Monday, November 23, 2009

A process well-traveled

Tonight the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education will announce the results of their search for a new superintendent. This will be the 5th superintendent in my 4.5 years as president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers. The members of Local 28 stand ready to work with this next superintendent and we are poised to offer our expertise to collectively meet the needs of our students and the families who trust us with their children. Much of what draws a member of the teacher’s union into education is probably shared with a good superintendent candidate: the belief that one person’s work can make a difference, the joy of working in community on a common goal, the belief of public education’s place in building a good society, the vexation with the barrier that race, socio-economic status, gender and more can play in the path to success and the determination to do something about it.

We believe that the most important work in public education occurs between an educator and a student. We look forward to a superintendent who will join us in this vital relationship.

In anticipation of that, I have appreciated the thoughtful work of the Board of Education in this search process starting with the outstanding and unprecedented action by Tom Goldstein of resigning to allow for Director Jean O’Connell to be actively involved in the final stage of the search. He is to be commended for his thoughtful and unselfish contribution to the search results.

I also appreciated the Board members taking time to attend and listen to all the staff/community sessions with each of the finalists. Their attention to and care of a broad opinion base speaks very highly of their intention to lead with us going forward. I am grateful for the time they have put into the search process and thank them for their careful deliberation.

And now, the envelope please...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Partners in education? Wait & See

One of the two most prominent findings this fall, from the superintendent search firm Hazard, Young & Associates, was the identification of the severely fractured relationships in our district. Yet, no semi-finalist candidate identified at Wednesday night’s special Board of Education meeting—when they had the opportunity in professional biographies written in their own words—listed collaboration any place among their professional histories of “significant accomplishments.”

Leadership is clearly about accomplishing something and taking responsibility for your work, but leaders know that real partnerships are not only critical to creating great work, partnerships are essential to sustaining that great work, too. Otherwise you're just a manager directing people to do things. Are we supposed to believe that these candidates did what they did alone? Or are we to believe they did it by telling workers, parents and community what do do, how to do it and when it needed to be done?

The absence of any evidence, again that they had the opportunity to list in their own words, that they value a collaborative environment that brought them the success they were proud to list has me eager to listen as carefully as possible to their public interviews this weekend.

This weekend will offer one more chance for each of them, in their own words, to offer even a modicum of evidence that any of them expect to find value in the 6,000 employees and community of over a quarter million people that one of them may be poised to inherit.

Or we call a do-over.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Vote for Vallay Moua Varro and Jean O'Connell!

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers is looking forward to the future of St. Paul Public Schools, which is why we chose to endorse two candidates who are looking forward with us. Vallay Moua Varro and Jean O’Connell have both shown a propensity to listen thoughtfully, demonstrate leadership, and see the best of what our schools offer. Both Vallay and Jean are school board candidates in this race who care as much as we do about the future of all our students, rather than being stuck in the past with insulting stereotypes of ethnicity and gender. We reject the bullying and shallow politics that have divided us and we are inspired by both Vallay’s and Jean’s good ideas and their plans to bring them to fruition cooperatively.

Pat Igo’s gross mischaracterization of this school board race, in the October 26th StarTribune story, with his superficial, inaccurate race-baiting says more about the rhetoric of the past he would bring to the school board when what we need most is relevant and insightful direction for our district so we can move forward together.

You cannot roll up your sleeves to improve our future if you’re busy wringing your hands over the past. Fortunately for St. Paul voters we have two candidates who took different paths to this school board race but came to the same conclusion: St. Paul Public Schools is still poised to offer a world of opportunities for all of our students with all of us working together.

We are honored that they both chose to share their clear talents and leadership with us and proud to endorse them both. We look forward to working alongside Vallay Moua Varro and Jean O’Connell to meet the needs of our students.

(This posting was submitted to the StarTribune as a letter to the editor on October 27th.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back-to-school business

Today as I was visiting two buildings, one elementary and one middle school, it struck me how much teachers build on the work of each other and how profoundly that can help students.

