Ted Kirsch stepped down on July 1 after 17 years at the helm of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, handing the reins to longtime second-in-command Jerry Jordan, who will become the first African American to head the 17,000-member union.
The PFT’s executive committee voted unanimously for Jordan to serve out the rest of Kirsch’s term, which ends on June 30, 2008. An election will be held in February and Jordan plans to run.
Jordan, 58, a former Spanish teacher, has been vice president since 1990. While he said that he did not anticipate any major shifts in policy direction, he said that there would be some changes.
“I want to put more emphasis on what’s happening in high schools,” he said, citing statistics showing that up to 50 percent of Philadelphia students don’t graduate. He said there often are too few course choices, a dearth of counselors, and a lack of extra-curricular activities.
Jordan said that more immediately, he would fight for smaller class size, the elimination of split grades, and more preschool; look for ways to promote teacher retention; and work “to restore order and civility” to classrooms.
As he stepped down, Kirsch took credit for uniting a once-fractious union and moving it from an unyielding bargaining unit to an organization interested in educational reform. Throughout Kirsch’s long tenure, the PFT went on strike only once, for a weekend. His departure comes at a time when charter schools are eating into the District’s enrollment.
Kirsch said that he would devote full-time to his relatively new role as president of the AFT Pennsylvania, the statewide umbrella organization for the PFT with 40 locals and about 38,000 members.