In Colorado, a New Breed of Union Leader in Dallman

Kerrie Dallman — the newly-elected president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union — is a new breed of union leader, working not to resist the change and reform which is increasingly inevitable in public education, but instead to help shape it:

“I actually believe that (unions) have to take ownership of reform,” said Dallman, recently elected president of the Colorado Education Association. “We can’t just say no. If we don’t like something, we have to propose alternatives. We’ve got to put kids front and center.”

Kevin Simpson, writing in the Denver Post, reports that Dallman has a reputation for collaboration and is widely anticipated to work alongside reformers while keeping an emphasis on bolstering investment in public education and professional standards. Despite testifying against Senate Bill 191, which enabled statewide teacher evaluations, Dallman has since worked with legislators to fine-tune its details. This pragmatic streak may allow her to diminish the aspects she particularly objected to; an overemphasis on testing and an unclear definition of effectiveness.

Dallman’s three year term began in July as she took over the 38,000 member union from outgoing president Beverly Ingle.

Mark Sass is one of those who supported Dallman’s candidacy and helped her to victory in April’s election. He is a high school teacher from the Adams 12 district and likes the broadening focus of the union with regard to bargaining issues. Rather than simply refusing to negotiate as many union leaders do, Dallman is committed to improving the profession and hammering out workable compromises.

“It has to change from the traditional role to something more,” Sass said of the CEA. “Kerrie looks at how the association can be more involved in the teaching profession, how education can attract the top 20 percent of college graduates as opposed to the middle or lower half. I think part of that is a cultural shift in how teachers view themselves.”

Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson also sees Dallman as an evolution of the union leader and a vision for the future. Dallman even has the respect of Republican House Education Committee members who believe her desire for workable compromise is genuine and that she isn’t simply out for her own interests and the blatantly partisan interests of her members.

Dallman notes that her agenda as union president includes encouraging investment in public education and making sure that SB 191, about which she still has strong reservations, be implemented in a manner which improves teacher performance rather than simply being a vehicle to bypass tenure.

“I’m a long ways away from retiring,” Dallman said. “I’m really invested in this work because this is impacting the classroom I’m going back to and the students I’m going to be teaching.”