Archive for March, 2010

School Board Meeting 3/10/10

March 11, 2010

The following message was given by Kentwood teacher Kara Bean to the School Board last night.  It reflects the concerns of many KEA members about the adoption process for new curriculum that has gone on recently.

 

Good Evening Dr. Vargas and School Board Members, My name is Kara Bean.

I am a Kent citizen and Language Arts teacher at Kentwood High School. I am here tonight to speak to you about an issue related to the adoption of the Language! Tier 2 and 3 intervention curriculum.

When I first began contemplating speaking before the Board earlier today, many of my colleagues tried to dissuade me. They shared the opinion that the decision had already been made and that the only outcome would be negative effects for my career. I seriously considered whether putting my career at the Kent School District in jeopardy was worth the information I am about to share with you tonight. Then I thought about my students. I thought about reading To Kill a Mockingbird with them and talking about taking a stand for what is right even when that stand is difficult. I thought about Atticus telling Scout that if he didn’t defend Tom Robinson, he wouldn’t be able to hold his head up in town or tell her and Jem what to do anymore. Although this situation is, of course, different, I realized that I couldn’t ask my students to do the right thing in their lives if I couldn’t. I have to speak to the Board, not because I want to, but because it is the right thing to do.

I have not yet received training for this program nor have I seen the materials, so I am not here to ask you to approve or reject it. I am simply here to share some information with you that came up in discussions related to this program because I think they illustrate some serious problems in our school district.

When the training for the Language! program began in February, many rumors about it began circling among teachers across the district. I heard that it was a great program, but not well-suited for high-school students, I heard it was a great program for any struggling learners, and I heard it was a terrible program. Not sure what to believe, I tried to get the facts.

Knowing that the School Board’s number 3 goal for 2010 is to provide quality and innovative learning environments for our students, and that the first action plan to meet that goal is to “establish a set of ‘research-based best practices,’” I, along with other teachers, asked what research said about the program. We were told that there was research, but we would get it later. We couldn’t understand why we had to wait for the research, but what could we do?

After hearing that the curriculum was going to be adopted at tonight’s meeting, I knew that I would be able to find the supporting research on the School District website as part of tonight’s agenda. When I looked at the proposal, I saw that Item 14 required a specific list of attachments: a staff development plan, copies of the evaluation tools, copies of the resource, and independent reviews. All of these were checked except the independent reviews. There was nothing listed in this box, nor were there any additional pages of reviews or research.

I’m sure that the research exists or the School District would not have spent a large sum of stimulus dollars on the purchase of the curriculum, but what I do not understand is why that research has not been shared with teachers, parents, or the public. Yet, thinking back over the years I have taught here, I have heard the phrase, “research says” over and over again without that research ever being shared with the teachers or community, and that’s not right. How do we know that the research actually says what we are told it says? How can we tell our students to be critical thinkers when we are told not to worry about the research, but just do our jobs?

We are supposed to be partners, working together with district administrators to identify, implement, and evaluate programs to best serve our students. If we can’t be trusted to have access to all of the information, then we are not truly collaborators. I urge you to change this and make us true partners in educating our students. You can start by doing something as simple as sharing the research you have used to make these decisions with us.

Thank you.

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2/22/2010 KEA Links: District Ignores New Contract

March 8, 2010

DISTRICT IGNORES NEW CONTRACT

Class size and caseload were cornerstone issues in bargaining, and gained national and international attention during the KEA strike last fall.  Considerable progress was made on these issues, and Association members looked forward to being able to better serve students as a result.  It quickly became evident, however, that the district had no intention of keeping their word, honoring the contract, and meeting the needs of staff and children. 

Within three weeks of the ratification of the new contract and the end of the strike, reports started coming in from various KEA Reps that there was no sign of implementation of the new caseload language in Special Ed and ELL classes.  It also quickly became clear that the district had not posted enough openings for teachers and paras in order to provide adequate staffing to fulfill the terms of the new contract.  KEA requested caseload and para support data from the district on October 9th, and met considerable resistance. KEA has reiterated the request several times over the weeks and months that followed. 

The district began sending some information a month later, and though it is incomplete and not entirely accurate, it confirms that there are many unaddressed overloads, including overloads that exceed the scope discussed in bargaining.  The district has refused to provide accurate comprehensive information showing whether the base level of para support has been provided to each teacher, and KEA knows that this is one of the several points at which the contract has not been fulfilled.

