s treasurer.

“We have been able to build some unity, and some new state funding is coming in and helping, but we still have people who feel we aren’t doing enough. We’re working on that.”

Mary Lavalais has been a community relations specialist/elementary advisor at the San Francisco Community School for 12 years, after working for 14 years at Fairmont Elementary where she created the Voices of Joy choir, a program she carried on at the alternative school.

“Kids don’t all learn the same way, but music helps all students,” Lavalais said. “The most rewarding thing for me is for a kid to come back to me 20 years later to tell me they still have a trophy or award I gave them for choir.”

As a student advisor, she focuses on restorative practices. “If kids have a conflict, they can deal with it by talking. There are consequences when kids fight, but they often don’t see that they are also hurt,” she said. “We’ve got to love the whole child. There are so many pieces that make up the child. I want every child to feel proud.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

“We’ve got to love the whole child…I want every child to feel proud.”

— Mary Lavalais, Elementary Advisor, San Francisco Unified