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Teacher campaign takes platform to the mayor

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 8, 2009 04:44 PM
Photo: Effective Teaching Campaign

A PSU member shares her concerns with Mayor Nutter.

More than 40 people -- parents, grandparents, students, teachers, and activists -- made a personal plea to Mayor Nutter Thursday to take a proactive role in the ongoing contract negotiations between the School District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Members of the Effective Teaching Campaign presented Nutter with hundreds of postcards signed by people who back their platform, which calls for changes in how teachers are evaluated and assigned to schools.

The campaign wants all teachers to be hired at the school level by elected leadership teams that include the principal, teachers, parents, and, in high schools, students. It also wants teachers to have real decision-making power as an incentive to avoid the churn and turnover that typically occurs at some of the city's lowest-performing schools.

Now, many positions are filled by seniority, and site selection in many schools is done by the principal alone, not a leadership team.

The campaign also seeks a better teacher evaluation system, something that has become a major pillar of President Obama's education agenda. Research for Action has just released a report comparing Philadelphia's evaluation procedures with others, including those in some local charter schools. It notes, among other things, that the city never got around to using an updated evaluation form put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It presented several models, including some from local charter schools, that better train principals and other evaluators, give teachers real feedback, and do more thorough observations of teachers when they are eligible for tenure.

A student, teacher, and parent spoke for the campaign.

"This contract is a real opportunity to improve the quality of education in our city," said William Browning, parent of students at Strawberry Mansion High.

Zakia Royster, a senior at Sayre High School, said her teachers often don't have the materials they need to succeed and get discouraged, even if they are well meaning. And high school teacher Anissa Weinraub said that teachers need to feel that they have a stake in their schools. "I hope you will support a contract that empowers us rather than scapegoats us," she said.

Nutter, about to run off to the groundbreaking for the Sugarhouse Casino, was noncommittal. In the hallway outside his office, he thanked everyone for coming and reiterated his determination to increase the graduation rate among city public school students.

Later, he said that he is in constant touch with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and has made his views known on the big issues, but doesn't plan to go public with any of his priorities while the talks are still going on. While he "obviously" cares about how the School District impacts the children of the city, he said he wasn't ready to endorse any of the campaign's positions.

"She's the superintendent, she's the CEO," he said of Ackerman. Contract negotiations, he said, are always complicated, and he is busy with municipal contract talks.

Brian Armstead, a leader of the campaign, said he hoped that Nutter would use his bully pulpit to spur movement on the more contentious issues around evaluation and the equitable distribution of teachers. "We think it's his place to stand in," Armstead said. "He is the eyes and the ears and the voice of the people. He can have influence."

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Comments (10)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 8, 2009 7:21 pm

Ackerman wants to eliminate health care coverage and benefits "completely" in the new contract. Not just increasing co-pays, increase premium contributions, but not even to offer health insurance at all! Legal or not, we must strike. That is not even reasonable at all. I can understand times are tight...freeze wages...raise premium contributions...etc...but not even offering health care? Geesh...Ms. Arlene has lost her mind!

Submitted by Ron Whitehorne on October 8, 2009 7:34 pm

And you know this how?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 9, 2009 5:45 pm

Instituting Peasants Insurance, I would believe from that woman. Not this. Try again, Sam.
Now, I would agree with you if you said her goal is to get rid of veteran teachers. The new wave in education is to pretty much make every school a KIPP school with TFA'ers. You know, every school in urban areas (and some lower income suburban and rural areas) would only have kids fresh out of college. They would leave after their two year hitch, and then another 21 year old just graduated from college kid would take their place. THAT I would believe (along with the Peasants Insurance since Arlene seems to use Wal-Mart as her role model.)

Submitted by Ishkabibble (not verified) on October 8, 2009 7:39 pm

Do think Queen Arlene is willing to forgo health benefits for herself? She needs to cut teachers' health benefits so she can pay these big buck salaries for her Administration of the Week staffers.

One of the stipulations Philadelphia teachers are going to demand to avoid going on strike will be that Arlene be fired. She has alienated this district so quickly and thoroughly that the possibility for any reconciliation has long since departed.

Submitted by Ishkabibble (not verified) on October 8, 2009 7:05 pm

"Do you think" is what I meant to say.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 9, 2009 8:21 am

I think that the teachers in Philadelphia need to "Think Hard" about what is going on in our district. This is not the time to be complacent.
Everyone should go to their State Rep. in person and tell them that they "will not stand for" being treated as a non-professional. Does everyone understand the meaning of "union"?? Don't think so!!! You MUST report your building reps if they are NOT doing anything!! Labor Board is the place.
Feel free to look at the Dept. of Labor website and see what it will take to decertify this union. I think that we threaten this to the PFT or they will continue to be "comfortable" in their offices and non-supportive of people in classrooms.

WE DON'T EVEN KNOW THE "REAL DEAL" WITH OUR NEGOTIATIONS. You can't be happy in the dark,,,can you??????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 11, 2009 7:39 pm


Are you serious?

You mean well...

The union and the other side are two peas in a pod...

Don't urge people to contact their union rep or report their union rep...

They will lose their job...

Do what they did in other authoritarian systems...don't talk, don't raise objections, do as your told, and don't make waves...

Teachers are to be ordered...nothing are to follow orders...nothing else...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 9, 2009 5:43 pm

So most of these people are not teachers and are saying that they should have a say in the teachers contract? Do I go to the mayor and ask him to get involved in negotiations with airline flight attendants? I mean, that affects me quite a bit! Seriously. I mean, who among us doesn't get excited when the flight attendant gives us the whole can of soda, instead of what's in the little cup?!?!??!?!
We don't get involved, even though it affects us because, it is none of our business.
ALSO, while I am here....Can someone pleeeeeeze explain to me how having site-selection only will improve the schools? So Central will ONLY have the best teaches, and the comprehensive schools...ummm...not so much. LOL!

Submitted by Philly HS Teacher - Sharon (not verified) on October 11, 2009 1:42 am

Why are people going to the MAYOR???
Does he have a say or control over the School District of Philadelphia??? Don't think so!!!
Teachers, Teacher Advocates, Students, Parents...NEED to go to the School Reform Commission meetings ( schedule on the SDP website - you must call 24 hours before the meeting to register) and present their comments, concerns and opinions!!!! OFTEN!!!
Media people need to go, listen and REPORT REALITY!!!
Call your Representatives to tell them what you think!!!
They need to know that we are concerned here!!! Come out to hear me this Wednesday...I'll be speaking!!!

Our Children's education is important...they are our future.

Submitted by akaman (not verified) on October 13, 2009 9:34 pm

The mayor would be taken seriously by both sides. It would be nice to see him involved. Eventually he will be, or there will be no contract. To paraphrase what Anissa said, the union has to move from just protecting teachers to empowering teachers. And teachers have to change their mindset as well. Perhaps this contract's battle cry will be: no accountability without responsibility.
As for the queen, outside her office she has no subjects. Hers is a bunker mentality, out of step, and widely disregarded. Many teachers have had it with her and no longer take her seriously. Only time will tell if that is a mistake or not.
Education is the next crises on Nutter's plate.

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