In December, the Houston Federation of Teachers won a significant victory on behalf of its members in Houston ISD. The local union, along with Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP), won elected consultation after trying to have a bigger voice in district decision-making for years.
“It took a lot of hard work — through campaigns, through phone-banking, through texting,” said Jackie Anderson, who was recently elected president of HFT. “We did a lot of member outreach but also a lot of district-wide outreach.”
In a right-to-work state like Texas, elected consultation is the closest thing to collective bargaining available currently to educators. After winning district leadership’s approval and an election by all district employees in Houston, HFT and HESP now have the opportunity to sit down with administration each month to talk about policy and changes affecting district employees.
“That’s the wonderful thing,” Anderson said. “They don’t make major decisions without consulting us first, and that is very important — that collaboration that we have with them.”
Given her union’s recent victory, Jackie has a lot to share about the advocacy efforts taking place in Houston and how she’s adjusting to her new leadership role.
Jackie is one of our many exceptional leaders and members across Texas. Check out our past leader spotlights to hear from more of them.
As this school year comes to a close, what is the biggest issue you’re dealing with now?
The Texas governor just recently said that masks will not be required at any public entity. Our students will be returning — some for summer school and in the fall — and it disheartens me to hear that schools will not be able to require masks. COVID-19 here in Houston and Harris County is still at a high level, and masks, right now, would be one of the best ways to mitigate the spread of this disease because not all of our students have been vaccinated. At this point, the vaccine is not available for our younger students. There is a push by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who was recently here, to get 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated, and for that we are grateful. We still have a large number of students that will not be vaccinated, and that is what concerns me right now. If we bring these students back and not all of them are vaccinated, we might see a high rise in cases.
We have heard that in the fall school will be open 100%, however there will be a virtual option for high schools. So the virtual option exists for those students who are vaccinated, and the face-to-face mandate is for those who won’t be vaccinated. In Texas, we have a lot of state overreach, which is so contradictory. It overrides local officials who are on the ground and know what is actually going on, and it continues to put us in harm’s way.
Why is this work important to you?
It matters to me because I want to be a person who leaves a legacy of change, who leaves some positive mark on society, who makes the world a better place than the place I grew up in. I want people who are younger than me to have it easier than it was for me.
Even though people tell me that I was always a leader, I just didn’t know that. I didn’t think of myself as a leader. I always tell people that I’m a work horse, not a show horse. I’m not ever trying to be out front.
This work is so important to me because I know that I don’t live alone, I don’t work alone, and I am not alone. Everything I do affects somebody, and I try to keep that in mind. I pray that it’s always going to be a positive influence for the people who are coming behind me.
Tell me more about yourself.
I’ve lived in Houston all my life. When I first became a teacher, I was a special education teacher. I always enjoyed it. I have always been a union member, so I valued union work. I was always working with the union after school every day, doing some type of leadership training or leadership role. Zeph Capo was the president of HFT at that time, and he must have seen something in me that I didn’t see in myself because he mentored me — always was teaching me, showing me, educating me on the work of our union. He was an excellent mentor.
When he won his election to Texas AFT president, it left an opening at HFT. Eventually I was nominated, and I was approved as president in January of this year, so I retired from teaching after 33 years. Now I’ve been spending my time trying to fill those big shoes that he left!
I have no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. I am not a politician, and I don’t aspire to be one. I wish I had another 30-40 years to give to this work. I’m a late bloomer; I started this work at a very seasoned age.
It’s been rewarding. It’s been hard work. I won’t say it’s not, but it’s been rewarding. I’m a new president, so I am still learning, but this is something that I take very seriously. This work is the ultimate job for me and I intend to do the very best that I can.