I walked into Paul and Sheila Wellstone at lunch time. There is no better time to witness the muscle that goes into the work of teaching than to visit a building at lunchtime. Lessons pour out of every corner: five teachers leaving the lunch room teaching each class of students sequencing, taking turns, and respect simultaneously and in Spanish, another three teachers are bringing their classes to the lunchroom while walking backwards and teaching the same lessons, and in adjacent classrooms teachers are teaching students how to focus on the lesson in the room rather than the classes walking by outside their doors.

That sequencing will come in handy during reading lessons, taking turns while teaching patterns, and respect absolutely everywhere it can. The focusing and routines they are learning these first days of school will be built on each year after that, which was entirely evident when I walked through some classes later today at Washington Technology Magnet. One classroom had students working in small groups. When I approached them to ask what they were doing they rattled off exactly what their small group work was, in the order it was to be done. They explained their complex math problem to me, explained what they had to do once they solved it and then explained how they were going to explain it with the materials they had. Sequencing.

Another room I walked into was setting up expectations for the year by completing a T-graph with “My Job” (for the teacher) and “Your Job” (for the students). A great lesson to not only establish routines and expectations for the year, but to infuse the language of career and responsibility in a very relevant way into their vocabulary. The teacher shared, then students shared, the teacher shared and then students shared again. Taking turns.

I walked into another classroom, jam-packed with students—not a desk or square inch of floor space to spare—and the teacher ushered me to the front after finishing his explanation of what he wanted students to do for the last 5 minutes of class. As he and I spoke quietly and surveyed his classroom of students everyone was working right up to the bell. Respect and focus.

These teachers and these classroom experiences were not accidental. Our teachers know the importance of creating the right classroom climate and establishing routines right away. Today, I had the privilege of seeing how it all comes together to benefit student learning in the long run. The expectations set at each grade level, are set for the next grade or class, too.

It’s clear that our teachers intend to make it a great year for our students. I am once again humbled by their work.

Friday, September 4, 2009

All in a day's work

Questioning the motivation of reaching out to students. Reviled for wanting to spend time with them at all when there’s more Important work to be done. Given no credit for offering any inspiration and no hope of anything getting Accomplished by your work. Suspected of merely wasting time. Assuming that nothing Productive will come of it. Skeptical because there is no way to Measure the impact. With all of the significant ways to spend your time, why would anyone with talent and leadership skills spend it with kids?

Criticism of President Obama? Only in the last week, but this is the world teachers have lived in for quite a while. Yet we begin another school year with teachers well practiced in how to tune out the white noise of irrelevant critics or citywide commotion and focus on what matters: students learning. In St. Paul we just spent another workshop week getting ready in district-wide meetings, with small groups of our colleagues and independently working on lessons, only this time we face a rather normal first week of school with children, so if you would, please pardon us for not getting our collective noses out of joint around a little pep talk intended to be delivered to our students for a few minutes on Tuesday.

It was a different story this time last year because St. Paul, Minnesota was bracing for the Republican National Convention. A super majority of our bus routes had to be altered for the whole week. Teachers were trying to track down rumors of high school students planning protests. Our kindergartners stayed home two extra days (not because we were making them protest to the best of my knowledge, it was in case the bus routes got too long). Everyone was scrambling to find or share curriculum. A myriad of calls came to the union with hypothetical questions, but above all else, the over-riding attitude was “How do we make this work for our students?” by everyone.

This time last year I was at a staff meeting at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School, barely a few blocks from the site of the Republican National Convention and I had some members of my union ask me "What if President Bush wants to do a photo op at our school?"

I said, "We'll make sure he can because he's the President of the United States and it will be an experience that your students will remember for the rest of their lives." Every last teacher agreed that it would be an experience for their students that they would not pass up. They went on to say that maybe even Senator Norm Coleman would want to stop by since he used to have his staff tutor there when he was mayor of St. Paul.

Had any of it happened, it would've been extremely cool because Wellstone Elementary is the one St. Paul school his dad, President George H. W. Bush, had visited when he was president. Back then it was called Saturn-School of Tomorrow, or something similarly Jetson-y and hopeful of the 21st Century; however no school visits ever happened by any Republicans anywhere in the city.

