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Young Denver Teachers Hope to Change Their Union's Direction

A group of young Denver teachers, who say their union needs to be aggressive with the reform-minded district's administration, has formed a caucus within the 3000-member Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the city's main teachers' union.

Some members of the new Caucus of Today's Teachers point to lagging membership figures—just about half of eligible Denver teachers are members—as proof that the union needs to reset its focus, reports the education news website, Chalkbeat Colorado.

"It's natural for teachers' unions to become a little stale and to become the bread-and-butter union," Tommie Shimrock, a 31-year-old special education teacher who plans to run for union president in upcoming elections, told the website. "Labor is new and progressive and needs to adjust. "

Many of the caucus's organizers were involved in a recent campaign to fight for big changes in the district and not just for their fellow union members. They called for a wide range of policy changes including fewer standardized tests and smaller class sizes as well as additional supports for students like full-time nurses and social workers at every school. They also called for the administration to reform student discipline policy districtwide by having every school embrace restorative justice programs—a policy shift that has been criticized by many union leaders across the country. Caucus members also plan to push Denver Public Schools to hire more nonwhite teachers.

The ability of upstart caucuses to alter unions' directions has varied across the country. Back in 2010, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators in Chicago managed to get their candidates, including current union president Karen Lewis, into high-level leadership positions. Those new leaders went on to lead the now famous 10-day strike in 2012. But, while representing 30 percent of members, the Caucus of Working Educators in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers failed in their takeover bid last year. 

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