How bad is it?  In some classes, there may just be one or two extra students, or a few too few para hours per day.  In others, no para support has been provided at all.  In some, more than twice the number of students has been assigned to a teacher.  In three elementary schools, more than 200 students are served by just one ELL teacher, despite a contractual guideline of 1:90.

Association leaders have not been silent about the district’s disregard for the contract, our members, and students.  There have been a number of meetings with upper administration.  Some of these have helped to pry loose a little more data, but none have resulted in effective relief or compliance with the contract.  Having found no resolution through discussion, KEA filed a grievance. 

 CASELOAD GRIEVANCE MOVES TO ARBITRATION

The advantage of having this new caseload language in the contract is that it can be enforced.  KEA filed a grievance in late October at the level “Step 2—Superintendent.”  Dr. Vargas did not participate in the meeting, and instead appointed one of his bureaucrats to act in his stead; in this case, Larry Miner was appointed to act on behalf of the non-participating superintendent.  KEA presented contract language, data wrested from the district, information gathered by members and KEA Reps, and supporting logic.  At the first meeting in the grievance process on November 19th, the district, represented by Chuck Lind, was unprepared to explain the district’s position, so a Step 2 Part 2 grievance meeting had to be scheduled, by which the district created further delay of almost two months.  At the second meeting on January 13th, former prosecutor Lind, accompanied by Dr. Rieger and Kim Halley, offered a weak exposition of “management rights,” claiming that the administration’s decisions to deny adequate para support and to overload classes best serves the needs of students.  Mr. Miner “shockingly” agreed with his fellow administrators, and sent the Association a 6-page decision which is at odds with the language of the contract, the rules of contract interpretation, and bargaining history.  Mr. Miner’s decision was due on January 25th, but was not sent to the Association until February 8th.

 We are now at the mid-point of the current school year, and each passing day sees students denied the support they should receive, and places an excessive burden on KEA members.  KEA notified the district that it will appeal the grievance to binding arbitration, a process in which an independent neutral labor relations expert holds a formal hearing and determines whether the contract has been violated, and what should be the remedy.  This process can take months to complete.  There are currently seven KEA grievances awaiting arbitration hearings.

 DISTRICT REFUSES EXPEDITED ARBITRATION PROCESS

The Association asked Dr. Vargas to agree to an expedited process so the matter can be resolved quickly.  Larry Miner quickly informed us that Dr. Vargas does not want to use the accelerated process.  This means, of course, that the district prefers to drag out the process as long as possible so that they can continue to violate the contract and avoid spending the money necessary to hire enough staff. 

 WHAT CAN BE DONE?  – YOU CAN BE INVOLVED IN A SOLUTION!

Technical processes such as arbitration often result in contract compliance.  KEA has won all three of its arbitrations over the past few years and compelled the district to honor language about involuntary transfer, contracting out our work to private agencies, and the district’s invention of goal setting forms that are contrary to the process and criteria of the contract.  We are reasonably sure that we will be successful in this arbitration as well… eventually.  We have a strong position, based on the new contract language, but arbitration is a slow and sometimes uncertain undertaking.

Even more effective than arbitration is the influence exercised by educators, parents, and the community.  KEA members have been speaking out about this topic at school board meetings. Although one school board member recently commented that changes should not be expected overnight, KEA has been more than patient as student needs continue to go unaddressed. Requests for relief for multiple classes in overload throughout the district over a period of half of the school year are a far cry from instant change.  KEA members have met with a newspaper reporter and told their stories. Information is being shared with parents and community groups. Talk with your building rep about how you can be involved to support your colleagues and your students!

2/24/2010 KEA Links: Evaluation Goal-Setting Form Finally Resolved

March 8, 2010

It began in the fall of 2008 with a few reports from KEA building reps about a variety of new forms being used for setting annual evaluation goals.  Now, after several months of grinding through the grievance process, a successful arbitration hearing, and a few months of post-arbitration bargaining, the district has been compelled to only use a set of forms that comply with the KEA/KSD contract.  Despite its rhetoric about “partnership,” the district dragged its heels and created unnecessary delays at every possible turn, as it resisted living up to its contractual agreements.

