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Intelligent and Committed Educators Who Might Have Something to Offer


Ohanian Comment: This is a group of five teachers standing tall for improving instruction for children. And for daring to speak out, they are being punished.

Pete Farruggio has great advice for anyone in this situation.

To all: The school board is the governing body. They are supposed to give orders to the administration. School board members are directly responsible to the public, as they must be popular enough to get re-elected (or elected to higher office, if that's their goal).

I recommend that any who can should attend the Wednesday school board meeting and sign up to speak in the public comments section of the agenda, which is usually at the beginning of each meeting. Do NOT mention any specific names (or even the school), as that will be considered a breach of confidentiality in a personnel matter. School boards are not supposed to discuss specific firings or discipinary actions against employees before the public.

What you can and should say is that you understand that some teachers have been reprimanded and transferred because they dared to speak out in defense of their children. They spoke out against the dictatorial attacks against teachers by the central office bureaucracy. They pointed out some of the harmful practices caused by the administration's top-down implementation of its unscientific, inappropriate reading program. And you think that the attacks against teachers for telling the truth are part of the nationwide craziness of testing testing testing that is forced down our throats by Bush and Schwarzenegger. You agree with these courageous teachers that this high stakes testing madness and the use of drill and kill curriculum that's supposed to raise test scores is a cover up to hide the fact that the people in charge of Education are throwing away our tax money on the war in Iraq instead of fixing our dilapidated schools. They are blaming the victims for the problems of schools. And when teachers try to educate the public about this hypocrisy there are compliant bureaucrats in administration who will do the dirty work of harassing them or firing them.

Say that you will not discuss the specifics of the case because you do not want to put the school board at risk of violating confidentiality, but you want to advise them that when they do get to consider the cases of teacher harassment that they should do their jobs and defend their students from the Bush/ Scwarzenegger dictatorship. It is their job to direct and discipline the district administration, and they should do this.

Such a speech is legal and should not be interrupted or terminated on the basis of a breach of the confidentiality protection. You are not mentioning details. Nobody can know of whom you speak from the content of your remarks. If anybody already knows of the case, that is prior knowledge and should not be used as a pretext to stop you from speaking. If necessary, you can respond to an attempt to silence you by saying something like "Fine, then I'll not speak of this particular case in your district, but I'll speak about the attacks on teachers around the US." And then go on to say what you had planned anyway.

At a minimum, the school board members should be made to feel uncomfortable at allowing their administrators to harass teachers. You can do this with even a few articulate speakers, especially if you have loud applause from the audience. That;s why it's important to mobilize for the meeting.

Good Luck,

Pete Farruggio


by Elizabeth Jaeger
E.M. Downer is a large elementary school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District northeast of San Francisco. Our students are predominantly poor and non-native English speaking. Because there has been an outpouring of interest in our situation, we feel it is important for you to fully understand the context of our actions. The five of us who wrote the "Dear Colleagues" letter which has been posted on Literacy For All, www.susanohanian.org, the TAWL listserv, etc . have been at Downer for five or more years. The district has assigned to our building a succession of principals who were unprepared for the job. Each time we began the year with offers of help and requests for input. When there were great difficulties with the year 2 implementation of Open Court), we asked the regional superintendent to meet with our staff. There was a thoughtful exchange, but the only thing that came out of it was that the behavior of consultants was reined in a bit. The next principal came on board with a professed interest in site-based management. When this did not happen, seven (or so) of us met with him and his coach to discuss the matter. He made promises of collaboration, but never followed through. Eventually the five of us sent a letter to the regional superintendent explaining the situation and asking that she intervene. Nothing came of this request

This fall a number of us were called to meet with yet another new principal in August. At that meeting, the chief academic officer told us that the district had listened/learned its lesson and that they had chosen this person because she would work in collaboration with our staff. A short time later we were shown the video made by the acting superintendent and the president of the school board stating that they had realized that top-down management was ineffective and wanted to work with teachers to improve our district. We took all three of these leaders at their word.

As the new principal's struggles began to show, we repeatedly volunteered our help. This despite the fact that she insulted our staff at the in-service training day before school began. For example, when an October In- Service day was fast upon us, I put a potential plan in her box, suggesting that the morning be given over to sessions of choice and the afternoon to adjunct duty committees. While I told her that several of us were willing to offer sessions, I did not in any way try to set (or even influence) the content of the meeting. She called me in, told me that this was not "my" school, and that she would only proceed with input from a large group like the Instructional Leadership Team. I reiterated that I was not advocating for the content of the day and reminded her of the tight time line. In the end, she threw something together at the last minute and about seven people attended the in-service day. Ironically she asked me to present a session on completing Student Study Team (SST) paperwork, which I did. I also offered to take a sub day or two to help organize the SST, since we had no staff person assigned to this task (and still do not). She declined, even when I told her I would take sick days and she could reimburse me when we had more money.

Lina regularly offered to help on a number of issues too large to count, including both staff development and the day-to-day running of the school. Mike assisted the principal and vice-principal with implementation of our discipline plan (which they have since ignored on several occasions), has volunteered to provide a lunchtime program for 5th and 6th graders during the reconstruction, and is vice president of our school's School Site Council. He was a member of Downer's reconstruction design team and was publicly recognized by the district's head of facilities for his valued work on that project. Thomas and Eduardo serve as mentors for teachers at their grade levels and serve as union reps. The list of our efforts at cooperation goes on and on. My list is the longest only because it is clearest in my mind at present.

All during our efforts to improve our school, never once has a site administrator or anyone from downtown administration ever initiated a conversation with any of us in an effort to consider our concerns. It saddens me that there has not been one person who has ever said, "Hmmm . . . these are clearly intelligent and committed educators who might have something to offer. Maybe we should put aside our differences and have a professional conversation about what might best help our students."

In sum, the letter we wrote to our colleagues in October was one last effort to help our school become what we believe it can be. We didn't want to tell anyone else what to do, we clearly were not going to get anywhere in our efforts to establish a collaborative relationship with administration in this district, so the only option available to us was to simply state what we believed, what we hoped would change, and, finally, what we could no longer in good conscience do. Even after three of our four stated concerns were resolved (Wednesday Project Meetings, ELD testing, and add-on phonics in 4th grade) the district has continued to come after us. None of us has been insubordinate, only one of us could by any stretch of the imagination be construed to have had a verbal warning (and even in that one case, I was never told what I needed to do or cease doing), we all received written warnings containing untruths, and before we had any opportunity to address those inaccuracies, the district has taken the additional action of transferring two of us. At this point, we are uncertain of what the district has in store for the other three.

We are being punished for caring so much about our students that we could not sit silently by as they were denied the education they deserve.

— Elizabeth Jaeger


2005-11-14



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