Courtesy of Dave Cicarella

On Tuesday night, Leslie Blatteau ’97 GRD ’07 and her slate of 31 candidates were elected to leadership roles for the New Haven Federation of Teachers, a local teachers union representing roughly 1800 teachers in the New Haven public school system. The group, which dubbed itself the “Fighting for Our Future” slate, defeated five-term incumbent President Dave Cicarella and his slate of 24 candidates

Cicarella has served as the Federation’s president for the last 15 years. This year, he ran for a sixth time, fielding a slate of NHFT veterans and newcomers. The final tally for the NHFT president race had 452 votes for Blatteau and 350 votes for Cicarella. The Fighting For Our Future slate did not contest the executive vice president position in NHFT, so Pat DeLucia, incumbent executive vice president, retained his seat alongside two other members of Cicarella’s slate. 

Blatteau and members of her slate attributed their victory to the strength of their ideas and their organizing efforts. Nataliya Braginsky, the Fighting For Our Future slate’s campaign manager and a Metropolitan Business Academy teacher, told the News that her slate is directly involved with teaching and that the victory was “momentous and necessary.”

“This victory by the Fighting For Our Future slate is a win for all of us because the group of educators elected to lead NHFT is committed to fighting for the schools our students, families, and educators deserve,” Braginsky told the News. “Unions can and must be not only responsive to the concerns of [their] members but also proactive, drawing upon our collective experience and vision for what is possible to make vital changes. As educators who collaborate with colleagues and work directly with students every day, we know what our schools need — not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Cicarella hopes new leadership will bring “new ideas” to NHPS

Before his tenure at the helm of the NHFT, Cicarella taught for 22 years. According to DeLucia and Chief Steward of NHFT Marianne Maloney, Cicarella had a “storied career” that earned him “national recognition.” 

Mayor Justin Elicker added that he was “thankful for David’s commitment to positive educational outcomes for our kids,” and that Cicarella was “a thoughtful and productive partner” who “will be missed.”

Cicarella was involved in the revitalization of the teacher evaluation system approximately a decade ago, which led to New Haven being used as a national example for education by former President Barack Obama.  

“We’ve worked through some pretty difficult stuff with lots of changes for teachers in terms of evaluation, instruction, and accountability,” Cicarella told the News. “And top to bottom accountability. I think we’ve done some pretty good stuff, but change is never a bad thing. This new group is really very well organized, and they are a very energetic, smart bunch. They have a different vision, which I don’t mean as a bad thing, but they’re looking to do [things] quite a bit differently.” 

Cicarella added that he was “very excited” by the organizational skills and “creative thinking” that the Blatteau slate brought to the campaign. He hoped they would be able to bring “new ideas” to challenges that have “seemed insurmountable” in the past. 

Cicarella, Maloney and DeLucia all framed the election as a way for teachers to express their desire for “change.” Maloney told the News that it was “clear that people are looking for a change from the situation that exists in the teaching world right now.” She added that the stress of the pandemic — driven by students returning from a year of online school to confront staff shortages — has made teaching much more difficult.

Cicarella admitted that the Fighting For Our Future slate had done much more campaigning and organizing for their campaign when compared to his slate. They appointed a campaign manager, for example, which he said has never been done before in NHFT history. 

Fighting For Our Future slate promises change

Fighting For Our Future participated in numerous hours of dialogue with teachers across New Haven Public Schools and developed five key commitments: negotiating a stronger contract with the district, improving working conditions in schools, honoring and strengthening union bylaws, engaging and supporting union members, and building coalitions in the community. 

Blatteau told the News that one of her “foremost” priorities will be preparing to form a negotiations team to negotiate their contract this spring. She plans on doing a “needs assessment” to collect information from teachers on “what they really need.” 

She added on the second of the five commitments that her administration will work to meet with individuals from each building and find out “what’s really going on.” 

On bylaws, Blatteau plans on restarting the work of a former bylaws committee and revising bylaws that currently exist with a “mix of slate members and members of the teachers union.”  The move is part of Blatteau’s larger desire to bring union committees in a way that is “truly meaningful.” Union Committees help drive union policy and steer the Federation. 

Blatteau added that she hopes to reopen NHFT’s Union Hall so that NHPS teachers can have a place where “they feel like they have support and a community.” Additionally, Blatteau hopes to reopen Union Hall to better engage with union members. 

Jonathan Berryman GRD ’96, vice president-elect for elementary schools in NHFT, told the News that the election demonstrates that there is a “renewed fire” among teachers about what their administration can accomplish. 

“I think this represents people’s optimism that we can come together as a collective, and address some of the many of the issues that we are facing as teachers and as learning communities in New Haven public schools,” Blatteau told the News. “We ran this campaign how we hope to run the Union, and I think that message appealed to people.” 

Another key tenet of the Fighting For Our Future slate, according to Blatteau, is better organizing at each building in the NHPS system and then “taking a step back” and seeing the “intersection of issues” between different buildings. 

Berryman added that improving teacher retention will be an important part of the work that this new slate will be doing and that it was the main focus of the many different parts of their platform. 

“There’s a lot of work to do, and I think I almost see a beehive,” Berryman said. “On January 1, you will see a great flurry of activity as everybody becomes busy making the honey which for us is teacher longevity.” 

Blatteau pointed out that only 812 NHFT members had voted in the election — meaning there were around 1000 members that did not vote.

“We have the ground game established, but we need to grow it because only 812 people voted and there are 1000 people who we still need to reach,” Blatteau said. “We have ideas for how to reach them. I mean, we’re going to improve communication, we’re going to improve data management. So those are going to be two ways that we’re going to reach those other 1000 people who still have not engaged in the electoral way.” 

Blatteau also thanked Cicarella for the time he had spent as NHFT president. One of his most important legacies, she said, is the fact that he “stood up for teachers when teachers needed him.” She added that Cicarella had offered to help her with the transition and that she plans on working with him during the process of transitioning between administrations. 

The newly elected NHFT leaders will be inaugurated on January 1 for a term that will expire on December 31, 2024. 

Yash Roy covers education & youth services in New Haven and is a P&D staffer. He is a first year in Timothy Dwight College and is from Princeton, NJ.