As a child, Julie Sellers developed a reputation for speaking out—about anything. At first, it was cute. By the time she was a teenager, it was annoying. As a young adult, it was risky.
“My mom always said, ‘Think before you open your mouth,’ ” she says. But her tendency to open her mouth didn’t go away. It got her into trouble sometimes, but it also got her noticed. And as she matured in her career as a teacher, it got her the votes to become president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.
“I was asked to run for the position because I was actively involved in the union, and I knew what was going on in the district,” she says. “I’m outspoken and I follow up.”
With her two children grown, Sellers has the time to devote the 10-12 hours a day it takes to do the job. Elected to a second term, she’s starting her third year as president. Her days are long, meeting with Cincinnati Public Schools’ board members and administrators in the day and with community and union representatives at night.
Sellers earned her degree in elementary education in 1990 and has taught every elementary grade but first. She’s the first elementary school teacher to serve as president, representing more than 100 union staff and 2,400 teachers.
“A lot of my passion for this job is the social justice aspect of it—what’s right for the kids and what’s right for the teachers.”
Sellers put that passion to work last year negotiating a new contract that drew national attention because it ties teacher pay to student achievement as one of several measures of evaluation. The new system is the first in Ohio and is based on the district’s highly regarded teacher evaluation system.
“It is groundbreaking,” she says. “Teachers in other unions have said that’s the way to go and are looking at ours.”
As time-consuming as the job is, Sellers has no appetite for retirement yet. Being president suits her ability to reach collaboratively across several aisles—to the district’s administration, its board members and its community partners—and her tendency to be outspoken. Only now, she’s thinking first—and people are listening.