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.