Flynn leaves Cranston union to lead RI teachers

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At a School Committee meeting last week, Frank Flynn announced that he would be retiring from his position as president of the Cranston Teachers Alliance. As of Monday, he’ll be taking his experience to a higher position: president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

Lizbeth Larkin will replace him as president of the CTA.

A resident of West Warwick, Flynn has been a major player in the city’s school system for years. His family moved to Cranston when he was a senior in high school, and he has been a fixture ever since.

Once graduating with a Master’s in education, Flynn became a teacher in Cranston, first at May Westcott School, then Park View Middle School and Cranston High School East, where he was serving as a special education teacher until last Wednesday.

Throughout his 34 years as an educator, Flynn has always been active in the union, starting as a building delegate at May Wescott during the 1976-1977 school year. In 2003, he stepped into the union’s leadership role, and since then has seen the CTA through some of its most challenging times. When asked what his biggest achievement was during his tenure, Flynn said it was the ongoing mending of educational relations in the city.

“There’s always a bigger obstacle awaiting you, I’ve learned, but I think rebuilding communication between the union and the administration after some contentious times,” he said. “We’ve found a way to work collaboratively.”

Flynn has chaired the negotiations committee for years as well, and is proud of the agreements the CTA has come to terms with. In recent years, the union has provided the district with concessions, while providing for educational reforms such as mentoring.

“We did a lot of good things collaboratively with the district – good for kids and good for the district,” he said.

Flynn’s daughter is a teacher in Cranston. He also has two sons with his wife, who is a nurse in Rhode Island.

During his time in Cranston, Flynn also played a major role in the New England Laborers’/Construction Career Academy, where he serves on the board. He also serves on the Executive Board of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, and is a member of the American Federation of Teachers.

As he steps into his new role, Flynn is not naïve; he knows the tough times he has been through in Cranston will continue statewide into the future.

“These are obviously very difficult times economically,” he said, touching upon the effects of budget cuts in the classroom. “It forces districts to make cuts that they would certainly rather not make. It hurts kids because kids aren’t afforded the opportunity to do some of the things that would round out their education.”

Flynn has seen that in Cranston, with cuts to music and EPIC, and the first stages of cuts to sports with the elimination of middle school athletics.

In order to avoid similar cuts for the RIFTHP membership, Flynn believes there needs to be collaboration between teachers unions and the state Department of Education to ensure that the next big thing in education doesn’t come at a price.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that there are many great ideas that come down that become unfunded mandates. That doesn’t help education in the long run,” he said.

Still, Flynn believes he will be able to create a positive working relationship with RIDE, including with Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, with whom he met last month to further work on a teacher evaluation model.

He believes that is a major component of the future of Rhode Island’s education.

“I think there needs to be accountability in the evaluation; a document that’s fair and provides the appropriate training and support,” he said.

His priority, however, is in reshaping the public image of teachers; a group that he believes has been unfairly villainized in the public sphere, particularly during the 2010 elections.

“One of my main priorities is to try and gain respect again for teachers and public employees. I think we’ve been unfairly painted and that bothers me tremendously,” Flynn said. “I’d like to turn that image around. We have a number of public employees who work very hard in their jobs every single day.”

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