This time last year it was also the first week of school for our students, with all the garden-variety, first-week-of-school technicalities, glitches, blessings, surprises, accidents, and sunrise-like expectations that a new year always brings. St. Paul Public Schools was, perhaps, the most inconvenienced school district in the nation, yet we all carried an attitude of making this work for our students. That is probably a huge reason it did. Many teachers capitalized on it like the once-in-a-lifetime teachable moment that it was. There was never a massive outcry from the community or a similar great gnashing of teeth that we were using the Republican National Convention to teach our students.

Some things MUST transcend politics.

Again, please pardon St. Paul if we treat this like one more teachable moment in the lives of our students. Our teachers are well-versed in tuning out the fracas and our community can handle it.

Oh, and welcome to our profession, President Obama. Speak even if your voice shakes. We do.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Let the games begin

Recently the comment period for the US Department of Education proposed Race to the Top guidelines was closed. After reading through the proposed criteria ( I submitted my thoughts to the Department of Education. I will share them over the next few days here.

Dear Secretary Duncan:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the proposed criteria for Race to the Top funding. I was honored to be invited to attend the announcement on July 24th as a guest of the American Federation of Teachers. There are many goals in Race to the Top that inspire me, and with the right detail in the finalized criteria, these unprecedented resources could transform my profession in a way that allows us to meet the needs of our students and their families like never before. Because the Department of Education is providing an opportunity to make comments I would like to express my ideas for targeting the criteria in a way that better sustains the best work teachers already do and supports us as we tap our collective experience and knowledge to bring our most innovative ideas to life.

State Standards & Teaching Standards:

The collaboration you have outlined for developing and establishing common state standards is evident and helpful. In the same way that you have clearly outlined the expectations for high quality state standards and assessments in A(3) of the State Reform Conditions Criteria, the expectation for teacher preparation and teacher readiness must include clear expectations as well. It is not enough to limit the definition of measurement for or the conversation about teacher effectiveness to “regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth” as you have defined with this notice. Generic student achievement data will not relevantly evaluate a teacher. [C(2)]

In St. Paul, we have gotten an agreement from St. Paul Public Schools to develop a Peer Assistance and Review program that covers the spectrum of teaching quality. Our intention is to enhance our current Achievement of Tenure Program so that earning tenure is never accidental, to have high-quality and relevant support for struggling teachers with clear expectations for improvement, as well as to have opportunities for strong teachers to be conscientiously supported as they continue to grow. A deliberate, rigorous path to tenure, support for someone before they fail, and further support for already strong teachers should be the focus of any meaningful local way of addressing teacher quality. To merely frame the discussion as tied to standardized test scores is to ignore the vast amount of learning and assessment a teacher is responsible for during the majority of our school year. My position is for the proposed criteria to be written to include the deliberate inclusion of developing teaching standards and evaluations that measure the entire scope of the daily and aggregate work a teacher is expected to do. Locally developed, relevant evaluations will be applicable to the broadest range of teachers and better capture the number of grade levels, specialties, disciplines, and experience levels for the targeted expectations you have outlined for professional development.[C(2)i]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Educational Assistant Bargaining Issues

Today the work of the Educational Assistant Bargaining Team, from the training in January-the surveying this spring-and the planning and research this summer, really took off.

The EA bargaining team (Sue Snyder, Ann Sirios, Terri Furman, Rosie O’Brien, Mary Cathryn Ricker, staffed by Gundy Gunderson and Amy Derwinski) met with the district and presented the topics critical to improvement of the 2009-2011 contract.

Since a lot of the “housekeeping” work has been done, today’s meeting was an opportunity to begin to define what a robust labor/management partnership could mean to the students we serve when we thoughtfully address
job descriptions,
professional development,
seniority and movement within jobs,
working conditions,
retirement, and

Even though these topics were listed individually, the discussion among the team-and presented to the district- focused on how these subjects are enhanced and improved, just like a staff, when working together rather than discussed in isolation. The best way to do that is through a sustained, committed labor/management partnership and that partnership can begin at this bargaining table.

