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Meet the women behind the campaign to keep school buildings closed until they are safe

(From left) Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union; Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; and Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts

Merrie Najimy

President of Massachusetts Teachers Association

  • Heads state’s largest teachers union, with 110,000 teachers and staff in public schools and public colleges and universities
  • Elected in 2018.
  • Taught for 24 years, most recently kindergarten in Concord
  • Grew up in Pittsfield, studied at Berkshire Community college and Framingham State.
  • Grandparents were from Lebanon, says she felt alienated by the books taught in her elementary school when she was young. “I did not see my family and my culture represented,” she says. “I became a teacher to bring a wider world view to all students.”

Beth Kontos

President of American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts

  • Heads union representing 23,000 teachers and staff in districts including Boston, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Revere, Springfield, and Salem.
  • Elected in 2018.
  • Taught high school US history and American Government in Salem.
  • Grew up in Danvers and still lives there.
  • Before teaching, she worked 20 years at Verizon, moving her way up from phone operator to computer programmer.
  • Discovered she enjoyed spending time with young people after teaching Sunday school at her Greek Orthodox church.

Jessica Tang

President of Boston Teachers Union

  • Heads union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff in Boston Public Schools.
  • Elected in 2017.
  • A Chinese American, Tang was the first person of color to head the BTU.
  • Taught middle school civics and humanities.
  • Grew up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New Jersey.
  • Studied at Harvard and discovered teaching by tutoring Boston Public School students.

Bianca Vázquez Toness can be reached at bianca.toness@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @biancavtoness.