New Douglas County Federation president Courtney Smith takes the reins at arguably the most difficult time in the union's history.
The DCF, which represents both teachers and other Douglas County School District employees, lost its 47-year collective bargaining agreement with DCSD in 2012. And the four candidates it supported in the recent school board election lost.
"It's a transitional time," said Smith, who is unrelated to outgoing DCF president Brenda Smith. "But it's also a time where we need to embrace moving forward with a new normal in Douglas County.
"We have to realize that the relationship the union and school district had in the past is no longer. I'm excited about moving forward."
Smith was elected to the top spot by the union's executive board in a Dec. 11 vote, and starts the job Jan. 1. Former president Brenda Smith resigned to work in the Cherry Creek School District.
Despite the dramatic changes of the past two years, Courtney Smith believes the teachers union still serves a vital purpose. About 60 percent of DCSD's teachers are DCF members. Membership has dropped about 10 percent since the CBA expired.
"A teacher or classified employee's working conditions is his or her students' learning conditions," she said. "It's more important than ever that we're there to represent the voices of teachers and classified employees.
"They are not willing to give up on a school district they built. We're going to work hard to reclaim the promise of public education for Douglas County."
Smith said she's hopeful the DCF can work with the current board, but said, "There's a difference in the vision of moving Douglas County forward by some of the upper administration. It's different than what I think is best for the school district, and for public schools as a whole."
Some opponents said the union was an impediment to the controversial reforms enacted by the board, concerns that were emphasized during the campaign. But Smith said the DCF had a historic and nationally recognized collaborative working relationship with the district.
The election results aside, she finds reasons to optimistic.
"The community was awakened to what's going on," Smith said. "We have an incredibly strong group of parents and community members that understand what is so vitally important about having a strong public school system. The support from them is going to carry the (DCSD) employees forward."
A mother of two DCSD students and a former high school teacher, Smith is confident her children are getting a good education - a faith she attributes to teachers and principals.
Smith said it never was her goal to become union president, but added, "I will not walk away. I'm dedicated to the school district because my kids are in the school district.
"I'm going to carry forward with what we've done for years - which is representing employees balanced with what's best for students."
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