Head of W.Va. teachers union stepping down
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The head of West Virginia's largest teachers union is retiring after holding the position for more than 20 years.
"I have spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears building our state federation, and I would've been reluctant to walk away if I was not convinced it was going to continue forward," said Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers' state chapter. "I am extremely pleased with the president-elect, and that makes it easier."
Hillsboro resident Christine Campbell, who has taught in the West Virginia school system for 18 years and served on the WV-AFT executive board for five years, will officially replace Hale in six months.
Campbell will leave her job as a language arts teacher at Marlinton Middle School. She has also served as president of the Pocahontas County AFT and vice president of the Southeastern Central Labor Council.
Hale taught students for 22 years before she assumed the role as the union's president in 1990. Under her leadership, the union helped pass the Safe Schools Act of 1995, which enforced stricter disciplinary policies for issues like weapons and drugs at schools, and Hale considers it her biggest accomplishment.
Hale also helped lead the first technology task force for schools in the early 1990s.
"We put the first computers in classrooms. Looking back, that was a very important moment," she said. "It's grown leaps and bounds since then, but that was the beginning."
More recently, Hale said, she fought for a solution to the other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability and pushed for legislation that supports the state's teacher retirees.
"This means thousands will be able to retire with dignity. It's great to know you've been a part of those things. Those things matter," she said. "I have loved this job and the challenges that came with it."
Hale will work with Campbell over the next few months to prepare her for the role of president. Campbell said she's ready to take on the responsibility.
"When you work with kids everyday, you start to see the bigger picture. I felt like I could do more for our education system," she said. "I am thrilled to have this opportunity."
Campbell said she wants to first focus on providing more professional development opportunities for the state's teachers and increase recruitment.
"The legislature and the Department of Education have set a standard for high quality teachers in West Virginia, but the problem is we're not attracting and retaining those teachers. Because of our low salaries and a lack of levies, that's been a struggle -- especially in rural areas," she said. "That's something we're going to work on."
Hale is leaving the job due to medical problems and said in her retirement she will not forget what the AFT has done for her and West Virginia over the years.
"The AFT has been very good to me over the years, and I have had great mentors and wonderful training. You can't do a lot of things at a state level because you don't have the resources, and the national office has supported us so much over the years. Had we not had the financial assistance, we would not have been able to become the largest union in West Virginia," Hale said. "Our work will continue to move forward."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.