Historically, Northside ISD was a small, rural district in the San Antonio area. In the past 20 years, though, it has expanded to the fourth-largest district in Texas. In this rapidly changing pocket of Bexar County, the school board has remained largely the same, with members having served from 15 to 30 years.
“Northside has had to grow very rapidly, and while they’ve grown, a lot has happened,” said Wanda Longoria, president of Northside AFT. “There’s been huge socioeconomic changes — shifts in the types of students the area serves — yet the board isn’t reflective of that demographic change. That’s where we start.”
Northside AFT has been a local union for district employees for three years. After 12 years of growing membership and going through the formal process to build a chartered local, Northside AFT became the first and most visible union in this district of more than 120 campuses and worksites.
We sat down with Wanda to discuss what’s been going on in her union recently and about her journey into activism and leadership.
Wanda is one of our many exceptional leaders and members across Texas. Check out our past leader spotlights to hear from more of them.
What’s the biggest issue your union is facing in your district right now?
We are still trying to get the district to work with us, collaboratively, to release COVID-19 funds. We are asking for collaboration with the district so we can look not only at our programs but also personnel, social, emotional, and academic needs and make plans for those.
We just asked for a pay raise. The city of San Antonio has recently looked at the living wage of their employees and raised it to $15.25. If you look at Northside’s numbers, we pay lower than San Antonio ISD for support personnel. Because of that, Northside continually has a shortage when it comes to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians. You have people working longer hours and then the district wants them to work overtime. Instead of counting on those employees to work overtime, we should be hiring more staff, but no one wants to work low-wage jobs.
We are asking the district to take a look at the pay scale for classified employees and move it toward $15. We would like to see a $1 raise across the board and move folks toward that $15 an hour rate. We also need ways to compensate them, in terms of retention, for their loyalty to the district.
What work comes next?
We’re trying to educate our members that they are our union, they power our union, and that together we are stronger! Too often, our teachers do not vote for their profession; they vote for their political party. So we want to educate them this summer and next year that education is political and encourage folks to vote for their profession and not a party, because that party folks are voting for is the one that makes their life difficult in the classroom.
We also have to train our leaders to have conversations about power — the power dynamic and the power shift that must take place in order for employees to have a voice. Even though right now our relationships are strained with the board because of the recent election, I still have hope we can reach across the aisle and continue to collaborate. We want to work with them, but if they won’t collaborate with us, that won’t keep us from doing our work.
What were you up to before you got involved with AFT?
I was born in Brownsville, and I got my degree in Corpus Christi. I was going to go to law school, but instead, I fell in love with teaching. My dad knew I was going to be a teacher since I was 5, so that wasn’t a surprise to him. I began my work there in Corpus as a teacher.
Educating teachers on their rights, their profession, how to be a community member, how to be an activist — that appealed to me because my father had been an activist in the ‘60s.
My father was born and raised in Cuero, Texas, where he had to go to the back of restaurants to order his meal even though he was on a football team that won All-State. The captain of the football team at that time organized his football team in high school, and they basically told the owners, “Look, either you serve us all or we won’t come anymore.” So the owner made the decision to serve everyone outside. That was the beginning for my dad.
In his 20s and 30s, when Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, he was a Baptist minister and was part of the Civil Rights Movement. He always taught us that we need to take care of others and he was always involved in community action.
Why does this work matter to you?
When I came to Northside almost 20 years ago, I went back in educational history about 30 years. There was very little respect for a teacher’s time or their voice. I’ve had incidents where I’ve had to fight on my own. I won because of my knowledge and because of how AFT had trained me. I was determined that other teachers needed a voice and that I was going to be part of that. In May 2018, I stepped away after 36 years of teaching to run for president of Northside AFT, and I was re-elected in May 2019.
We are a young union, and we’re learning. I’m learning from my sisters and brothers in the union, and I’m just excited to see where Northside goes from here. Our challenges are huge, but any challenge that big will reap great rewards.