IN THEIR FACE: She is a mother, a daughter, a sister, a TUSD teacher, a community activist and she has been married 12 years to a TUSD teacher. And, in her position as an in-your-face teacher's union rep, Luci Banales Messing documents arson, vandalism, theft, profanity and harassment incidents at Catalina High School. She claims they create an unsafe working environment.
Yesterday she took her pile of documentation before TUSD administration in what was her third try at getting some relief at the school she loves. Grievances one and two went nowhere.
But she knows the system. She's worked as a physical education teacher in the district for 17 years, and wherever she has been, top teaching and involvement have been her goals. "When I worked at Pueblo I was recognized as one of the top 10 teachers there. At Naylor I was recognized as one of the top five. When I work at a school I am committed to that school."
At Catalina since 1988, faculty awards coming from her principal, Linda Schloss, are probably not in the works. Messing has been in her face constantly asking for a firmer hand in dealing with the 50 or so kids there, some with gang ties, who are making it unsafe for everyone. She has been one of the few teachers to publicly complain about campus problems, perhaps, she says, because the entire faculty must reapply for their jobs in March, in line with district policy making it a "new school."
"Because of the atmosphere the district creates, one of retaliation, harassment and retribution--people are afraid to stand up and speak the truth, which is what I'm doing," Messing says. "There would be so many teachers speaking out if they didn't have to reapply for their jobs."
Messing will be right there reapplying for her job, she says, because she likes it, does it well and students have responded positively.
There are people, including friends of Messing's, who say all this bad publicity is bad for Catalina, and she has taken flak publicly from Joel Ireland, the oddly erratic and volatile TUSD board member some claim is largely responsible for Catalina's troubles, who said she was not good for the school.
On not giving up, she says, "I love teaching those kids and I've seen the need for teachers to have representation. We need to give the good people at this school some hope that there is a quality future for Catalina. If they are sincere about Catalina's rebirth, they need to do more than throw money at it. Put in quality people and address the serious problems that are occurring.
"I owe it to the students who are there to be educated, my peers and the community to see this thing through. I'd love to be having some down time from this, but everyone has to do what they have to do."
And if her level three grievance brings no response?
"We can go to level four, where an independent arbitrator will come in and hear the grievance," she says, getting up, smiling, staring at me with huge brown eyes, her wide, intent face literally in my face.
Woman at work, warriors.
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