for higher good, and used resources such
Five of our teacher members joined together as professionals and took a stand. In an open letter to their colleagues they addressed their concerns & observations.
Letter of Five Downer Teachers to their colleagues
Jonathan Kozol, educational author and activist, recently spoke at King Middle School in Berkeley. It was an inspiring evening and Kozol's message was clear: particularly at a time when public education (especially for poor children of color) is under attack, we as educators have a moral obligation to look out for the best interests of our students.
There are certain practices expected of us here at Downer School and across this district which do not serve our students and we will no longer go along with those practices. On the other hand, many of our students' needs are not being met and we pledge to do what we can to provide for those needs. It is time to stand up for the children entrusted to us and it is our intention to do so at every occasion. Listed below are some of the positive actions we will take on behalf of our students:
• School Governance: The district administration, including the school board president and acting superintendent, have publicly stated that top-down methods of decision-making are ineffective. In a very large school with a veteran teaching staff like Downer, it is vital that decisions which affect our students be made jointly by teachers and administrators. Adjunct duty committees have now been established. These committees need to be given the power to develop proposals within their areas of expertise which can then be brought back to the full staff for approval. It is also important that the committees be given time to meet, possibly one Project Meeting per month.
• After School Program: The after school program should serve as a support for students who are struggling in the classroom. Crucial to the effectiveness of such a program is input from the teachers who work with these students day in and day out. Some of us hope to offer after-school classes to provide for needs which are not currently being met.
• Student Study Team: The Student Study Team is critical as we strive to meet the needs of all students. It is a positive step that SST slates have been chosen for morning and afternoon meetings. However, many teachers are not familiar with the SST process. We will offer assistance to those teachers as they complete paperwork and implement classroom modifications; SST meetings can then be the culmination of systematic efforts to help children and will run efficiently and effectively.
In this list are some of the practices we will no longer support:
• Text-Based ELD Testing: With the current focus on accountability, teachers are required to administer (and students to endure) more and more testing. Most of these tests are ill-conceived, many are redundant, and all are time-consuming. The new ELD tests are all of the above. The test lacks clarity, collects information similar to that provided by CELDT and teacher observation, and severely impacts instructional time. We will not give these tests.
• Low-Quality In-Service Meetings: High-quality staff development is crucial as teachers seek to grow as professionals. However, much of the staff development offered by our district is of poor quality. Since our first obligation is to our students, we will no longer leave our classrooms to attend meetings (on- or off-site) which are not of benefit to us or the children we serve.
• Wednesday Project Meetings: Article 46, Section 2 of our contract states, "Staff development during modified Wednesdays in elementary schools shall be jointly designed by the schools' principals and the staff except that the District may require a particular staff development activity during one Wednesday per month." If classroom teachers were allowed to collaborate, as the contract states, Project Meetings would improve the instruction we provide for our students. District officials have recently agreed with UTR regarding this contract language. Therefore, we expect meetings to be jointly planned within the near future. If they are not, we will no longer attend.
• Phonics Lessons In 4th Grade: Research has shown that phonics lessons are useful for most students in grade 1 and for some students in grade 2. At the 4th grade level, it is inappropriate to spend large chunks of instructional time on phonics. Currently 4th grade teachers are expected to spend 20-25 minutes per day on these lessons. We will no longer do so.
It is our sense that we are not alone in feeling as we do. We hope that you will join us. We welcome your thoughts on all of these issues – collegial dialogue is part of the strength of any successful school. If you are interested in these ideas or have questions to ask, please feel free to speak with any of us. We will hold a meeting on Monday October 10th at 3 p.m. in Rm. 505 to discuss these matters in some depth. Working together – teachers and administrators alike -- we can continue to grow as a faculty and as a school.
Eduardo Martinez Elizabeth Jaeger Michael McDonald Thomas Prather Lina Prairie
received NATIONAL RECOGNITION for their efforts, and I walked beside them at last year's Cinco De Mayo parade, in honor of their