Fellow union members chose Ryan Burbey as the new president of the Harford County Education Association in a special election Thursday night.
The election, held at C. Milton Wright High School, was to choose a new union president and vice president after Randy Cerveny resigned as union president in July with two years left on his term.
Greg Plotycia, vice president at the time, stepped in as acting president, but chose not to run for either office in Thursday's special election.
Burbey, who lives in Aberdeen, has been a teacher with Harford County Public Schools for eight years, a union representative said. He is a language arts teacher and department chair at Aberdeen Middle School.
Burbey has also served on the HCEA board of directors for a number of years.
Hall's Cross Roads Elementary School teacher Amarilyz Pimentel was elected vice president.
Pimentel, who has been with HCPS for six years, has also served on the union's board of directors.
HCEA represents Harford's more than 3,200 classroom teachers and guidance counselors and bargains collectively on their behalf with the school system.
In recent years, Burbey has been an outspoken and frequent critic of both school and county elected officials for their failure to support pay increases and changes in working conditions for Harford teachers.
Tuesday morning, Burbey was still getting acclimated to his new position as president.
"I desperately want to make a difference for kids and teachers in Harford County," he said.
Burbey taught English at Aberdeen Middle School for nine years and was the department chair at the school.
Before moving to Harford County Public Schools, he taught at an elementary school in Baltimore for three years.
To become union president, a full-time job, Burbey had to take a leave of absence from teaching — a decision he said was "very hard" for him to make.
"I live in the community. I love these students," he said. "It was very hard for me to take leave for me to do this."
Although it's a big step for the teacher, it's one he's excited to take.
"I welcome the opportunity to make a bigger difference," Burbey said.
A big item on his agenda as president is to have open communication with Harford County government, as well as the board of education.
"We have to form a legitimate cooperative relationship both with the school board and the county government," he said. This is key, he continued, to improving school and learning conditions.
Burbey has been no stranger to board of education meetings or expressing his determination to improve conditions in the school system.
He has frequently spoken during school board meetings, advocating for more school funding and speaking against the lack of salary increases for teachers over the last few years.
"I am passionate about education," Burbey said. "I think it's important to be passionate about anything you do." He added that as president he will continue to attend board of education meetings and speak on behalf of Harford's teachers.
This isn't Burbey's first role with HCEA — he also served on the board of directors. Becoming president is another important role, he said, "that needs to be filled and needs to be done to build better schools."
As far as challenges that lie ahead, Burbey hopes to "learn from our mistakes and move forward," and he encourages his fellow community members to get involved and be informed about what's going on in the school system.
"As a teacher I was always very in tune with the students and their needs," he said. "I hope to do the same as union president."