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Local Views: Dismissiveness, discontent concern Janesville teachers

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Steve Strieker
December 30, 2013

School District of Janesville (SDJ) Superintendent Karen Schulte was right in her column to brag about the contributions of Janesville's “excellent” and “amazing” teachers to ongoing student achievement gains.

However, Schulte's dismissiveness of declining teacher morale is disappointing and exposes a growing disconnect with Janesville's professional educators.

In her retort of The Gazette's Nov. 24 article on sagging teacher morale, Schulte questioned Janesville Education Association (JEA) President Dave Parr's take on the alarming number of departing teachers.

In reality, district leaders are out of the loop. A supermajority of all teachers and 99 percent of voting teachers reaffirmed Parr and the JEA in the recent union certification election as the voice for educators in Janesville.

More than ever, JEA leaders have been listening and talking with teachers throughout the district. Under the SDJ's new handbook rules and “no excuses” culture, many teachers fear sharing professional concerns with district leaders.

Janesville teachers from all levels are sharing their concerns with union leaders about the misdirection of the district and increasing work-related stress. Of course, JEA leaders hear from many about how state-mandated pay cuts are a real hardship on family budgets. New teachers share concerns about unrealistic professional development loads. Mid-career educators worry about the loss of respect and security given to almost all other experienced and highly educated professionals. Veteran teachers tell us they feel less appreciated and report a historical low in teacher morale. JEA leaders are sensitive to the concerns of all Janesville teachers.

Disappointedly, school leaders increasingly lean on impersonal data to measure how teachers feel. The staff satisfaction survey touted by Schulte is a flawed tool that indicates what we already know. Teachers value working with students, parents and colleagues. The survey does not ask how teachers feel about new district policies and practices.

Important educational decisions are being made without teachers. An overreliance on limited data blinds district officials from employee frustrations. While districts across the state have worked directly with local unions to create new employee handbooks, the SDJ did not. Long ago, many districts voluntarily settled on compensation packages with their teachers' unions; the SDJ has not.

Instead of empowering educators, district leaders are privately designing new accountability and pay-for-performance schemes for teachers. These wasteful measures are not supported by research and undermine the teamwork approach favored by the professionals working most directly with students.

SDJ officials are trying to fix what is not broken. Teachers are not a problem. Partnering with the JEA works. Evidence is found in the steady achievement gains and numerous awards made with a 100 percent unionized teaching staff.

Excellence already abounds in the journey teachers and school officials take together in bringing high-quality public education to the children and families of Janesville.

With the new year, JEA members hope for a recommitment by SDJ officials to what is most important (and beyond measure) when working for the betterment of kids. Working together works best.

Steve Strieker is vice president of the JEA and a veteran social studies teacher of 18 years. Readers can contact him at sjstrieker@gmail.com.



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