U-46 board needs to listen -- again -- to what teachers think

Published10/19/2007 12:21 AM

"In a context defined by strong site-based management, the district intentionally engaged teacher voice and supported instructional changes to cultivate the elusive element that drives real, sustainable improvement: teacher ownership."

I pulled that quotation from a 2006 Stupski Foundation report lauding the progress Elgin Area School District U-46 had made in creating a cohesive, coherent curriculum across all grade levels and schools.


I thought about that report Monday, when I learned U-46 teachers had rejected a tentative contract deal reached after nearly a year of negotiations.

Shortly after the report was published, Elgin Teachers Association President Tim Davis appeared before the school board to say he'd like to work in a district like the one Stupski described.

Unfortunately, Davis said next, teachers in U-46 didn't work in a district that valued collaboration or sought teacher input.

At the time, I asked Superintendent Connie Neale what she thought U-46 teachers were thinking.

Were they mostly happy with the state of the district, which had undergone tremendous changes since Neale had taken the helm?

Or, as Davis suggested, was there a disconnect between what administrators thought teachers thought, and what teachers actually thought?

Neale acknowledged that teachers were under tremendous pressure, mostly because of the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, the accountability law that imposes sanctions on schools that fail to meet state standards.

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She recognized that teachers had absorbed a lot of changes in a short period of time, largely because of the massive staff cuts made necessary by the $40 million operating debt the district had amassed.

But she also said that most teachers were thrilled with the direction the district was heading. She added that some of the teacher dissatisfaction expressed by Davis and other teachers was a bargaining strategy, an attempt to demonstrate that teachers wouldn't be kicked around come negotiation time.

Monday, teachers demonstrated it was more than just a strategy.

A majority of teachers at every grade level -- elementary, middle and high school -- rejected the tentative deal, which the school board already had tentatively approved.

"Membership has spoken loudly and resolutely," Davis said Tuesday.

What precisely they were saying probably varies, and won't be determined until union leaders survey teachers.


Unfortunately, I can't ask Neale -- on indefinite medical leave since last month and living in Missouri -- what she thinks teachers are thinking now.

Certainly teachers didn't speak with one voice.

The vote was close -- with 1,183, or 51.3 percent, against the pact, and 1,125, or 48.7 percent, in favor of it.

Administrators and school board members said they'd wait to hear from union leadership before taking further steps.

They might not like what they hear.

But they can no longer pretend that most teachers are thrilled, or that complaints are just a bargaining strategy.


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