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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 24, 2008
New GTA prez
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND “Healing is it,” said Maceo Dubose of his immediate goals as the president of the school district’s most powerful union.
An imposing figure at over six feet tall, he speaks quietly with care and force.
Dubose took office three weeks ago in the midst of a firestorm.
On July 1, the day he became president of the Guilderland Teachers’ Association, hundreds of students and recent graduates attended a school-board meeting to protest the transfer to the middle school of two popular high-school social-studies teachers, Matthew Nelligan and Ann Marie McManus.
According to the superintendent, the move is to give the social-studies department a new lease on life; complaints by a gay teacher of harassment in the department led to a study that concluded the work environment in the department was hostile.
Nelligan, however, says the transfer is punitive because he spoke out against the teachers’ union. He had been particularly critical of the former union president, Chris Claus of his collaborative style in working with the school administration and of his way of backing school-board candidates in elections.
Asked Tuesday about the union’s role when one teacher complains of harassment and others say a transfer is wrong, Dubose said, “We support all of our members.” The GTA has 491 members.
Dubose went on about Nelligan and McManus, “We’ve filed a grievance on the teachers’ behalf and will actively pursue it.”
Asked if he believes the teachers’ rights have been violated, Dubose responded, “I’m not saying that. We filed a grievance on their behalf. Through collective bargaining, we have a process and we follow that process through.”
Asked if he thought the social studies department needed to be reconfigured and if the transfers were necessary, Dubose said he didn’t want to speculate. “We’re going to make sure there was no violation of contract,” he reiterated, “and that members‘ rights were not violated.”
He went on, “We have to move past this and start to heal. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’ve been president for three whole weeks.”
He also said, “I don’t think anyone could have predicted the situation we’re in.”
“We can work through this”
Dubose, who works as a middle-school counselor, served as vice president under Claus and ran unopposed after Claus decided to step down so he could spend more time teaching.
The majority of the school board voted last week not to review Superintendent John McGuire’s decision to transfer the two teachers. Nelligan has said he will fight the transfer in court. Meanwhile, a group of protesting students has launched a campaign calling for McGuire’s resignation.
Asked if it is too late for the two sides to talk in an effort to end the divisiveness, Dubose said, “I don’t think it’s ever too late to have a discussion about our concerns and differences. Time does not eliminate that.”
He also said he favors face-to-face communication, noting that, with e-mails, tone and gesture are lost. “People sitting down and talking about their differences is the way to solve things,” said Dubose.
Asked if a mechanism should be put in place to allow the administration and the teachers a way to sort out differences earlier before such a divisive impasse occurs, Dubose said, “I think conversation could have happened” but he didn’t think it had.
“If discussions were held, I was not privy to them,” said Dubose. “It’s good to talk about concerns, to work these things out.”
He said of the Guilderland School District, “We’ve got great families and great teachers. We’re a community of professionals...We all want to do what’s best for the children. We can work through this. We’re capable of discussing our differences and concerns and working through it. We can resolve it and heal.”
Dubose said he “absolutely” believes in collaboration.
“I think that is the best way to make good decisions,” he said. “The administrators are our colleagues. We have the same goal to do what is best for the children in the school district.”
While he embraces the collaborative style used by Claus, Dubose may take a different approach with other matters. Asked if the union would continue to back candidates for school board, Dubose said, “Chris and I will be different leaders because we’re different people. I may have other ideas.”
Dubose plans to rely on the representative council, which has teachers from every school.
“I can’t say I’ll make the decisions for all of our members,” he said. “Our members are able to come and speak and share ideas. We want opinions on any issue. We will definitely have discussion as to the direction on different issues.”
Dubose also said, “I realize members have different ideas. We live in a democratic society. They have to be able to share their views.”
Becoming a teacher
Dubose has always wanted to be a helper.
The oldest of seven siblings raised by a single mother, he said that, early on, as he helped his four sisters and two brothers, he realized he wanted to work with children.
“I liked the idea of working with young children and helping them learn,” he said. “I had the idea of becoming a doctor, another helping profession. I chose teaching.”