 Administrators Had Created New Evaluation Criteria

At the core of the issue were a series of evaluation goal forms—  different from any found in the contract, different from those used at other schools in the district, and sometimes different than those used right down the hall.  Some of these were just variations on a common theme, while others linked teacher goals directly to student WASL scores, the school motto, or a variety of criteria foreign to the contract.   Teachers were often forced to adopt these goals without an opportunity for meaningful discussion or to come to an agreement on goals. 

 Successful Arbitration

KEA insisted that the district return to the language of the contract, allow teachers the opportunity to develop and discuss their goals, and only if no agreement is reached, to assign goals only from the CAM rubric.  This is what the contract says is to happen (Article VIII, Section 2).  The district denied the grievance at superintendent level, and the Association insisted on taking the matter to arbitration.  The arbitration hearing was held in early October 2009, briefs were filed by both parties (the district’s was late, of course), and the arbitrator decided in December that the district was wrong and that they would have to cease using their made up forms.

 Development of New Forms (and more district stalling)

The arbitrator’s decision also directed the district to negotiate goal setting forms with KEA that would comply with the contract.  This, too, resulted in more stalling by the district.  KEA President Lisa Brackin Johnson and UniServ Rep Mike McNett met with a roomful of district administrators on January 4, 2010 to discuss forms.  The discussion was cordial and the district promised to send new drafts to KEA.  Several weeks passed and the district sent nothing.  KEA prompted the district to send the drafts, but the district continued to delay.  If the parties could not reach an agreement, the arbitrator had retained jurisdiction for 70 days and was ready at that time to decide which forms would be appropriate.  On the 69th day, a Friday, KEA sent forms of its own to the district, having still not received the promised drafts.  The district sent its forms to KEA later that afternoon, and KEA quickly made revisions and sent them back.  The Association then sent a copy of this to the arbitrator for a decision, having not reached an agreement within the set time frame.  True to form, the district’s general counsel Chuck Lind requested an extension.  70 days was not enough for him, apparently, even though the parties were already almost a year and a half into the grievance process.  The next week, an agreement was reached.  The district had made one change from the forms KEA returned to them on Friday—they dropped an “or” from an “and/or.”  The issue is now resolved, “just” 16 months after the union objected to this violation of the contract.

 New Forms Available Soon!

The new forms are now available to principals and through the KEA website (http://www.kentea.org/members/contract.html).  They will be in use for the remainder of this year, and in the future until such time, if ever, that KEA and the district agree to change them.  The forms include a goal setting form for the CAM, a goal setting form for the PGP, and a mid-year reflection form.  These are to replace the hodge podge of documents that administrators have invented on the basis of their own flashes of creative inspiration.

 How Does This Affect Your Current Goals?

How would you like it to affect your goals?  If your goals were developed through mutual agreement, then they can just be pasted into the new form or stapled to it.  You won’t need to start over from scratch.  If you and your assessor were unable to reach an agreement, and you were therefore assigned a set of goals, then these goals must be directly from the criteria in the contract (see the CAM rubric Exhibit L, or a subsequent exhibit for non-classroom positions).  If you were assigned one or more goals by your administrator, through the use of a goal form or by other means, and if that goal or goals are not directly from the contract, then you can use the new form to develop new goals.

 Principal Training

In a positive step, the district has agreed to provide training for principals and assistant principals in the correct use of the new forms and the goal setting process.  This training is scheduled for March 4th, after which the new forms will begin to be used.  KEA welcomes this step and hope it leads to a smooth and contractually correct use of the new documents.  If it doesn’t, let your building rep know right away.

More Comments to School Board Feb 24, 2010

March 4, 2010

Cindy Prescott comments to KSD School Board 24 Feb 2010

A few years ago, my oldest daughter came to me with news that should only be second to, “You’re going to be a grandma!” She told me she was going to get her teaching certificate. Most people would feel thrilled to have their daughter or son walk in their footsteps with a chosen career. Although I hugged her and said all the right things to my daughter, I had a half-hearted response inside. I was thinking, “Teaching has become a much more difficult career.”

This career has always been a difficult career. We don’t make a product, like cornflakes or cars. We are helping young children, who are our future, to become the best they can be. It’s always taken a great deal of time to be a teacher. It’s always taken a great amount of emotional energy to be a teacher. And yet, so many of us have chosen this career because we care deeply about children, and about the future of our country. But I wonder, will that continue to be the case in the current education climate?