The Contract Action Team will be meeting on July 30th and two members of the EA bargaining team will be there to share more.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Vallay Varro for St. Paul School Board

The Committee On Political Education screened candidates for the 2 year school board seat being vacated by Tom Conlon. The COPE found 3 candidates to be exceptional: Vallay Varro, Louise Toscano Seeba, and Meg Lugar-Nikolai. As a result the COPE offered a recommendation of endorsement of all three. Last night Vallay Varro was endorsed by a special convention of the St. Paul DFL.

Vallay Varro has been Mayor Coleman’s Education Policy Director for the past three and a half years. She is a leader in the Mayor’s efforts to connect and enhance out-of-school learning opportunities for children in Saint Paul between the school district, the non-profit sector, communities of faith, Ramsey County and the city government. During this time she has established a network of service providers that are now ready to partner with the school district. An Early Childhood educator and literacy specialist, she offers a comprehensive, citywide resource mobilizing approach to closing the achievement gap as well as the acumen to maintain and expand the specialty programs that make our public schools unique and invaluable to the city.

Good luck to Vallay!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SPFT School Board Endorsement

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the COPE Committee for their time, both in February and this week, as they seriously deliberated the eligible, interested field of candidates to determine who should earn the endorsement of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. The discussions were substantive, thoughtful and deeply focused on our members and the work we need to do. The candidates who ultimately earned that endorsement or recommendation show genuine consideration for our union, our members, our work as well as dynamic thinking for how to actively demonstrate that consideration and engage in a real partnership with the workers of St. Paul Public Schools.

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, Local 28's Committee On Political Education (COPE) is pleased to announce that we are endorsing Jean O'Connell for one of the three four year seats in this year's school board race. COPE found O'Connell's mix of management experience, teacher training in college, significant school volunteering and substantive leadership in various Saint Paul Public School's task forces a reassuring blend for the current difficulties facing the district.

O'Connell gave our screening team a sense of confidence and reassurance. We believe Jean will bring strong and open communication and that we will be able to develop a direct relationship that is based on trust and openness. Furthermore, her respect for direct, collective bargaining is a refreshing opportunity to explore both traditional and non-traditional issues together considerately.

To date, Local 28 has not endorsed any other candidates in the three four year seats. The announcement on action taken for the 2-year special election is forthcoming.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

There is an unprecedented opportunity to invest in the quality and the future of St. Paul Public Schools because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. President Obama, through Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has insisted that this money be used to meet the needs of students while saving and creating jobs. It is an audacious goal for short-term money, but the provision is substantial enough that wise investment could make a meaningful difference for the students of St. Paul in the long run.

Because we know that teacher quality is the number one indicator of student success, and because the Administration has been clear that teacher effectiveness is one of the four objectives for spending this money in a way that meets the needs of students while saving jobs, we believe this is the perfect time to introduce Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). Establishing Peer Assistance and Review for probationary teachers and tenured teachers identified as struggling, provides more aggressive, honest support and evaluation earlier. This will provide a comprehensive and rigorous measure early in the achievement of tenure process that will facilitate a meticulous and well-observed path to tenure in St. Paul Public Schools. Additionally, tenured teachers who have been identified as struggling will have a thorough assistance program to hone in on the areas in which they may be struggling alongside expert teachers who are dedicated to support them as they improve their teaching and get back on track to doing their best work in meeting the needs of their students.

ARRA will give us time to launch PAR in a way that allows us to reconstruct our existing funding of such current district programs such as the Achievement of Tenure program and job-embedded coaching so that we don’t fall off the funding cliff in two years. The time we have between the first ARRA funding and our responsibility to absorb the cost of what we have adopted will provide us time to measure our influence, especially on behalf of our experienced teachers, in order to be in the running for further funding through the competitive grant process outlined by the Department of Education.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Membership budget ideas

Members have been spending time at each membership meeting since January working to address the budget dilemma that faces our school district. When we began this conversation in January we had a complicated problem facing us, and it has only gotten more complicated since then. At our January membership meeting, we discussed what feasible budget reductions looked like. We talked about what it might mean to “keep cuts away from the classroom.” And we all agreed to take the discussions back to our buildings as homework for our February membership meeting.