Dubose was raised both in Brooklyn and Darlington, a small town in South Carolina. “As a child growing up, the schools were still segregated,” he said of his time in South Carolina. “I remember not knowing the term ‘integration.’”
Dubose, in 1968, was particularly impressed with his fifth-grade teacher in Darlington, Mrs. Rogers. “She was strict...I thought she was fair. She had high expectations for her students,” he said.
Returning to Brooklyn, he was chosen to speak on Martin Luther King’s birthday, reciting King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
For junior high school, Dubose went to a public school that was built where the Brooklyn Dodgers once played in Ebbets Field.
He went on to attend the East New York Vocational Technical High School, which was close to his home.
“All along, I had the intention of going to college,” he said. “I always liked school.”
Discussions with his high-school English teacher, Mr. Parker, led him to apply to the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh for a bachelor’s degree in education.
“He’s the one that recommended Plattsburgh State as on excellent teachers’ college,” said Dubose of Parker.
The North Country with its rural isolation and snow and cold was very different than New York City. “I was there for school,” said Dubose with a shrug. “The professors were very helpful. It was a different environment than high school in Brooklyn.”
Dubose made the North Country his home. He married another Plattsburgh student, Kay Dubose. After some time as substitute teachers, they both got jobs with the Beekmantown Central Schools near Plattsburgh.
After teaching third-graders for two years, Dubose taught sixth-graders for 14 years.
He called that grade level “a good fit” for him. “They’re still young enough to impress and you can help them work through choices about what’s cool, and what’s not,” he said.
As he taught, Dubose also earned further degrees at Plattsburgh State a master’s degree in education and a certificate of advanced studies in school counseling.
At the same time, he coached varsity boys’ basketball, a sport he has always loved. At first, his team didn’t win much, since Beekmantown emphasized football and wrestling, Dubose said. But, during his tenure, his team won three sectional champion ships and three league championships and was undefeated for 33 games in a row.
“I was named coach of the year,” said Dubose. “I feel like I’m bragging. I attribute our success to the players. They were willing to work hard...You have to have athletes that take your guidance and believe in you.”
Helping students solve problems
As much as the Duboses liked their work at Beekmantown, they decided to move for their two sons. One is now a sophomore at the University at Albany and the other is a freshman at Guilderland High School.
“We wanted to move to a more diverse community,” said Dubose. “Guilderland is about midway between our families.”
Both Kay and Maceo Dubose got jobs in the Guilderland schools. Kay Dubose teaches family and consumer science at Farnsworth Middle School where Maceo Dubose is a counselor.
“My wife didn’t want to move to more snow,” said Dubose. “And Guilderland has a great reputation...both the school district and the community. We felt fortunate to be selected.”
Dubose made the change from elementary teaching to middle-school counseling. “I was looking forward to a different challenge after being in the classroom almost 18 years,” he said. He decided against being an administrator, he said, because “a lot of their time is spent on dealing with disciplinary things.”
Dubose went on, “I wanted to work with students on a daily basis...I could still get into classes.”
Describing his work as a counselor, he said, “The focus at Farnsworth Middle School is on the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. We work with students and teachers to find ways for students to be more successful...Students have social issues at every level. We help them problem solve, mediate, and resolve issues.”
Dubose joined the teachers’ union as soon as he arrived in Guilderland. “I’ve always been a member,” he said. “It’s important. Our union protects our rights as members of the teaching profession. It gives us a voice locally, statewide, and nationally.”
He was co-president at Farnsworth for a couple of years, he said, and he has been a member of the GTA’s negotiating team for the last four years.
Dubose became vice president two years ago after being approached by Claus. “I felt honored to be asked to fill that role,” Dubose said. “Having Chris believe I could be a leader was a compliment to me....I was willing to do my part to help keep the union active. I did not guarantee I was interested in being president.”
Of his new role, he said, “I have to learn more about the different parts of being a union president.”
Asked what qualifies him for the job, Dubose described himself as being fair and being “a logical thinker, able to collaborate and compromise.”
He concluded, “I’m open-minded about what affects the union and what’s best for students.”