Saturday, September 01, 2007

Joke of the Day: Weingarten Back to School Message

[Emphasis added. Translation into what's really being said to follow, but feel free to get your won translator. Typos corrected, free of charge.]

August 31, 2007

Dear Colleague:

New year. Big changes. We've been here before, I know. But this year, with much of the decision-making moved from the central bureaucracy to the school level, there are reasons to be hopeful. This new structure, however, works only if you are true partners with principals in making decisions about what's best for kids. And ensuring that you assume that rightful role - as partners with principals and parents - will be our goal as the school year begins.

Remember Gilligan's Island? The 1960s sitcom about a group of day-trippers marooned on an uncharted tropical island where everybody (including the "skipper") is forced to live and work together in order to survive? That is the analogy that kept cropping up earlier this week as 750 UFT chapter leaders gathered to learn how to make this thrice-restructured school system actually work in the real world of teaching a million students day-to-day.

I hope you had a chance this summer to rest, recharge and spend time with your families - though I suspect that many of you, like those of us here at the UFT, were working, preparing for the new term, and catching up with everything we have no time for during the school year. Although we don't agree with everything the Department of Education is doing, we are doing our best to make it work for our kids, while at the same time taking every precaution to ensure that you are treated professionally, you get the support you need to do your job and your contractual rights are upheld.

Keeping watch over all that won't be easy under the decentralized system that Chancellor Klein has devised. That's why we have developed a new online grievance procedure (modeled after last year's successful safety reporting system) and other monitoring methods to track trends, identify problems early and resolve them.

The changes this year are as vast as in the 2003 reorganization, but my bet is on you; our members always rise to any occasion for our students. Most important, the shift of decision-making to the school level presents us with both opportunities and challenges.

Principals who don't yet understand will have to learn pretty quickly that they need you as partners if they want their schools to work. There's been a lot of research on this, and it's clear that collegial, collaborative schools have higher student achievement, lower teacher turnover and more instructional innovation, not to mention better staff and student morale.

The lesson that we have to drive home: Successful schools are not principal-dominated or top-down factories; they have the active participation and enthusiastic engagement of their faculty. Your professional expertise, your problem-solving creativity and your commitment
to improvement are the key - if they are tapped. Successful principals create a climate of partnership with teachers and parents to help kids learn.

So this year the union's focus will be to work with our members, and with administrators and parents, to create collaborative environments and professional respect in every school. We will honor those that have that climate, and take whatever steps are necessary to achieve it in those that do not. We have already won a number of important arbitrations toward that end for paraprofessionals and for occupational and physical therapists. And we are still dealing with another challenge - the district that serves our most at-risk kids.

On the eve of Memorial Day weekend, the new superintendent of District 79 (alternative high schools) came up with a so-called reform plan that dramatically downsized the district, including the potential excessing of 750 educators. In early June more than 400 people attended a union meeting, and, as angry as we were, we agreed to press for negotiations as the first response. On the last day of school, the union secured an agreement that reaffirmed everyone's job security and required the district to offer existing employees every job in the reorganized schools, which is double what the contract now requires.

Still, that is not the way I would prefer to build collaborative relationships. Fortunately, our canvas of the schools the week before Labor Day showed that District 79 was much more the exception than the norm. Even if that were not so, the law and our contract give us many tools. Every school must have a union-principal consultative committee, a safety committee and a school leadership team to help make decisions. I hope you will consider serving on that team, or on a committee, and contributing even beyond your classroom to your students' success.

It's hard to predict how this year will go, given all the changes, but we do know that our hard work last year will pay off in several positive ways. Among the changes we can look forward to are:

· A 7 percent raise. This includes 2 percent on Oct 13 and 5 percent on May 19, when maximum pay will exceed $100,000 for the first time. These raises will bring the total base salary increase since 2002 to at least 43 percent.

· New 5-year longevity. This annual payment, which becomes effective in May, is for all those with between five and 10 years of New York City school service. It is worth $1,000 a year for teachers and $500 a year for paraprofessionals, and it's another example of the efforts we've been making in recent years to hold on to our newer teachers.

· A continuing fight for small classes. As I write, the state has not yet approved the DOE's plan for using the new funds coming to our schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Smaller classes were supposed to be a priority, but we (and some parent groups) have opposed the city 's plan because it doesn't do enough to achieve that. If the city continues to take only "baby steps" rather than an aggressive approach to lowering class size, we will not hesitate to go back to Albany to get more prescriptive language.

