Former union leader Peterson remembered as courageous, visionary

ST. PAUL, Minn. Oct. 24, 2015 – Sandra Peterson, who helped guide the merger of Minnesota’s two largest teachers unions before moving into to a career in state politics, died Saturday while receiving hospice care. She was 79.

Peterson was a co-president of Education Minnesota at the union’s founding in 1998. A former president of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, Peterson served in the highest office of Education Minnesota along with Judy Schaubach, former president of the Minnesota Education Association.

They were instrumental leaders in a long, difficult campaign to merge the two educators unions into one larger, stronger voice for professional educators and students. The merger was a pioneering effort nationally. They served together through a period of transition for the new union.

“Sandra was the kind of leader we all hope to be – kind, approachable, smart and firm when necessary,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “She was a courageous, visionary leader. She will be missed by those who knew her and remembered for her accomplishments as an educator and a union leader.”

According to Peterson’s family, the former union president passed at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. The family released the following statement:

“She was dearly loved by so many, especially those who knew her best – her family and close friends. Our memories of her warmth and her smile will be cherished forever. Her life and work demonstrated how much she loved Minnesota – in particular, Minnesota’s children and families. She was dedicated to improving the lives of children in everything she did – from her work as a teacher, as an early childhood education advocate, as a union leader and in her final days as a board member of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She made a profound difference on behalf of children and families across the state.”

In 2001, Peterson was elected vice president of Education Minnesota, serving until 2004, when she made her first campaign for the Minnesota House seat. She won that election and three subsequent ones, representing the northwest Twin Cities suburbs in District 45A and 45B.

She retired from the Minnesota House after serving four terms of bringing her professional expertise on education policy and finance to the Legislature.

Peterson came to union work while a teacher in Robbinsdale Public Schools, where she worked with K-12 students. She began teaching in Robbinsdale in 1970 after holding teaching jobs in Mounds View, Minn.; Palatine, Ill., and Minot, N.D.

Her union leadership spanned a tumultuous era for public employee unions and decades of accelerating change in public education.

Peterson said her love of teaching motivated her union leadership. “Oh, I love teaching,” she said in an interview when she retired from Education Minnesota. “I was fortunate to teach almost every grade level from K to 12. And the love of the profession is what has driven me through the years as a union leader.”

She served as president of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers from 1976-1987.  Her union service in statewide office started as secretary of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers in 1985. In 1987, Peterson was elected as the first full-time president of MFT.

Peterson graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul with a bachelor of science degree.  She earned graduate licenses at the University of Minnesota.

Taken from Education Minnesota 27 October 2015

Sandy was an outstanding leader, a great teacher and a good friend. She will be missed. jcr