Former political blogger elected president of Del. teachers union

 (photo courtesy Mike Matthews)

(photo courtesy Mike Matthews)

Elementary school teacher and self-described “activist” Mike Matthews has won the runoff election for president of Delaware’s teachers union — a vote that followed an unprecedented tie in an earlier four-way race.

Matthews, a former political blogger who has taught since 2009, defeated current vice president Karen Crouse by 119 votes out of about 2,400 cast by Delaware State Education Association members, Crouse said today.

The union, which represents about 13,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff, including some custodians and bus drivers, is widely considered the state’s most powerful and influential labor association.

Matthews, who teaches fourth grade at Cooke Elementary School in Hockessin, was previously president of the Red Clay Education Association. Crouse, financial secretary at Lake Forest High School, is former president of the Lake Forest Education Association.

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The tally remains unofficial until ratified in April, union officials have said. Matthews would start in July.

“I’m excited, ecstatic,” Matthews said about his victory while crediting Crouse for running a “cordial, respectful” campaign.

Matthews said he wants “to continue to be a voice for all educators,” following in the footsteps of outgoing president Frederika Jenner. “I consider myself an activist at heart, and I believe a union leader has to pump his or her fist in the air every now and then, but it has to be done in a way that is thoughtful and considerate.”

Crouse, who had been endorsed by Jenner, said she has congratulated Matthews and offered her hand in advocating for teachers and other educators, whom she said face serious challenges “in today’s environment, where kids are coming in with some many needs a teacher cannot meet.”

Alison May, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, which in recent years has often been at odds with the union, said her agency “appreciates the collaborative relationship” between the two “and looks forward to continuing to work with its new leadership.”

Matthews, as Red Clay’s president, criticized the state agency, announcing at a March 2015 news conference that the union in his district and the Christina district — the two largest in Delaware — had unanimously approved “no confidence” votes in the agency or then-Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

The trigger for that declaration was the Markell administration’s push to turn around and perhaps close or take over six low-performing so-called “Priority Schools” in Wilmington, including Warner Elementary, where he had taught the previous year.

“Many of the teachers, educators, families and parents in our buildings that were labeled “Priority Schools” had an immediate reaction to this news, when they heard their schools could be dismantled based only on a test score,” Matthews said then, according to an article in the Wilmington News Journal. “The Priority Schools initiative, as well as the continued testing onslaught in Delaware schools, has been a clear call to action by our teachers.”

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