Recalcitrant school boards and some teacher unions are at the core of a new education battle. A report in the Mercury News last week found that the Evergreen School District’s teachers have been “working to rule”—only doing what’s required according to contract, and nothing more—for several months.
This type of posturing only hurts students. It also damages the perception of teachers, and will only encourage the continued growth of non-union charter schools. Courageous leaders on both sides have the power to prevent this type of action, or a threatened strike vote by teachers. In order to restore the trust, board members need to take action to form a settlement.
Leaving egos at the door before entering a bargaining session is imperative. If a strike occurs, there will be no winners, only losers. Having been a teacher association president and chief negotiator, I know first hand that trust in information is key, and I would suggest this doesn’t exist in Evergreen.
Two years ago, I wrote in this space that I was upbeat about the potential for great education results for all students in our county. On my post, “Class Warfare and the Gates Foundation,” I wrote: “Needless to say I am becoming more encouraged by the potential future we have the ability to create. The SCC traditional public and charter school sectors could be the next good personal investment …”
In that column I heralded the groundbreaking work being done by Rocketship Education concurrently with the leadership by Stephen McMahon, then president of the San Jose Teachers Association in San Jose Unified School District. McMahon was attending the county Office of Education board meetings at that time, giving his voice to the concerns about a huge “ask”—20 Rocketship schools to be authorized at one time. To force change of the status quo, and to move the conversation to student results, my board voted to authorize 20 Rocketship non-union charter schools in December 2011 on a 5-2 vote.
At the August 2011 board meeting, McMahon came to the microphone under public comment and read a prepared statement. “I have been energized by what I have learned and the conversations I have had about Rocketship. There is no disputing that Rocketship is getting it done. The work done by students, the commitment of teachers and staff, the development of leaders, so much of what Rocketship is doing resonates with why I am in public education in the first place,” he said.
McMahon exhorted the county Board of Education to lead the way in a countywide partnership. “Be bold. Set the right course,” he said. I believe we have.
This week, it is possible that San Jose Unified’s school board will adopt a contract collectively bargained with Jennifer Thomas, San Jose Teachers Association president, and Superintendent Vincent Mathews. This would be a groundbreaking deal, spurred by McMahon, the former SJTA president who now works as the district’s chief business officer.
The Merc’s editorial board on Feb. 12, 2013, wrote: “In SJUSD—with 33,000 students, the city’s largest—the teachers’ association and the administration are working together on a cutting-edge agreement. It would pay the best teachers more while requiring many of them to work in low-performing schools rather than in cushier assignments. And it would allow the district to withhold a teachers’ annual raise if he or she didn’t meet expectations…if the contract is approved this spring as expected, it could be a statewide model for treating teachers fairly and professionally while improving student achievement.”
If I advised homebuyers where to move for their children to receive a great education, I would be forced to warn them to stay away from Evergreen, where acrimony will exist for years, even without a strike. I would encourage them to strongly consider a house in the San Jose Unified School District, where collaboration and cooperation are the norm and where teachers put children first.
Thank you to my elected local representatives on the SJUSD Board, their superintendent and their teachers’ association for being courageous at a time when nothing less will do. My office, the SCCOE, should immediately meet with the actors from SJUSD who put this package together and invite all school board members and superintendents across the county to interact with them. It would be a lesson in how to make the impossible possible.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.