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Head of Colorado Springs teachers union takes on new advocacy role

May 4, 2018 Updated: May 4, 2018 at 5:10 pm
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Kevin Vick is leaving his job as president of the Colorado Springs School District 11 union, the Colorado Springs Education Association, and taking a state job with the Colorado Education Association. Thursday, May 3, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Kevin Vick got involved with the Colorado Springs School District 11 teachers union about a decade ago because he saw programs being valued over people. For the past six years, the high school history teacher has been president of the D-11 union, the Colorado Springs Education Association.

Last month, Vick beat out two other high-profile candidates, and on, July 1, will become the new vice president of the Colorado Education Association, a professional membership and advocacy group.

Vick said he's excited to expand his efforts advocating for teachers statewide.

"I'll be traveling around the state, listening and working with teachers to improve the school environment and climate," he said.

He won the job over the Jefferson County Education Association president and the current secretary/treasurer of the state association.

"All the candidates were well qualified and strong leaders," Vick said. "What I think ended up putting me over the top is that I have perspective outside of the Denver metro area."

Vick also mentions his experience in working with people across the political spectrum as an advantage.

D-11 board member Elaine Naleski backed Vick in his bid for the statewide seat.

"He's very level-headed and calm and has really been great at talking through problems in a calm and professional manner," she said. "He's been able to be a good go-between between the union and the school district, without being adversarial. He can take it to a higher level now."

Vick said leading the Colorado Springs union has been "an incredible learning experience."

"It's a good feeling of satisfaction to help people through issues that are hindering their work," he said.

It's also been a tough ride. Vick took over as president as school districts statewide were dealing with funding losses from the 2008 recession.

D-11 closed several schools, which Vick said was tough to weather.

"We had to displace all of those people and understand as an organization that it was the best thing for the district," he said. "To have those personal conversations with the people being displaced was extremely hard."

Not getting raises for several years and taking pay cuts as a result of furlough days was another tough blow for D-11 employees during that time, Vick said.

"To look people in the eye and tell them their salary is actually going to be less next year was difficult," he said. "I call them 'The Dark Times.'"

But the school district rallied. In the past three years, the union has negotiated average salary increases of 15 percent.

A $42 million mill levy override successfully passed last November, with union members volunteering to knock on doors, make phone calls and promote the initiative, which included a significant portion going to employee salaries. Autonomy in classrooms and partnerships on district initiatives also have been accomplished.

"More and more teachers are realizing the value of being able to have a support system in their work, through an organization that works for professional treatment," Vick said. "It's the reason unions are growing - because people feel like they aren't being treated fairly in their job."

Joe Schott, a Latin teacher at Doherty High School, will take over for Vick at the Colorado Springs Education Association.

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