by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2015) Members of the Cleveland Teachers Union came in mass to the Cleveland Board of Education’s April meeting to protest new corrective action plans the district seeks to impose on teachers at the district’s 23 investment schools. An overflow crowd packed the Cleveland Board of Education meeting on April 28th filling the Rhodes High School auditorium, the hallway and overflowing outside into the lawn in front of the school. Most of those in attendance were members of the Cleveland Teachers Union.
The issue they sought to bring before the Board of Education was spelled out in signs stating: “Educators’ voices should be valued.” Teachers, paraprofessionals and service providers working in the schools were particularly upset with the failure to involve them in forming Corrective Action Plans for the district’s 23 Investment Schools. The Cleveland Teachers Union objected to the “top down, heavy-handed Corrective Action Plans.”
Members of the Cleveland Teachers Union told the Cleveland School Board they felt the promises made when Clevelanders voted for the school levy have been broken. Instead of being included in creating education action plans for their schools as promised, they are faced with plans dictated from outside the school without ever asking for the input of teachers. After already having signed commitment letters to work in Investment Schools in 2013 or 2014, teachers are being asked to sign new letters with new rules they believe are designed to punish and control teachers rather than address the educational needs of students.
Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke talked of the need for the Corrective Action Plans to address critical needs for smaller class sizes and additional support staff such as school psychologists, social workers and mental health counselors. He said that staff shortage among these support personnel were due to district policies and stagnant compensation. Quolke said the staff shortages resulted in “delays in services to our scholars.” Instead of addressing these real needs he said he believes the new corrective action plans are designed to focus more undue blame on teachers. Quolke urged the Board of Education to “stop blaming and start supporting us.”
Cleveland Teachers Union Vice President Tracy Radich said for the teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff “every day is about learning.” She asked that the administration and the Board of Education value the voices of the people that do the work in the schools and include them in the formation of the plans for the Corrective Action Schools (Investment Schools).
Radich noted documented improvements in a number of areas at some of the investment schools. She complained that after only two years the Cleveland School District wanted to trash the commitments that all the staff members at the investment schools interviewed and signed up for. She asked the School Board instead of focusing on things like dress codes and submission of lesson plans by teachers to support educators for the commitment and dedication they already exhibit.
A teacher at Luis Munos Marin, one of the investment schools, said student achievement is up including 100% of students showing improvement in reading and math. She said suspensions are down, students have shown social and emotional gains, attendance is up and parent involvement has increased. She asked that ideas of staff at the school be included in the planning process. “Give us a chance to move our school forward,” she said.
A Lincoln West teacher spoke of a reluctance to sign the administrations new Corrective Action School Commitment letter. The teacher noted the measurable gains experienced at Lincoln West and asked that instead the staff be allowed to finish what they started two years ago.
Another Lincoln West teacher asked why the prescription for change at the investment schools was different from the district’s model schools. He asked that Lincoln West be given the same resources, same classes, rigor and expectations as model schools. He called the difference in the prescriptions for change “modern day segregation for my students.”