· Job security. The new Open Market transfer system enabled about 3,200 members (compared to about 400 a year under the old seniority transfer plan) to change schools this year, and, in accordance with our contract, no new or not-so-new teachers got "bumped" from their positions. Most important, the contract ensures that all excessed educators have jobs at their full pay and benefits. The new system has reduced the displacements and uncertainty that
used to upset thousands of teachers each fall, and it has resulted in better fits between schools and teachers over all. Nonetheless, this year we will work with those who are still not in a regular teaching position to get them more options. We are also tracking all displacements to see if there is evidence for an age-discrimination suit.

· More money for Teacher's Choice. Teacher's Choice was threatened this year by budget cuts, but our lobbying succeeded in getting it restored. In fact, stipends for supplemental supplies will rise to $260 for general ed teachers and $230 for special ed teachers, with guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists receiving $200. On top of that, we have managed to secure enough money so that all secretaries will now receive $50 to buy needed supplies. Remember, everybody, keep your receipts.

I also want to tell you about a wonderful nonprofit program called "Donors Choose," which was started by a Bronx teacher a few years ago and has grown into a nationwide online hit. It enables teachers- including 6,400 of our members so far - to fund their exciting ideas for instructional projects and it lets ordinary "Citizen Philanthropists" help our schools in ways they choose. Go to Donors and make your creative idea a reality.

· Whistleblower protection. UFT members have a long tradition of speaking out when they see something that hurts children. Whether it is tampering with test scores or denying services to special ed students, some teachers have put their careers at risk to blow the whistle on their superiors. Now, because of a new law that the UFT advocated and the City Council passed over
the mayor's veto, those brave members will be protected from supervisor retaliation against them. And a legislative push we participated in gives parents strengthened rights to get their disabled children appropriate services.

· Excessive Testing and its Implications. The UFT has protested excessive student testing and using test scores as the sole determinant of major decisions (like promotion) for kids for a long time -- long before the national debate about using those scores as the basis for tenure decisions and teacher evaluations. The tests are simply not reliable enough and are not fair measures for such high-stakes purposes.

This year Gov. Spitzer originally proposed basing tenure decisions on student test scores, but that was deleted as a result of the union's advocacy. Now, as part of the new state tenure law, tenure decisions must include: 1) peer review, 2) principal evaluation, and 3) "the extent to
which the teacher uses student performance data" to inform instruction. This was an extremely important achievement which we will vigorously enforce.

Along the same line, regardless of what the CSA and others may do, we will continue to oppose individual "merit" or "performance" pay based solely on student test scores. Don't get me wrong: We are not opposed to differentiated pay. We support differentials for skills and knowledge and career ladders that offer additional pay for additional responsibilities, just as we always have had differentials for higher degrees and credits earned. And we have been open to experiments with school-wide bonuses, based on an entire school's achievement. But we oppose both teacher evaluations and individual extra pay based on student outcomes.

We face the same challenge on the federal level. As Congress considers reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, there is growing momentum to define "highly qualified teachers" according to the test scores of their students. I'm sure we will be talking a lot more about this as the year progresses.

I expect that the relentless focus on testing and test scores will only get worse. The School Progress Reports (the first is due this fall) will increase that focus since test scores account for 85 percent of a school's grade. And the new Interim Assessments will mean ten additional tests per year for grades 3 t o 8 and eight more for high schoolers!

Other challenges face us as well. As we saw from the recent Most Dangerous Schools list, discipline and safety must continue to be top priorities. I hope by now you are all aware of our online system for reporting violent incidents and violations of the Safety Plan or Discipline Code. If not, look at our home page (at and you'll see the orange button for doing

The negotiations on a 55/25 pension provision are still quite active. I remain confident that, if the will is there, we can work out an agreement, but on this one the mayor must also agree. Speaking of the mayor, despite our differences, I must give him credit these days for never letting an opportunity to praise the city's "spectacular" teachers pass him by.

Those are my not-so-brief prognostications for the opening of school 2007.
Let me know how your school "partnership" is working. I want to make sure we recognize and honor those schools that are working well for kids and where teachers' voice is respected, while continuing to educate the school leaders who have not yet seen the light. As always, please e-mail me at As those who have e-mailed me know, I try to answer every one.

And best of luck this year.


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