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Torie Shoecraft won decisively against opponent Michelle Manley in the AFT-OKC teachers union election Friday capturing 82% of the votes.

The American Federation of Teachers, Oklahoma City local 2309 is the bargaining agent for all teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The election comes after Ed Allen, the 17-year president, decided to retire at the end of May.

Shoecraft represents a true shift in thinking among the membership about who makes a good union leader.

Firsts

She is the first black president. And, at 32, she is among the youngest to lead the union local.

She is the first woman to gain that spot since the late 1980s when Georgia Iannello Solloway and Ann Turner were presidents. Before that, Frances Parman was the president in the local’s very early years.

Also, she is the first elementary teacher in decades to serve in that post although many elementary teachers have served in critical positions throughout the union’s history. Shoecraft taught Pre-K and kindergarten at Nichols Hills Elementary for seven years.

Union experience

She also has extensive experience inside the union local’s operation.

First, she was a worksite leader representing teachers in her building. Then, she was on the executive board of the organization. She resigned the board to take a field representative position during the 2018 teacher walkout which she has had since.

Free Press talked with Shoecraft by phone Friday after the vote had been tabulated the night before.

“Very excited”

“I am very excited,” she said. “And I am really also excited that even with being out of school that people still took the time to vote.”

“I think that means that I have a lot of work to do now too and I am going to represent the teachers to the best I can and to the best of my ability because they deserve it,” Shoecraft said.

Challenges

She considers the response to the pandemic to be the biggest set of challenges for the district and for teachers.

“Because of the coronavirus I think just going back to school in August is going to be different,” said Shoecraft.

She also pointed to some unfinished business of the abrupt interruption of the regular class schedule.

“With Pathway to Greatness (P2G), we really didn’t even finish that first full year,” she said. The process of finding the right fit for teaching assignments under the new plan was interrupted by the pandemic and would need to be worked on for the next school year.

She said, in general, the big challenge will be adapting to both the usual changes in the district, which most teachers are used to and the changes that the pandemic has caused which are extraordinary.

“I think that this change will be hard,” Shoecraft said. “It’ll be different. Things will look different. But I’m pretty optimistic that we can meet those challenges.”

Year interrupted

Students and teachers never came back from Spring Break in March due to the growing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic threat.

After Spring break teachers and students began to interact from a safe distance by phone and online. Students who did not have an internet connection could still connect through paper packets picked up at the same sites where meals were available.

The district Board of Education then decided to officially move up the end of school for students from May 20 to May 8.

And the challenges to continue educating students are expected to remain profound.

Administration

We asked Shoecraft what she thought about the current administration under Superintendent Sean McDaniel who just had his contract offer extended to a three-year contract.

She said that the current administration has the “best district leaders in place right now than they have in a long time.”

“Really, we’re all in this for the teachers and the students,” said Shoecraft. “So we should be working together. I should be working with principals union and with the district. And I think that they are willing to do that.”

Praise from incumbent

teachers union
Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City local of the American Federation of Teachers delivers a fiery speech before thousands on the first day of the Teacher Walkout in 2018. (file photo by Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

“She’s very confident, knows our district, Knows the views of teachers and their needs,” said long-term and now retiring President Ed Allen. “I think she’s going to be very successful.”

Allen said that the biggest challenges for teachers and leaders in the district will be when it’s time for school to start again in the fall.

“That’s going to be a whole new world,” said Allen who believes that the contact lost during the pandemic shutdown and then the summer will make for an even bigger loss of advancement for some of the district’s students.

He said he doesn’t know if the beginning of school will create a situation where there is a “common bond” or if there would be conflict.


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Correction: In the original version of this post we said that Shoecraft was the first woman and elementary teacher to hold the position of President in the AFT-OKC local. We have corrected the report to show that Frances Parman, Ann Turner and Georgia Iannello Solloway were also presidents in the late 1980s and that at least one other president came from the elementary teacher ranks in earlier decades.