In addition to the discussions we conscientiously brought back to our buildings, the district announced a series of tentative proposals to balance the budget, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was signed into law, and our Governor, Senate and House all announced their own budget ideas that would affect our work as well.

We spent considerable time at our February meeting just brainstorming our ideas, I promised to bring them to our Executive Board to review them and make recommendations. Today, the membership approved forwarding a few of those ideas for the Board's respectful consideration. I will present these humble ideas in a way that frames them amidst some of the best discussions we have generated in these membership meetings and in special member-group meetings in the last year. The conversations became comprehensive discussions on what we want a high quality experience to be in St. Paul Public Schools, so what started out as an exercise to offer value in the district budget discussions, because of the grace of good ideas, member involvement, and President Obama, may lead to an opportunity to use these member ideas to captain the ship into the rising tide.

The district budget deficit is real. The state budget deficit is real. The Federal stimulus package is temporary, but the St. Paul Federation of Teachers will treat this like any other obstacle we have had in our past and we will turn it into an opportunity. In the past when female teachers would get fired for getting married or showing their pregnancies, unions didn’t just complain—we did something about it. When teachers weren’t getting planning time, we didn’t just complain—we did something about it. When we were asked to teach in the boiler room or the janitor’s closet, we didn’t just complain—we did something about it. For 90 years this union, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, has been a model of progressive service and this budget crisis just serves as one more opportunity for that service.

Of the more than 50 ideas that came from members in the brainstorming process, some money-saving ideas have been sent to our respective bargaining teams for consideration in contract negotiations and some are going to the Professional Issues Committee so they can be discussed before being made public. Some were discarded and the following were approved by the membership at our March 23rd meeting to be respectfully presented to the Board of Education for their consideration as the ultimate authority and decision-making rests with them.
• Streamline administration
• Commit to a local superintendent search
• Revisit comprehensive transportation study to announce transportation reform or to announce that no change will be made
• Make buildings energy efficient with ARRA funding
• Cut outside consultants for professional development
• Evaluate the cost of sponsoring charter schools

Elected officials and others who have looked at the state and district budget can be forgiven for starting with cutting their way to balance, but we know because our family and consumer science teachers and math teachers among others have taught us, that a budget problem can look to revenue as well. We hope our work inspires them to explore the same combination of options. There are a few promising opportunities for us.

First, from work done with our members who are special education service providers, we have a group of members who are committed to forming an ad hoc committee to determine how to improve the billing work of special education service providers to increase revenue. We look forward to their solutions and we are extremely grateful for their commitment to provide this progressive service.

Next, today the members approved the St. Paul Federation of Teachers enrollment campaign to bring students to St. Paul Public Schools. We understand that, demographically, there is a declining student population in St. Paul. We understand that St. Paul has had a vibrant history of school choice. However, we believe we are the key to the world-class opportunities offered by St. Paul Public Schools, so this spring members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and our allies will be meeting with families across St. Paul. As we speak with families currently enrolled in St. Paul Public Schools, we will thank them and offer an outline for how to spend a fantastic and magnificent summer of learning in the city of St. Paul to capitalize on their school work. As we meet families not yet enrolled in St. Paul Public Schools we will invite them into a conversation about the work we do to meet the needs of every student. While we have been incubating this idea for almost 2 years, we believe that the strength of what our members have to offer the students of St. Paul coupled with conditions of the budget warrant significant invitations to our community to trust the work of St. Paul Public Schools.

Finally, as soon as possible St. Paul Public Schools should do what it takes to issue bonds for the $20 million per year Other Post-employment Benefits liability so that it stops being an annual liability.

