Stop the Fight over Teachers’ Names and the Do the Work that Needs to be Done

We may never all agree about whether teachers should have staged a “sickout” to go to the Capitol during the legislative session, but we should all agree it’s time to move on.

It’s time to focus on the students and make the most of each school day for the rest of this year.

None of these school districts should be spending any time off-task when our goal is to raise achievement for every child.

JCPS made the right call yesterday when it asked Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis to rescind the request for names of teachers who missed school to protest in Frankfort.  No good will come from keeping a list. It will hang over the district like the threat of state takeover did. That’s not what is best for kids.

I understand the argument that being out of school is also not best for kids. We can argue back and forth all day, but sometimes you just have to get back to business.

It is important to figure out why this happened, and what can be done to address what caused it.

Legislators need to build trust. Largely because of ugly words coming from Frankfort and past surprise actions, teachers – and other citizens – don’t feel like they can be sure of when and how our state government will make decisions.

Outside advocacy groups influenced this month’s protests in a way counter to the plans for political action that had been worked out by the union and district leadership. These groups face absolutely no consequences for their actions. What they encouraged, the district leadership must now deal with.  Teachers need to work with their union moving forward.

JCPS has had so much to manage these last couple years: potential state takeover, leadership changes, real crisis in helping disadvantaged kids get what they need, and too many people telling it what it should be doing instead of supporting well-documented progress.

All words should be encouraging at this time, and all the time. So many past criticisms still hang in the air and affect the environment in a negative way, and last for years.

What I hear around Jefferson County more and more are comments in support of the district leadership and excitement about new initiatives to deepen learning.

Let’s keep this good work and essential community support going.  Let the districts focus on school.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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3 Responses to Stop the Fight over Teachers’ Names and the Do the Work that Needs to be Done

  1. adelmang says:

    As always, I respect your posts. In this case, I don’t think you have adequately considered what’s behind this movement, and how Kentucky really represents a microcosm of what’s happening nationally and even globally.

    I agree living in fear of retribution, much like the fear of state takeover, is not good for our district or for students. But I don’t think “falling in line” is how we can expect to eliminate the threat of charters or state takeover. In fact, many folks believe quite the opposite is true, which is why I believe this movement continues to rage on, despite district and union leaders best efforts to quell it. As we’ve seen in other districts, if leadership does not represent their interests, teachers will find a way around them.

    You said, “Teachers need to work with their union moving forward.” What happens when teachers find working with the union leadership does not yield results that are in their best interests? What should teachers and communities do when the union is playing both sides of key issues and making compromises with “hostage takers,” which could ultimately lead to state takeover and charters?

    You said “Outside advocacy groups influenced this month’s protests in a way counter to the plans for political action that had been worked out by the union and district leadership.” What if these “outside” advocacy groups you referred to are actually made up of teachers and community members who have a right to be concerned about where things are heading and don’t feel like the current leaders are doing enough? What makes these groups “outsiders” when they are actually made up of rank-and-file members and parents of students?

    You said, “These groups face absolutely no consequences for their actions.” While that can be debated, considering their members are also teachers, parents, and taxpayers, the piece you overlooked is what consequences they face by NOT TAKING ACTION. As I mentioned, state takeover, charters, school closures, more students of color falling into the pipeline to prison, increased taxes, etc. are next on the menu.

    I believe you can be supportive of district initiatives, teachers and unions while simultaneously objecting to status quo, cronyism and corruption among leadership. You can object to state overreach, lack of honest democratic processes, and outsider big-money influences like AFP & ALEC, without lumping authentic grassroots community supporters into the same category.

  2. Richard Mellor says:

    As an observer from afar I take issue with your attempt to appear concerned for the children while cursing both sides. But both sides are not equal and I believe you know this.

    You talk about the need to “move on” and that folks should just “get back to business.”. And what is the business of the state legislators and the politicians? It is to privatize public education. One can’t trust enemies like that. The governor makes his position very clear. That is the business they are in. The teachers, parents and the youth are putting their livelihoods on the line to not only defend public education but expand it. And their allies, no matter where they may be in Kentucky or Portland Maine are justified in taking sides.

    In all labor disputes, “outside agitators” are the cause. You may not intend it but it’s insulting. People don’t do what Kentucky teachers have done these past weeks because they are being manipulated by outside agitators. There are real, and very serious issues here that are important to American workers no matter where we live.

    I was active in the labor movement for 30 years. There is a crisis in our movement and that is a crisis of leadership. Too often, as you are doing now, the rank and file union member, those that pay the dues, are blamed for being divisive and not supportive of leadership. When union leaders do not wage a serious fight for their members, when they have no real alternative to capitulation, it is our duty to oppose them and replace them. Look at this intimidation and threatening behavior from Wayne Lewis with authority. Is that nice?

    The destruction of public education (and services) is a by-product of the savagery of the market that produces obscene wealth for a few as teachers, a crucial grouping for a healthy society, struggle to survive and educate under near impossible conditions. In the urban centers, among the poor and the low waged and in particular communities of color, schools are being closed in huge numbers; there is a catastrophe occurring because of these politicians policies. The Kentucky teachers are on the right side of history and they are heroes for it as are all the teachers/educators that began these fightbacks last year.

    In these situations the advice of a shrewd opponent of teachers and unions who has been no friend of working people is worth heeding: “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”

    I am a retired public utility worker, union member and blogger

  3. Gay, Thanks for your comment. First, you are right – calling citizen groups “outside” didn’t clearly describe or respect the caring people who advocate for public education. That was not a thoughtful or appropriate description. What I meant was this: JCTA, for example, is the organization that formally negotiates on behalf of teachers, and has the standing to speak for them based on their contracts and policies. The leadership is formally accountable to its membership through regular voting. Next, I understand the frustration about our current political climate. Public officials are attacking public education and starving our schools of funds. I think there are ways to combat this – support our public school system and its leadership. Focus on the successes. And, work to elect public education supporters. In this era, that will take a lot of work.

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