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Ex-Head of Quest Center Enters Race for Chicago Union President

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Deborah Walsh, who until recently held a high-profile job at the Chicago Teachers Union, has decided to step back into the spotlight. Last week, she announced her plans to challenge the union's president in next spring's elections.

Ms. Walsh, who now teaches learning-disabled children at Marquette Elementary School on the southwest side of Chicago, said she is running against Thomas H. Reece "because there is really no choice."

Mr. Reece and the union leaders on his team, she asserted, have failed to protect the union's 31,000 members from assaults on their contract and have declined to embrace a more professional role for teachers.

"What the current leadership is doing is perpetuating the stereotype that the union is part of the problem--that it's against everything and for nothing," she said in an interview last week. "They see fixing the schools as management's job, not the union's job."

Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the union, declined to respond to Ms. Walsh's criticisms. Mr. Reece and his slate likely will not announce their candidacies until January, she said. The election is set for May.

"It's a healthy thing to have contests for the leadership," Ms. Gallagher said. "It keeps everyone on their toes. We're assuming this will be a campaign that discusses the issues straight ahead."

Volatile Period

Ms. Walsh's announcement is noteworthy, observers said, because she enjoys a solid reputation in Chicago for her work with schools as the director of the union's Quest Center. Created in 1992, the center has set out to be a catalyst for education reform in the city.

Ms. Walsh resigned from the Quest Center this fall to return to teaching.

Her announcement comes at a volatile time for the teachers' union. Jacqueline B. Vaughn, one of the most combative and effective presidents in its history, died last year. Later that year, John Kotsakis, Ms. Vaughn's adviser on education issues and a prime mover behind the Quest Center, also died.

Mr. Reece was Ms. Vaughn's handpicked successor.

George E. Olson, the dean of the education college at Roosevelt University in Chicago, called Ms. Walsh a "progressive challenger" to Mr. Reece, who he said hails from the "old school" of unionism.

The CTU "has all this history and tradition," Mr. Olson said. "Even if it wants to change itself, it's got a tremendous uphill climb."

The union also has been battered by the Illinois legislature, which last spring stripped the union contract of many provisions once considered sacred, including limits on class size. The same legislation turned over control of the school system to Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has appointed top city officials to overhaul the management of the schools. (See Education Week, July 12, 1995.)

Under the union's election procedures, Ms. Walsh must assemble a slate of candidates to run for a two-year term.

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