I'm certain there's more where this came from. Members have indicated their willingness at each membership meeting to problem-solve the issues facing us as professionals. With a greater number of our stewards trained as Certified Member Rights Advocates, more members trained through the Teachers as Learners and Leaders program, and more involved in local, state and national committee work that matters, it seems we're just getting started on a whole new level.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What would teachers do?

We have a lot of decisions to make in St. Paul Public Schools. There is a serious budget crisis to deal with, stimulus package money to spend directly on students in a way that saves jobs, no good news coming from our state capitol, and our school board needs to show some leadership and determine how to fill our superintendent vacancy and provide clear direction for that person.

All that being said, it is instructive to take a few minutes to wonder what would teachers do if we were in charge?

First, our SPPS budget crisis. Because teachers have been funding our classrooms for years, buying more than our fair share of books, supplies, stickers, inspirational posters and white board markers it would make a lot of sense to immediately turn over purchasing to a team of teachers.

Our educational assistants have been doing work that is growing exponentially in sophistication in the last 2 decades, yet remain low-wage workers and severely under insured. Somehow they manage to excel at their day jobs while juggling two or three others deep into their SPPS careers. Clearly, no one is better suited to navigate the simultaneous challenge in the stimulus package of raising student achievement while saving jobs like our EAs, and they'll most likely do it in at least 3 languages.

What would teachers do with our state capitol? For starters, a lesson in leadership is in order. Our social studies teachers could set examples from history of leaders who made tough choices, but stood by them and, just for fun, examples of leaders who failed to drum up one single, original idea and were summarily crushed by the populace. Our teachers would do this, naturally, entirely within the expectations of the Minnesota Academic Standards so that in April we could test all occupants of the capitol on their growth.

What would we do with this superintendent vacancy? You know, technically we do have contract language that states we can be directed to fill in for a colleague during our planning time. We have over 3,000 licensed teachers. If we each took an hour, and assumed 10 hour days, we could cover just over 300 days of work for the superintendent if we each just took one hour. If the board were to provide clear expectations, lesson plans as it were, we could just pick up where our colleague before us left off and leave a nice note for the person coming after us.

All of these huge decisions would still be coming at us at full speed. We'd just have each other to rely on to make them. So what would teachers do?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

SPFT Budget Brainstorming

At our January membership meeting, the members present began a thoughtful discussion about the state of the SPPS budget for 2009-10. At that meeting, everyone agreed to take the budget discussion back to their respective buildings for further input and bring those ideas back to the February membership meeting. At Monday’s membership meeting we spent considerable time brainstorming and discussing our ideas to help solve the district budget crisis. Twenty-two different ideas were brought up with an additional 22 ideas coming from the building-level budget discussions that were brought back as a result of our work in January.

We want to make the beginning of our budget discussion as thorough as possible so it was decided that if members had more ideas to share they could send them (or call them in) to the St. Paul Federation of Teachers by March 6th. The complete list would be put together and presented to the Executive Board for discussion at the March 9th Executive Board meeting. The Executive Board will then determine any recommendations that will be made from the list that should be acted on by the membership at our March 23rd membership meeting.

While much has been publicly discussed and “proposed” regarding the $25 million shortfall our district has predicted, much remains to be decided. The SPPS budget is determined through many important numbers that remain variables at this point, most importantly 2009-10 student enrollment, the State legislature and Governor’s decisions about school funding, and the Federal Economic Stimulus package. What remained constant during our entire conversation in January and again in February was our collective belief of what students need in a high quality, non-negotiable public school experience.

Please continue to gather ideas and share them. Also, please encourage members to visit for the documents concerning the budget and for an opportunity to complete a survey the district has assembled to gather feedback on the Large Scale Systems Change, which has some budget questions in it. Finally, please encourage members to attend the “community engagement” sessions. While we are still requesting that the District hold a series of specific Staff engagement sessions, we believe that we belong at any community session as stakeholders as well.

