Pittsburgh native Katy Phillips is a finance professional who worked on Wall Street for years before making a career change to teach high school math. She taught in poverty relief education programs in the South Bronx before heading a math department in Brentwood Borough School District.
Unexpectedly, while pursuing her passion for education, she endured a lengthy and disheartening fight with the PSEA local union. As she said, “They were the first union I’d ever encountered who tries to prevent its members from earning money.”
Thanks to Katy’s experience and laborious effort, in 2016 she managed to secure a National Math and Science Initiative grant for $400,000 to boost student performance and provide teacher incentives in AP Math, English, Science, and Computer Science in her district. But when the union got wind of the grant, they told the school to turn it down. Why? Teachers would receive small rewards of $100 if a student achieved a certain score on their AP exams.
This response struck Katy as absurd. “It’s outrageous,” she said, “that a union would come between teachers, students, and incentivized success.”
Because she and her fellow teachers cared more about their students than about money, they decided to forego the small incentive payments. Several years into the college readiness program, the results were clear—about 100 students participated in the classes each year—a full 25% of the school. After just one year, the number of qualifying scores tripled in AP Math, Science, English, and Computer Science.
“The grant has changed the trajectory of my teaching career with the resources and networks I now have,” Katy said. “The professional development has been incomparable.”
As for her PSEA membership? Katy resigned from the union. “I was disgusted with the PSEA’s handling of the grant issue. They have totally outlived their usefulness as an institution in the 21st century,” she said.