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Capital Paraprofessionals Make Valuable Connections With Membership
Educators need to feel respected, valued, that their voice is being heard and acted upon.
So when Phadre West was elected as the new President for the Capital Paraprofessionals Association, one of the first actions she wanted to take was to get out into the buildings, talk to her members, and understand what they are dealing with.
“Members want to feel more connected to who is representing them,” said West. “So building visits and simple conversations were the best way to start forming those relationships.”
Margaret Wright (left), a local leader with the Capital Paraprofessionals Association,
listens as Mike Hoffmann (right), DSEA UniServ Director, discusses the building visit plan and
Phadre West (center), President of CPA, writes down the information.
West worked with Mike Hoffmann, the UniServ Director for Capital Paraprofessionals, and Wendy Cannon, DSEA’s Director for Local Association and Membership Growth and Development, to build a plan for how they would visit each building and talk to members.
Margaret Wright and Gloria Harris, paraprofessional leaders in Capital, also helped plan and conduct the building visits.
The planning team started out by establishing a set of goals for the visits and conversations that included:
♦ Learn more about the interests and concerns of the members;
♦ Identify who members looked to for leadership in their building;
♦ Inform them that this is a bargaining year and get feedback on what members feel should be addressed.
Capital Paraprofessional leaders were joined by DSEA staff when they began their member outreach. The team had over 120 conversations with members over the course of the late fall and early weeks of winter. These conversations helped the local sign up 40 new members, identify four new building reps and numerous natural leaders, and generate feedback and interest in the upcoming contract negotiations.
The 40 new members is a membership increase of over 25-percent from where CPA was at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
Patricia Ludholz (left), a paraprofessional at Booker T. Washington Elementary
School in the Capital School District, talks with DSEA UniServ Director Mike
Hoffmann during CPA's building visit to Washington Elementary.
“Our team did a great job of accomplishing the goals we established for ourselves at the start,” said West. “The conversations we had were deep, authentic, and helped us learn a lot about what members are concerned about, and what they want to see change going forward.
“The members truly appreciated it and felt validated because we took the time to listen to them.”
Wendy Cannon, whose work often focuses on helping local associations create authentic engagement with members, agrees with West’s opinion of the results.
“With every campaign like this, the response from members is always one of gratitude that their union has taken the time to listen to their feedback and concerns,” she said. “In quite a few cases, we found that some of the paras weren’t yet members simply because they had not been asked.”
Cannon also feels that these types of one-on-one conversations are a key component in building commitment to the union and maintaining strong membership numbers.
Margaret Wright, a local leader with Capital Paraprofessionals, who was part of the member outreach team, agrees that the conversations helps reinforce union commitment.
“I learned that a lot of the paras did not have the experience or training when they first started. So, while talking with us, they realized that we as an organization can help them,” said Wright. “Our organization is here for us. They give us input if we have concerns and aren’t sure what to do and they negotiate for better wages and a better working environment.”
Campaign teams will also debrief and analyze their results, using the information to help them better advocate for members.
Both Wright and West feel the value of the visits is so great that it is worth doing regularly.
Margaret Wright (foreground) discusses plans for the upcoming building visits
with Phadre West (background), President of the Capital Paraprofessionals Association.
“We all need to know that we're not alone, that we have a voice and coming together as a group is better than one person,” said Wright. “It shows everyone that we take this job and the work that we all do seriously. We need to support our organization just as much as they support us and by going out there to the members it shows them we care.”
“We have to continue doing this every year, making regular connections with our members and being a constant presence in their lives,” she said. “If we maintain regular, open lines of communication with them, staying visible, then they will feel valued and committed to supporting the association.
“I’m excited for the direction our local is heading in and excited for what we can achieve when we work together.”
If a local association is interested in developing a member outreach campaign, they should contact their UniServ Director. The UniServ Director can help their local leaders develop a campaign plan, identify the goals, and carry out the action.