Kirsch stepping down as teachers union president

Posted: June 26, 2007

For 17 years, Ted Kirsch was the president - and the face - of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Earlier today, Kirsch, 67, announced that he will step down Sunday. The union's executive board unanimously elected Jerry T. Jordan, 58, to complete the final year of Kirsch's three-year term.

Jordan has been been the union's vice president and chief of staff since 1990 and has worked closely with Kirsch for more than 20 years.

He will be the PFT's first African American president.

"There will be a seamless transition," Kirsch, a former social studies teacher, said in an interview. "There isn't a better person I know of."

During the news conference announcing the change, Kirsch told the PFT's 17,000 members that they "won't see any difference."

Jordan, a former special-education teacher, was the union's lead negotiator for the last two contracts. He has played an increasingly visible role in the union in the last few years.

Kirsch, who will turn 68 next month, said it was the right time to step down: The school district is searching for a new chief executive; the city is about to elect a new mayor; and negotiations for the next teachers' contract will begin in a few months.

"I don't want to call it 'the perfect storm,' " he quipped, "but I think it's the perfect time."

Jordan will earn the same amount he received as vice president: $126,000. The rate is based on the teachers' salary schedule in the contract.

Kirsch said he would now devote his full attention to his position as president of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, which represents 38,000 teachers and professors in schools and university campuses across the state.

Although Kirsch tried to juggle both jobs, he said, Jordan actually had managed the Philadelphia union's day-to-day business for the last 12 months.

Jordan, who said he had expected to spend his entire career in the classroom, described Kirsch as "a "colleague, a mentor and a friend for more than 20 years."

He said that Kirsch had "changed the face of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. He is a man of great character, courage and civility."

He praised Kirsch for bringing harmony to a once-fractious union, and said he was a strong and principled leader who knew "when to stand his ground and when to compromise, and as a result, the children of Philadelphia never lost a single day of instruction to a strike during his leadership."

A brief strike in 2000 was wrapped up over a weekend, and schools opened on time.

Under his leadership, Jordan said, the union will continue to press several issues that the federation has been highlighting for years: expanding preschool education, eliminating split classes, reducing class sizes, supporting and retaining teachers, reducing the achievement gap, and restoring order and civility in classrooms.

"We face many challenges over the next several years, not the least of which is negotiating a new contract next year," Jordan said. "I believe strongly that the collective bargaining agreement is the starting point for real educational reform."

The current contract will expire Aug. 31, 2008. Jordan said he expects to begin negotiations no later than January with whoever is the chief executive of the district.

Tom Brady, the district's interim chief executive, thanked Kirsch today for his "unquestioned commitment to our students and teachers" and said he hoped to continue work with him in his capacity as president of the AFT Pennsylvania.

Brady welcomed Jordan to his new post and said he looked forward to continuing to work with him "for the benefit of our schools."

The PFT's next election will be held in February, and Jordan said he would run for president.

Nick Perry, an assistant to the principal at Conwell Middle School, who ran against Kirsch in 2002 as a member of the Independent Team, was surprised to learn that Kirsch was stepping down. Perry said his group already had planned to work this summer to mount another challenge in the next election.

"I think it's too much of a one-party system," Perry said. "The union is very inactive. Teachers are frustrated; school violence is out of control."

The union's executive board today also elected Arlene Kempin, a longtime union official, to replace Jordan as general vice president.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or at

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