Personal Reflections | Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Personal Reflections

December 20, 2019

Dear IMSA Family,

Happy Holidays. After a week of final exams and projects, our students are headed off to spend a couple of weeks at home with their families. Others will be traveling as part of Intersession trips to Spain, Hawaii, Mexico and Poland, just to name a few. One of our faculty members, Paavo Husen, will host a Russian teacher in his home as part of an exchange program with students from Lyceum Physical Technical High School, St. Petersburg. Our staff, including faculty, will also spend some time away re-energizing and recovering from what seemed like an incredibly speedy first semester. My deepest and best wishes to all.

At the beginning of the year, I lay out a calendar of topics that I wish to address through these Personal Reflections. In upcoming Reflections, I plan to address equity and excellence, global strategies, contributions by IMSA community to any body of knowledge, alumni engagement, employee engagement, and an introduction to our governance structure at IMSA. The best-laid plans sometimes have to adapt to current events and unforeseen circumstances. So today, in addition to wishing everyone Happy Holidays, I want to address one of these unforeseen events currently facing us: Faculty unionization.

I shared with our IMSA colleagues an email dated December 12, 2019 where I announced that the IMSA faculty chose to unionize. For those who did not see this email, below is a summary of it with added and up to date information.

On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, I received a letter from our IMSA faculty announcing the formation of a teachers union, IMSA Council, Local 604 – IFT – AFT. They filed a majority interest petition with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). I have received an IELRB letter stating IMSA’s obligations, including posting a Notice to Employees, which we have complied with.

We respect the right of faculty to choose their preferred governing structure. We welcome the opportunity to continue to deepen our positive relationships with our faculty, who consistently challenge our students through our inquiry model of teaching and learning. Moreover, we continue to pursue positive and fruitful collaboration with our teachers that result in an even stronger culture of risk-taking, experimentation, and collaboration at IMSA.

The Academy was established to be a unique educational laboratory, resource, and agent of public policy for the State of Illinois. Our responsibilities go beyond those of traditional public school systems to include such things as research and development, and service to other Illinois schools and teachers. We believe IMSA teachers’ willingness and ability to engage in our learning laboratory, along with the organizational flexibility that IMSA enjoys, are key to the Academy’s current and future success and long-term sustainability as a model learning community for the new decade and beyond.

I have received additional information regarding this matter, including the IMSA petition submitted to the IELRB. According to the petition, all full and part-time faculty (including teachers, lab managers, and instructional program assistants) are included in the IMSA Council, Local 604 – IFT – AFT. All other employees of IMSA are excluded.

I’m on record at IMSA as stating that I fully respect unions. During my entire career, I have worked in educational institutions that have been unionized. My wife is very involved in her local union and has attended the National Education Association (NEA) convenings as a delegate. Moreover, one of IMSA’s Trustee members is on the Executive Committee of the NEA. As we go through this new process for IMSA, we will continue to be student-centered in decision-making as we are in our classrooms.

In everything we do at IMSA, we must always remember to put students and our mission first. We must always abide by our beliefs statements, including our beliefs of

  • Belonging to a community requires commitment to the common good.
  • All people have choices and are responsible for their actions.
  • Honesty, trust and respect are vital for any relationship to thrive.

When we veer off of this true north, we have a responsibility to call each other out. As we spend time with family and in self-reflection, I encourage each of us to reflect on our mission of igniting and nurturing creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition. Let us recommit and uphold ourselves to our institutional beliefs. And, let us encourage each other, our roommates, our students, our colleagues, our administration, everyone to live out our mission and beliefs to the best of our abilities and to always be our best.

As we enter a new decade, let us bring our best selves to everything we do. I commit myself to this and I ask you to do the same.


José M. Torres, Ph.D.


PS. I am driving to Orlando, FL with my lovely wife to visit family and friends. My sister’s two newborn grandchildren will be part of our celebration this holiday season. I’ll share pictures with you early next year as I am taking them IMSA spiritwear!