I am the principal at an elementary school in Grand Junction. I have been reading, with great interest and much frustration, articles around the school district administration and board members’ visit to the Douglas County School District, the upcoming board election and, most recently, Tuesday’s Sentinel article titled, “Leany: Union contract has ‘got to go’”.
To hear that our district administrators and board members traveled to Douglas County to visit schools saddened me. I have been the principal in this school for four years (the current year being my fifth) and I have never had the pleasure of having a board member come to my school to see what innovative, exciting things we are doing here. If those individuals would like to see staff, students and families working hard toward achieving excellence, I say they could easily have stayed closer to home and looked within. The schools in the Grand Valley are focused, student-centered and constantly evaluating to meet the needs of both the student body as a whole, and the individual needs of every child, while consistently meeting the ever-changing demands of local, state and national law makers. We are unified in our goal to provide the best possible education to every student.
Tuesday’s article said that Mr. Leany “has spent his time on the board learning about the district and researching reforms at other school districts to glean ideas for District 51.” I believe that he has been researching reforms at other school districts. I’m unsure as to how well he has learned about our district. Three weeks ago Mr. Leany came to this school to meet with teachers. I was confused because I wasn’t aware of the plan for any such meeting. As we talked it came to light that Mr. Leany was, in fact, at the wrong school. If he doesn’t know the most basic of information about our district – which building is which – just how well does he know District 51?
Further, Tuesday’s article quotes Mr. Leany as saying “teacher unions are ‘terrified’ of potential changes in tenure and compensation.” Union is a political buzz word that politicians use to incite voters. If the people of the Grand Valley would consider who our teachers’ union is, they would realize that “the teacher’s union” is truly those individuals completing the hard work of educating our children. They are the nine hundred plus teachers who work tirelessly to plan, implement, evaluate and adjust so that every child’s needs are met. They are the ones who work before and after contract hours, evenings, weekends, holidays and summers. They are the teachers who purchase, out of their own pockets, supplies, materials and resources when families can’t afford them and the school has no more money to spend. They are the people who pay tuition to colleges and universities (again, out of their own pocket) in order to continue their education, keep current with research-based strategies as well as to meet the requirements for state licensure. The teachers are NOT terrified of potential changes – to anything. Change is an integral part of the education system. They do, however, want change to be thoughtful, systemic, researched and, most important, be in the best interest of students.
When considering the election, as an educator who is part of the system, I say the system is not broken. We don’t need complete reform. We need to continue to move forward, constantly evaluating what we do in our schools, always being open to new ideas but also making sure that we are identifying what we are doing right, what is working and recognize the unique needs of our student population. The bottom line is that our number one priority must be students and what is best for them. Politics and personal agendas do not belong on the Board of Education. Our schools can continue on the path of excellence in education if the right people are leading us. My vote goes to the candidates who recognize that District 51 has many celebrations but understand that we also need to continue to grow and improve; Tom Parrish, Greg Mikolai and John Williams.
Monday, October 14, 2013DCSD School Board: It Should Be About The Students
Note: While the following is certainly education-related, it departs from my usual topics into areas that you may not be interested in. I sent this to both the Denver Post and all four of the community papers in Douglas County two-and-a-half weeks ago as a "guest column" (too long for a letter to the editor), but it appears as though they aren't planning on publishing it, so I thought I'd share it here.
The Douglas County School Board election is not about the union. Many of the articles you’ll read will say it is, but it’s not. It never was.
The problem in Douglas County Schools is not unions. Some folks clearly want to make the election about unions, but it is a minor issue at best. I’m not sure whether they see political value in making it an issue, or if they truly believe it is a major issue, but they are mistaken. There are even some folks on the union “side” who want to make it an issue, they are mistaken as well. The whole idea of “sides” is a big part of the problem. The issue is our students, and their learning, and whether we are providing the right leadership to meet their needs in a rapidly changing world. There is only one “side” to this issue - we should all be on the side of our students.
Whenever I hear the word “union” used in conjunction with Douglas County Schools, I simply substitute the names of my daughter’s teachers in every time someone refers to the union and see if what they are saying matches up with my experience. So when someone says “union” I hear Jill Buckland, Georgie Washington, Marci Murray, Elisha Giger, Hanni Gilbert, Bill Brown, Pam Cogburn, Karissa Swanson, Doug Baker, Dorothy Treat, Stephen Schmitz, Cameron Randolph, Debbie Rabideau, Pam Hunter, Dave Calloway, Carolyn Weinberg, Tom Grace, Maclain Looper, Lori King, Kay Kaul, Tim Rickman, Scott Melanson, Susie Ritter, Kim McNulty, Kelly Corr, Heather Haney, Judi Holst, Heather Igel, Holly Spurlin, Rose Dominguez-Haak, and a few others that I’ve inadvertently left out.
I want to be very clear, I do not know if all the teachers I just mentioned are union members. I suspect some probably are and some probably are not. And that’s the point: I don’t know which are which. Some of them were great for my daughter, others were just okay (not every teacher is going to be “great” for every student), but whether they are union members or not had no bearing on how good a teacher they were/are. So I’d ask every parent in Douglas County to do the same thing. When someone attacks the “union” as being the cause of the current discontent in Douglas County, I’d ask you to remember that it’s a union ofteachers, and to substitute the names of your child(ren)’s teachers in for the word “union” and see how well their arguments match up with your own experience.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote - that would be silly, I don’t know you or what you believe. (If you ask I'll happily discuss who I'm voting for and why and see what you think.) But I am going to ask you to do two things to become a more informed Douglas County voter. First, learn a bit about the candidates. Visit their websites, attend a Candidate Forum and, if possible, talk to people who both agree and disagree with them to hear their reasoning to try to get a better idea of what the candidates believe, what they will do, and what effect that will have on our students.
