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.