This last week, I read a letter that was sent to the Washington State Legislature from many of the Superintendents in our state, including Dr. Vargas. The letter encouraged the Legislature to adopt a new evaluation system for teachers that is unfair and punitive. The new system calls for teachers’ evaluations to be tied to student scores. The system doesn’t address poverty, learning disabilities, unfunded mandates, lack of “ample” educational funding by the state, or the high class sizes in the Kent School District.

As I read it, I wondered about a few more things. I wondered how many dedicated, talented people will decide not to join the ranks my daughter and I are proudly part of.  I wondered why superintendents and school boards are not part of the accountability that teachers and principals might face. I wondered why the KEA “partnership” was not involved in discussion about this letter before it was sent.

Accountability is important. I believe the children in my classroom should be making progress each year. But I think about a few years ago when I was teaching at a Title 1 school. I was the same teacher, dedicated to my students and their progress. However, my test scores were different than they have been in the last few years, as now I teach in a non-Title 1 school. So I wonder, who will want to teach in a Title 1 school?

I think about all the amazing teachers in our district who teach children with special needs. Their children might not show the same type of growth that will be required by this new evaluation system. Maybe the growth might be slower than those in the Legislature (most of whom have never taught in the classroom) think it should be. So I wonder, who will want to teach special needs children?

Right now, it is a very lonely job to be a teacher. Teachers are held responsible for many societal problems that are not under our control. Teachers care more than school boards, more than legislatures and more than the President about their classroom children. Yet, teachers are somehow being found to be the problem in education.

So, I am left wondering about many things. I wonder what will happen to the field of education. I wonder who will want to teach our children. But mostly, I wonder what will happen to our children when there is no one left to teach them?

Comments To School Board Feb 24, 2010

March 4, 2010

You Can’t Buy A Hummer for $100

February 23rd was the 100th day of school. Across the Kent School District students learned to understand the concept of 100. Some of my students did a writing activity telling what they would buy if they had $100.  I read some wonderful responses – one 4th grader wants to give her money to charity and a 5th grader wants to help his mom pay her bills.  But some of my students might have a little way to go in understanding $100 – one plans to build a swimming pool and another is going to buy a Hummer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers lately too. I am one of the elementary integrated programs that is above the target number for my program. I currently have 33 students. It was 34 last week and it will be 34 again next week and maybe even 36.

Those students have unique needs including Autism, Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Bi-polar disorder, Tourettes, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorders and Learning Disabilities.

Their reading skills range from a beginning kindergarten level to a beginning 5th grade level. Some have difficulty decoding words, some struggle with fluency, some with comprehension and some with all of the above.

Their writing skills are similar to their reading skills as are their math skills.

I am expected to familiar with curriculum to meet the needs of each student. I plan for my time and the time of three para-educators. We have 7 math groups, 6 reading groups, 7 spelling groups, 5 writing groups and 2 behavior and social skills groups. We also have Literacy Workshop time to reinforce skills taught in the general education classroom.

My para-educators spend time in the general education classroom supporting some of our students and I help guide that instruction.

Before the year is over I will write somewhere around 40 Individualized Education Plans. My IEP stipend pays for the work for about 15 IEPs. , I also attend weekly Guidance Team meetings and will be part of about 20 evaluations.

Additionally, like other teachers, I spend time doing all manner of other things – solving behavior problems, collaborating with other teachers, calling parents, doing playground duty, attending staff meetings, taking my turn cleaning the staff room and whatever else you can think of. And recently I’ve been asked to spend a significant amount of time preparing data for my principal.

Many days managing this overloaded program feels about as realistic as buying a Hummer for $100. I am very sad that having contract language for special education has not brought more change to Kent. It is frustrating to know that our most at risk students are so often in classrooms that are overloaded.

It is my hope that the Kent School District will begin to look realistically at the needs of special education students and what it takes to provide the quality instruction these students need to accelerate their learning.

I challenge each of School Board Member to spend a full day in my classroom or another special education program that is over the target number. Really get to know the issues we deal with and develop a realistic picture of what it takes for these children to succeed. Just like you can’t buy a hummer for $100, it’s hard to achieve quality education in an overloaded program.