Second, and this is crucial, talk to some Douglas County educators. Talk to teachers and educational assistants, the people we trust our children with each and every day, and see what they think. How do they think it’s going, what do they think would be best for our students, and why? If possible, also try to talk to one of the more than one thousand teachers that have left the district in the last few years. Many of those folks left for reasons completely unrelated to the district, but some of them left because of what’s going on in the district. Ask them why they left, compare that to what you hear from folks who stayed, and then judge for yourself.
This election shouldn’t be about the adults’ agendas, it should be about the students’ learning. Become an informed voter so that you can make the best decision possible for our students. They deserve at least that much from you.
Full Disclosure: The author is a twenty-two year resident of Douglas County, a parent of a Douglas County student who has served on the School Accountability Committee at three Douglas County schools, the spouse of a Douglas County teacher, a teacher in Littleton Public Schools, and a concerned citizen who wishes we would talk more about students and learning and less about adults and agendas.
I write concerning the desire of school board members Jeff Leany and Ann Tisue to bash and smash the Mesa Valley Education Association — as well as those overpaid, under-performing, non-right-thinking teachers — with the aid of our Mesa County Republican Party’s triad of school-board designees.
Together they hope to substitute only those teachers whom this reconstituted, politicized board may approve.
Just a few years ago, teaching was lauded as a noble profession, requiring greater remuneration and respect, one to which our children should aspire. Most recently, our Supreme Court ruled in the Lobato school finance case that Colorado had no obligation to alter its funding system.
Despite the current hype that “not one more cent” need go to education because “they” already receive too much, Google “Colorado school funding rank” to obtain actual data and the national consensus: Colorado has been in the bottom of the barrel for years. That is what Amendment 66 is about.
Now, regarding Leany & Company’s promise to unleash the same divisiveness recently demonstrated nationwide by ideological excesses, if unfettered in our community, they may cause the shuttering of our schools and sufficient acrimony to last us all for years.
And where are our children in all of this? When you attack the teachers’ union, you are de facto attacking those very children. The teachers just want representation at the table, in a collaborative effort with the board, to better our schools.
Please support Tom Parrish, John Williams and Greg Mikolai for our school board and vote “Yes” on Amendment 66. This may require you to do your own research. When you do, thank your teachers for having this ability. They are anything but your enemy.
ROY K. FARBER
Political agendas should not drive our children’s education
Aa a retired teacher, with two adult children who attended District 51 and received a good-enough education to graduate from respected universities, I am still an educator and care very much about our schools.
After reading the recent front-page article bashing teachers and the Mesa Valley Education Association by school board member Jeff Leany, and then seeing the political ad from one of the “reform” candidates referring to “Union Control” and its responsibility for“30 years of educational failure“, I am deeply concerned. It seems obvious to me that some radical wannabe politicians, in the guise of reform, are attempting to control our children’s education, with the guidance and support of the radical right.
First, some facts: MVEA is not a union. Teachers may choose to join the association, or not. As a college student working summers in a steel mill, I had no choice but to join the union. A union implies uniformity (“the state of being one, a complex whole, a systematic totality“).
While MVEA does represent all teachers in master contract and salary negotiations, (someone has to), there is no uniformity among our teachers. Many teachers, for whatever reasons, do not join MVEA or pay MVEA dues, but still benefit from the efforts of MVEA members negotiating on their behalf. Contrary to Leany’s narrow views, MVEA does a lot more for District 51 than just negotiate contracts and support teachers.
Second, I have some questions for Leany:
Why does he think that paying higher salaries for hard to fill positions will lead to better student achievement? Just because someone is certified to teach physics, does that necessarily mean he or she is a competent teacher and deserves a higher salary? And, are we talking $2,000 more or $20,000 more?
Has he looked at the salaries of the “high demand” teachers on the Front Range? Does he think they would come running to a school district that has historically low wages, and has a school board that wants to micro-manage the curriculum?
What about the proven master teachers in “high supply” fields such as elementary classroom, music and language arts, many of whom have earned National Board Certification? Do we put them on a lower pay scale to pay for the “high demand” areas? The money has to come from somewhere, and since Leany and the three Republican candidates do not support a modest raise in state income tax earmarked to improve education, will they cut programs such as art, music and other subjects that are not on the almighty test?
Lastly, is Leany aware that tenure and the master contract, in their traditional roles, simply grant teachers due process if certain workplace situations arise? Many of these situations involve conflicts with principals. The same principals that are given three years to evaluate new teachers and release any incompetent ones without any due process or reason given. Some principals make the tough decisions, and some do not. This is not an MVEA issue; it is an administrative one.
School board members should generate policy and hire central administrators, letting professional educators deliver instruction, choose materials and develop curriculum.
The agendas of Leany and his followers go much farther than the scope of an effective school board. Blaming teachers for our schools’ problems, without looking at the bigger picture, and attempting to bully MVEA will only create havoc in our schools and drive good teachers away. Our children’s education is too important to have a political agenda interfere with it.