The most significant development since the mass firing of Providence teachers last spring is the announcement of a new reform slate that is posing a challenge to the current PTU leadership of Steve Smith & Co. In my next post, I will explain the significance of this; for now, I reprint the slate’s information.
What issues are important to this slate?
This year after interviewing with a principal who had run the school for less than a year, 9 Pleasant View and 22 Mt. Pleasant teachers were not invited back to their position. The only reason they were given–“philosophical differences.” Because PV and MP are transformation schools, that is allowed. In the next year, the Union has predicted that 26 schools in RI will be named low performing, 10-13 of them in Providence. The transformation model will be chosen/forced on a certain number of schools. This opens the door for more unfair and biased firings. All union members need to be made aware of what is happening to our members and plan take a stand against unfair and biased practices.
In recent years, the attack on public school teachers has made it even more essential to have good lines of communication within buildings, and between the schools throughout the district. Currently, teachers are kept in the dark as to what is happening in our own school district. We don´t even have a way of getting in touch with other teachers. We need some simple mechanisms like a closed listserv or facebook group. The Union needs to play a vital role in disseminating information to the membership in a timely fashion. This slate has made a serious commitment to changing that. Union members can only stand together when we are informed by the Executive Board as to what is happening. United we stand, divided we fall!
This new system keeps us too busy to fight all the injustices piling up against us. Teachers have reported spending upwards of eight hours preparing the paperwork. And are the evaluations as objective as they’re supposed to be? Who can say whether or not an administrator with a grudge against a teacher won’t bring those prejudices into the observation? And the many hours that administrators will waste on these evaluations only leaves the schools with no real leadership to actually improve a school in a meaningful, school-specific manner. We need to call out this process for what it is: a teacher-blaming tactic that will do nothing to improve our schools, but will de facto do the very opposite.
RACE TO THE BOTTOM
Steve Smith signed the Providence Teachers Union on as supporters of Race to the Top (RTTT) without consulting the membership. That is plain undemocratic. Maybe Steve didn’t understand the basic idea behind RTTT, no money for teachers, classrooms or kids. The money is for teacher evaluations often directly tied to test scores. Extremely high-priced consultants will get that money to help set the evaluation process in motion. Struggling schools and struggling children will never directly see any of this money. Some states have already discovered that RTTT is going to be more expensive than the money they have received to participate. Another problem is that states are required to remove the cap on charter schools and to use educational management organizations. These educational management organizations have not proven to turnaround or transform schools. Charter schools haven’t proven to be the answer to the problem of failing schools either. This slate proposes that the PTU publically renounce RTTT.
Jeffrey Hernandez and his consulting partners NAEP/Cambium won a $5.3 million, three year contract to run three Providence schools: Mt. Pleasant, Juanita Sanchez, and third school TBA. Hernandez was run out of town in Palm Beach, FLA in 2010 by parents and teachers infuriated by his over zealous reliance on testing, a scripted, paced curriculum coupled with overbearing administrative oversight of the pacing. While he was being paid $180,000 by Palm Beach, Hernandez double dipped, taking $1500 daily to consult in Memphis for three days, while on the clock in Palm Beach. PPSD should allow teachers, parents and students to have some say over how our money is spent. Why not invest smaller class sizes, aids in the classrooms, school specific professional development, enrichment activities and field trips for students? Why didn’t the Union get the word out that Jeffrey Hernandez is a snake oil salesman and our students deserve better?
How did the slate get started?
COALITION TO DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION
The Coalition to Defend Public Education is a group of teachers, parents and community members who came together last spring in the wake of the teacher firings. Because public education is under attack here and across the country, we feel the need to try to dispel many of the myths about the importance of testing, charter schools and school closings to “save” public education. The CDPE has been very involved in fighting school closings, speaking out against corporate charter schools and working for an elected school board who will answer to the people, not the mayor. Teachers for a Democratic Union, this slate, grew out of CDPE. We have been organizing together for a year, and hope to bring our energy and activism out to the rest of the membership. We can’t do anything FOR the membership. We can educate and allow members voices to be heard. Rebuilding this union means the membership becoming more involved.
A new model of leadership–Social Justice Unionism
Teachers partner with the community to protect and improve public education. De facto segregation, school closures, corporatized Mayoral Academies, massive budget cuts, poverty and racism impact teachers, parents, students and community members in a way that makes us allies. Politicians are not our natural partners. Parents, students and concerned community members are. Together we can win fair/adequate funding for all schools. Union members need to be involved in not only a fight to defend the rights of teachers, but see that as the same fight that supports the needs of students and their families.
Who is on the slate?
Anna Kuperman, Classical High School–President
I’ve been an English teacher in Providence for thirteen years. The Union needs to be a strong voice against the current trends in education reform–blaming everything on teachers and testing the hell out of students. Last year, when we got fired, I realized that the Union no longer provided that voice. It’s time to speak up and rebuild the Providence Teachers Union into a fighting force.
Pearl K. Holloway, Nathan Bishop Middle School–VP at Large
I have been a middle school science teacher in Providence for the past 13 years, 12 at the former Bridgham Middle School, now at Nathan Bishop. During my years at Bridgham, I chaired the behavior support team, was a member of SIT, piloted the science kits currently being used by the district, co-chaired an after school math and science program, and was a member of the district middle school redesign team. My dedication got me fired and my school closed, leaving me (and many others) adrift with no guarantee of a position in the fall. This was a wake-up call for me to become more proactive, rather than just let the chips fall where they may. I am a founding member of the Coalition to Defend Public Education.
Susan Friendson, Central High School–VP of High Schools
As an English teacher in my 22nd year, it occurred to me last year that skills once helpful to my classroom and my survival in the district – flexibility and adaptability – no longer serve. Now, I understand that they fostered a complacency that has harmed all of us. I see colleagues displaced with abandon and have to wonder, “Who’s next?” Now I choose to speak up and get involved.
Kitashia Mcgonigle, DelSesto and Nathan Bishop Middle School–VP of Middle Schools
I’ve been a speech-language pathologist for 13 years, the last 5 being in Providence. With retirement nowhere in sight, budget cuts, teacher lay-offs, and a restructured pension system I have found myself paralyzed by fear. Will I have a job two years from now? What will my future look like? If I’m ever able to retire, what will my quality of life be like? I’m not sure how we arrived at this juncture, but I’m convinced the only way to make things better is to stand up and fight.
Crystal C. Swepson, Carl Lauro Elementary School–VP of Elementary Schools
During my 14 years as a teacher in Providence, I have watched things get worse and worse for me and for my colleagues. I remember having a lot of autonomy as a teacher. Well, sadly that has all changed. It would be nice to be respected again and to gain some of that autonomy back.
Tom Nolan Veazie Street Elementary School VP of Elementary Schools
Tom has been an outspoken advocate for kids in all his teaching positions. Last year, when the mayor slated his school, Flynn Elementary, to close, Tom attended every school board meeting and spoke out against the closures. Tom is not scared to tell it like it is, especially when student needs are being sacrificed for political ends.
Nancy Krahe, PCTA & Central High School–VP of Special Groups
For the past 20 years, I have worked at 22 different schools as a social worker in Providence. I have had the privilege of seeing some incredible things happening in classrooms throughout the district. Unfortunately, the bulk of what Union members do everyday, doesn’t get communicated between schools and out into the community. By running for this leadership position within the Union, I’m committed to working to change that.
Ed de Boo, Classical High–Treasurer
I teach Latin at Classical. I’m tired of seeing my colleagues violated by abusive management and not being protected by the Union. We need strong, democratic union leadership to fight back against the corporate attack on public education.