Below are the opportunities to be involved in the conversation throughout this spring as listed on the district website:

• March: Parent/Advisory Committee (PAC) discussion on LSSC - Click here for schedule
• March 11 - April 10: Web feedback on Budget Shortfall Solutions 2009-2010 - via the website
• March 26: Board Listening Session (no topic - open forum)
• April: Parent/Advisory Committee (PAC) discussion on LSSC - Click here for schedule
• April 7: Public Forum (location, date and time TBD)
• April 21: Board of Education - BOE meeting (Possible sharing of draft recommendations for LSSC and Budget)
• April 21 - May 14: Web Feedback on LSSC Recommendations
• April 28: Public Forum (location, date and time TBD)
• May: Parent/Advisory Committee (PAC) discussion on LSSC - Click here for schedule
• May 19: Board of Education - BOE meeting (Possible sharing of draft recommendations for LSSC)
• May 28: Board Listening Session (no topic - open forum)
• June 16: Board of Education - BOE meeting (Possible sharing of draft recommendations for Shortfall Solutions and LSSC)
Note: Staff input on budget and large-scale system changes will be solicited at site, program and department levels. In addition, staff will be invited to attend public forums and give feedback through the website.

Thank you very much for your representation of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and thank you very much for your continued work in St. Paul Public Schools.

Together, mary cathryn

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rally at the School Board meeting

I am going to ask for the comments made by our members at the rally this past Tuesday so I can publish them here for all members to see. They were powerful, eloquent, and sincere statements about their passion for working with students and their learning communities. In the meantime, here are my comments from the rally.

Teachers at Arlington and Humboldt learned about their restructuring plans after a Committee of the Board meeting. Staff learned about budget proposals after a Committee of the Board meeting. We shouldn't be learning about these plans after meetings, we should be bringing plans to these meetings.

Teachers can be trusted to help find solutions to all the issues the district is tackling from restructuring to declining enrollment and capricious funding.

Our members who just spoke are right: We want to see restructuring strengthen schools, not weaken them. We want to see budgeting strengthen schools, not weaken them, we want to see decision-making strengthen the work we do, and not weaken it.

St. Paul Public Schools can be poised to do everything right. St Paul can – and should—be the model for all of the other districts in the state facing drastic budget challenges and restructuring mandates.
And who can make that happen? We can!
Who can strengthen our schools? We can!
Who can meet the needs of our students? We can!
Who can make St. Paul Public Schools better? We can!
We can and we will! And when we do our students win and when our students win our community wins!
Join your brothers and sisters from Arlington, join our members from Humboldt, join us at our February 23rd membership meeting as we offer ideas for the budget, join me tonight in the School Board meeting. Join the fight for our voice and the future of our students. Thank you!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Long time, no see--Sorry. I was just in the back of the class.

Nothing like a new year to, albeit belatedly, get back into the swing of things.

I was alerted to an interesting posting in the Superintendent's Bulletin that suggested the impact of "good teachers" on student achievement. It
implied that a teacher "at the 85%" was the key to student learning. Class
size was deemed unimportant.

Some concerns were emailed to me regarding the idea that everyone in one career must be performing at the same level at all times. While I take exception to that, too (and I'm pretty sure it was the storyline of an old Twilight Zone that even included matching jumpsuits and hairstyles! I was a big fan of the brunette flip. Big surprise, I know.) I'm more disconcerted by these folks who are obsessed with proving that wall to wall students are NOT the problem. Ever.

I have seen various studies claiming that class size has no impact on student achievement and so then I'm compelled to ask, "What impact does it have on the profession?" Just because supposedly a teacher is good whether there are 16, 24, or 46 Second graders in a class, do we want that good teacher to teach for 5 years or to make a career out of it?

Invariably the answer seems to be, "So what if we chew them up and spit them out? At least we got 5 good years out of them. Now they can go and begin their REAL careers anyway."

These are the same education reformers who dream up 'career ladders' for teachers so we can climb out of our lowly classroom positions and we don't make the mistake of accidentally spending our whole careers in a classroom.

Good teachers can wade through damn near anything to have an impact, absolutely. But we need have a comprehensive discussion about our profession so we keep them around working their magic and support them for as long as possible. This is still a career to be proud of, not some starter profession to kill time until you get to make your impact on the world by researching the futility of smaller class sizes.