Earlier this month on the first day of school, Janelle Rebick greeted students as they entered Miller Elementary, just as she’s done since it opened in 2009.
This year, though, Rebick isn’t teaching. In June, Rebick, 49, took over as president of the Bend Education Association, the local affiliate of the Oregon Education Association. More than 1,000 Bend-La Pine Schools teachers are members of the union.
Rebick is enjoying the new role and considers it rewarding. She’s excited to dig into work that will leave a lasting impact on teachers.
“All those pieces that we fight really hard for,” Rebick said. “Legislation having to do with poverty and institutional racism…”
The president’s role is a full-time position in the union because of the size of the school district and the association is the only one in Central Oregon with a full-time president.
Rebick, who’s taught for 19 years, joined Bend-La Pine Schools 13 years ago, first teaching at High Lakes Elementary, then Miller.
Rebick is a single mom of two sons, both of whom have progressed through Bend-La Pine Schools: Her oldest is a senior at the University of Oregon, while her youngest is a senior at Summit High School.
Aside from enjoying some signature Bend hobbies such as kayaking, hiking and skiing, Rebick, a fourth-generation teacher, has also quilted for 22 years. Like many teachers, she’s taken on a summer job in years past, including working for the world-renowned Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. And she’s submitted some of her own art quilts, which have depicted images of her sons or nature scenes including the forest near Waldo Lake.
Before joining Bend-La Pine Schools, Rebick had taught for Springfield Public Schools, after she earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon and her master of arts in teaching from Pacific University.
Her involvement in teachers associations started during her time with Springfield Public Schools and continued when she was hired by Bend-La Pine. The most recent Bend-La Pine teachers contract was passed in June with 99 percent approval. Rebick wasn’t yet leading the association, but she was president-elect as well as co-bargaining chair with another teacher, something then-president Don Stearns encouraged before his retirement in June.
Rebick ran unopposed in the association election.
Now, as president, no two days look the same for Rebick, she said. Even without ongoing contract negotiations, she’s kept busy not only working to improve conditions for teachers, but students too, she said.
Rebick keeps track of concerns or issues teachers have, to see if they’re a result of fuzzy contract language. She sits in on disciplinary meetings for teachers. She meets with association building representatives monthly to hear what’s going on in their schools and update them on legislation related to education and public employees. She plans to talk to legislators in Salem, to invite them to visit classrooms. And she visits classrooms and helps teachers with questions they have about their benefits, rights and other issues.
One main goal of Rebick’s is to change the community’s impression of the teachers union.
“We’re not there to protect bad teachers,” Rebick said. “That is a frustration because it’s a big misconception.”
Rebick said she knows most families are happy with their children’s teachers, so the two thoughts — that teachers are good but their associations are bad — are contradictory.
“You ask, ‘Do you respect your teacher, trust your teacher, your neighborhood teacher?’ And the answer is yes,” Rebick said.
Rebick is looking forward to reaching out to the community to communicate what the Bend Teachers Association does.
Already, Rebick has helped two teachers prepare for maternity leave, answering questions such as, “What are my rights around breastfeeding or pumping at school?”
Rebick is already familiar with a lot of protocol and rights for teachers because of her experience with associations, but the Bend Education Association also has a good relationship with the school district she said, which means she feels supported by Bend-La Pine staff, including by those in human resources, for help with questions.
“I’m learning who to go ask,” Rebick said.
Rebick will serve a two-year term, and could choose to run again. Bend Education Association presidents still have a teaching job when they’re done serving their term. Typically, Bend-La Pine has aimed to place teachers back in their original position, but that can be more difficult at the elementary level than it is in secondary schools.
The last several association presidents have been men who taught middle or high school, Rebick said. She’s the first woman president the association has had in 12 years, in a district where about two-thirds of teachers are women.
In the most recent contract approved, language was added to better secure a teacher’s original position after returning from serving as association president: The district will let a teacher number a first, second and third choice option of the positions open.
In the meantime, Rebick will earn the same salary she would when she was teaching — $68,000. Union dues, which are about $90 a month per full-time teacher, pay for her salary and benefits. The two years she serves as president will still count toward her retirement benefits through the state’s Public Employees Retirement System.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, email@example.com