I think that it was early in the eighties that
the Artist Formerly Known as Prince wrote a song in which he sang "we're gonna party
like it's 1999." It may be proof that time does fly, but gee whiz folks it's 1999 and
this new school year will take us into the next millennium. That alone will serve to lend
this school year importance beyond what would normally be the case. It is yet to be
determined whether we will remember the nineties as the best of times or the worst of
times or perhaps quite a time, but "the times they are a changing." No doubt in
ten years much of public education will still be recognizable, however the possibility
exists that it will be much different.
1. Public education remains very much under
attack. It seems to make little difference that measures of student achievement are
improving. 2. It also seems to matter little that schemes like charter schools and
vouchers have not been able to deliver on the promises made. Much of the education
debate is more about politics than education.
3. Despite another dismal round of student test scores the Edison schools keep
expanding, drawing students and money from the Duluth Public Schools. Although the Edison'
folks have promised to cap enrollment, they are already talking about a second middle
school in West Duluth.
4. Although vouchers are not the imminent threat in Minnesota that they are in other
states, it is very likely that they will once again be a part of the national debate
as we enter the next round of national elections. Victories we have experienced during the
last couple of years could easily be negated by changes at the national level.
Not only is every state in the nation working on raising standards for students, many
are involved in increasing standards for the licensing of teachers and developing new ways
of measuring teacher performance in the classroom. 5. The new teacher contract in
Detroit institutes a pilot program which ties student achievement to teacher pay.
Apparently students will be tested and evaluated in various subject areas. Teachers will
then make a guess as to how much improvement the students will make on an individual
basis. If student achievement improves as forecast the teacher will receive a raise.
Its a new wrinkle in the old ideas of merit pay. It may or may not work, but it will
be closely watched by policy makers across the country.
The message to us is clear. We must be politically involved at every level. The
upcoming school board election is critical. We have to make sure that we, our families and
our friends get out and vote. We need to be personally and financially involved in the
campaigns. Still, change in the makeup of the school board may not be enough. 6. Gone
is the time when our problems were at the local level and we could battle things out with
the school board and administration. Much of what affects us is superimposed from
either St. Paul or Washington. We need to determine who our allies are and support them.7.
It may require voting on the basis of one issue, education.
Even though the school year has just started, I have had the opportunity to visit
several schools. I have talked with many teachers at places such as the mail and the
grocery store. The enthusiasm and professionalism which our teachers bring to the new
school year is inspiring. We need to communicate this feeling of excitement and commitment
to the entire community. The most important contact most people have with the school
district is through teachers. It may be a teacher of their child, or a friend who is a
teacher, or a neighbor who is a teacher, or perhaps a teacher who belongs to their church
or social organization. 8. Most members of the public seldom talk with the
superintendent. They do not meet with the school board. Yet it seems that everyone knows a
teacher. As teachers we have an opportunity to influence public opinion through our
daily contacts. We need to use this opportunity to our advantage by sharing our enthusiasm
for the work we do and our belief in public education. Let us talk of positives. We don't
need to share our problems with the system. It is very easy for people to get the feeling
that public education is full of problems. 9. We need to constantly tell our friends
and neighbors about the good things happening in this school district. Perhaps this is
the first form of political involvement.
10. I became a teacher because I felt that public education was important. I wanted
to spend my life in a profession where I could do good things. I still feel the same way.
I know that you share this feeling. We do important work. We do good work To continue this
work we must be politically involved at every level and with every opportunity.
Negotiations Update #1
The first official negotiations session was held on Wednesday, September 22. Although
some preliminary discussions have taken place, this was the first time that the entire
teams from both sides have met.
Yes, this was a late start. Most districts have been negotiating and some have settled.
There is no one to blame for our late start, and it is likely that had we met earlier we
would have met for the sake of meeting. Several issues including severance and insurance
required more information prior to any meaningful discussions taking place.
We are now confident that both sides have had ample time to prepare a proposal, select
negotiators and gather information. 11. We are optimistic that a settlement can be
reached prior to the January deadline. We realize that members find it frustrating to
once again begin school without a contract. 12.However, it is always better to get a
good contract later than a poor one sooner.
It is still too early to see a definite pattern in settlements, some trends are
emerging. 13.The settlements to date seem to be in the 3.5% range per year.
The D.F.T. negotiations team will include Jim Pierre, Beth McCuskey, Jim Melander, Sue
Anderson, Neil Kent, Sue Abrahamson and Frank Wanner. Jerry Brown will serve as our staff
representative from Education Minnesota. Jerry and Frank will share the position of chief
negotiator. Greg Burns, Deputy Director of Education Minnesota will be advising us and
joining us for some of our sessions. If the going gets tough, Greg will be here a lot.
Please feel free to direct your questions to any member of our team.
The D.F.T. Independent Elections Committee was hard at work while many of us were on
vacation. In early August a screening of school board candidates was held. The committee
did a great job of reaching out to the membership for help and the membership responded
admirably. Over sixty members took part in the screening. This was the best participation
in recent memory. Many thanks to all who took part.
Remember, the campaign is just beginning. The committee still needs your help both
personally and financially. Members may also want to work on the campaigns of endorsed
The Local Election Committee includes: Sue Anderson, Char Johnson and Neil Kent.
Professional Growth by Professional Teachers During the first part of August, Education
Minnesota and the AFT sponsored Educational Research and Dissemination Training at the
University of St. Thomas. This was open to Education Minnesota members from across the
state. We are proud to announce that all but one of the instructors or presenters were
from the D.F.T. professional issues and ER&D programs. I think that this really says
something about the quality of the people and program we have here in Duluth.
The D.F.T. ER&D presenters included, Cyndi Venberg presenting Beginning Reading
Anne Krafthefer and Kathy Kilby presenting Thinking Math, and Charlene Johnson and Diana
Vanasse presenting Reading Comprehension.
For more information on the D.F.T. ER&D program or our Professional Issues
Committee, contact Cyndi Venberg at Lowell. The institute will be offered again next
summer at St. Thomas. Watch for announcements in the Spring.