Loren Martell’s account of the June School Board meeting has finally made it to the Duluth Reader. Loren dwells on many speakers at the outset who argued that the western schools should have been allowed to keep their existing principals as the eastern schools were. Then he tacks to Art Johnston who was unhappy about a range of equity issues including the principals. Equity should be the main issue in this School Board campaign.
Loren, heaped far more praise on me than I deserved for voting against the teacher’s contract I helped negotiate. I’m grateful for Loren’s exposition which explains how I could help to negotiate it but then turnaround and vote against it at our Board meeting. It was purely a symbolic vote and much of my justification was simply a restatement of the negotiating teacher’s own platform. Here’s Loren’s full account of my statement intelligently cut down to size:
The bravest person in the boardroom this evening, by a long shot, was Harry Welty. Particularly considering the fact that he is facing reelection, board member Welty was a tower of courage. The DFL/Labor dynasty that dominates Duluth will have a target on Mr. Welty’s back for the stand he took this evening.
“It’s important to make a couple of points that we, as a community, need to understand.”
The lone, brave truth-speaker began, during discussion of the new teachers’ contract: “I’m going to begin by reading a statement I was heartened by. It was referred to by a teacher, Ms. Nachbar, earlier (during the public comment period) about reaching the ‘whole child.’ Mr. Welty described the statement as “a student-centered advocacy that our teachers wish to have,” and told the audience the statement had been read by the teachers’ representative before negotiating the union/management agreement.
Transcribing the statement (and Mr. Welty’s comments in regard to it,) filled up four hand-written pages. I can only lay out a few highlights of this soaring rhetoric, and will have to paraphrase the rest:
The statement described ISD 709 as “a system (that values) providing the right tools and curriculum to maximize each child’s potential, which is key to helping each student be independent, life-long learners.” It praised our public school district as a place that values “safe, welcoming environments, where the uniqueness of each person is honored, respected and valued–recognizing that we all come from many different circumstances and cultures.” It asserted that Duluth public school teachers, “as a federation, agree that educating the ‘whole child’ requires a balance of academic and social-emotional growth for each student.”
The primary focus of the overall statement was on the “social-emotional” aspect of helping students achieve, which apparently is becoming a bigger challenge. “District staff,” member Welty continued reading to the audience, “working closest to students, are seeing an increase in the number and severity of student anxiety and mental health support needs. Recent reports of 15-20% chronic absenteeism can be aligned to students’ connectedness to their teachers, fellow students and school. Graduation rates and academic success is also impacted by the social-emotional learning needs of our students.”
The statement contained suggestions for dealing with this need, including the establishment of district-wide “benchmarks” in various grade levels for measuring progress for social-emotional learning. It also emphasized the need for school environments that engender “positive relationships and engagements that help children feel safe and minimize disruption.” The main point the teachers wanted to make was expressed this way: “To that end, the district and the federation (of teachers) are committed to promoting practices that support postitive relationships and strengthens school climate, minimizes interuptions to student learning, maintaining and increasing mental help providers–i.e., counselors, social workers, school psychologists–throughout the school district in all school buildings.” The audience was told, through member Welty’s narration, that doing this “must be a priority. Educating the ‘whole child’ requires the presence of a variety of skilled, licensed professionals…”
After reading this lengthy proclamation, Mr. Welty looked up and said with heartfelt enthusiasm: “Ladies and gentlemen, I have to tell you when I heard this statement, it made my heart soar! That is exactly what we need…and I believe that our teachers desperately want us to be able to offer children all of the things that this statement (outlines,) things that are required to take care of students the way we want to…”
This is where the bravest soul in the room got to his point. The agreement reached with the teachers’ union is actually two, two-year contracts. Member Welty pointed out that the first contract left the district “a little wriggle room in the first year, and maybe a little in the second, (but) the second two-year contract is a crap shoot…I know what our finances are likely to be…There is no question that I would like to pay our teachers more than we currently do because they are important to our community, but it my sense that the finances of our district are such that these (raises) will make doing the student-centered advocacy more difficult, because it will make it difficult–if not impossible–to hire additional staff…as our finances get strained in future years. I will respectfully vote against the contracts for that reason, if only to make the point that our finances are going to be tough.”