Szymanski Steps Down as WTA President

Szymanski Steps Down as WTA President

Christina Freiberger

Bird Middle School teacher David Cuzzi became the new president of the Walpole Teachers Association in July, taking over from Jeffrey Szymanski, who became the public face of Walpole teachers during a notable four year tenure at the helm.  During his tenure, Mr. Szymanski fought for higher teacher pay and worked to improve the WTA’s outreach efforts.

Even before Mr. Szymanski became head of the WTA, he was known as one of the most vocal members of the union.  He spoke at every WTA meeting about his suggestions and offered extensive ideas for improvement. Ultimately, Mr. Szymanski decided to run for president because he realized that the easiest way to effect any positive change was to implement the changes himself.  “Mr. Szymanski had a broad vision for what he wanted to do as the president,” said WTA Vice President Dan Mullaney.

Mr. Szymanski fought hard during his time as president for higher pay and better benefits for Walpole teachers, while also balancing the concerns of the community.  Last year, for example, the town faced a $2.1 million shortfall in the school budget.  Town leaders called on the teachers union to help reduce the deficit by making significant concessions in tuition reimbursements, healthcare plans, and pay increases. the deficit by making significant concessions in tuition reimbursements, healthcare plans, and pay increases.  Many union members were concerned about voting for the concessions, and Mr. Szymanski heard from many of them.  In the end, Mr. Szymanski persuaded many teachers to support the cuts, and 78% of WTA members approved the concessions.  Through his leadership on that controversial issue, the WTA saved the jobs of 20 teachers and kept the best interests of the students in mind.

Another key goal that Mr. Szymanski worked hard to accomplish was to implement direct communication between the WTA and the community at large.  As such, Mr. Szymanski spearheaded the creation of an official WTA newsletter, published nine times a year to update the community and teachers about the union’s activities.  To help get more teachers involved with the union’s work, he also scheduled meetings at the most convenient time for the majority of members to attend.  Mr. Szymanski also wrote frequent columns in The Walpole Times to update the community about his union’s concerns.

In addition, Mr. Szymanski also improved the union’s relationship with school administrators.  While WTA members often felt school leaders were not listening to their demands, the efforts of Mr. Szymanski led to more cooperation between the two sides.  Ms. Lauren Culliton, the English Department Head at Walpole High School, said “school administrators wanted to be on the same path, and Mr. Szymanski worked to build a bridge and bring the two sides together for the purpose of education.”

Mr. Syzmanski admits that even with the 15-hour work week he devoted to running the union on top of his teaching schedule, it was often challenging to accomplish what he wanted.  “People have no idea how big the commitment is,” Mr. Szymanski said.  But after four years in charge, he felt that it was time to step down.  He felt strongly that he has achieved his main goals and created two contracts that were fair to the town and educators.  Most teachers agree that Mr. Szymanski changed the WTA in a positive way. “Walpole Teachers are in a better position than we were five years ago,” said Ms. Culliton.  Mr. Szymanski, meanwhile, is pleased that he now has more time to focus on his teaching.

Mr. Szymanski had previously run for elected office in the state legislature of his home state of Rhode Island. But after seeing the dirty side of politics, Mr. Szymanski has made it clear that he does not intend to run for office again. However, Mr. Szymanski does have certification to be a superintendent, which could be a leadership role for him in the future.

While Szymanski leaves the WTA presidency, he turns over the office to capable hands. Mr. Cuzzi is a middle school social studies and math teacher, and a high school football assistant coach.  After four years, Mr. Szymanski has no reservations about resigning from his leadership post.  “It was time for a break”, Mr. Szymanski said.  Mr. Cuzzi will undoubtedly have new shoes to fill as he begins his first year at the top.