This commentary comes from my heart, from my many years as a public-school educator, and my continuing commitment to the potential of public education. In the last several days:
- The world has lost Nelson Mandela, “Madiba,” whose incredible leadership and spirit promoted “reconciliation instead of revenge.”
- On Dec. 3 the Star Tribune published an opinion piece by David Morris (“Schools may soon be run more ‘like a business’ than businesses are) that reported the total failure of Microsoft’s implementation of the business model: “stacked ratings.” In its place, Microsoft is instituting a new policy that contains four key elements: namely “more emphasis on teamwork; more emphasis on employee growth and development; no more use of a bell curve for evaluating employees; and no more ratings of employees.”
- I reread, in depth, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers position paper: “The Schools Saint Paul Children Deserve” [PDF].
All around the nation, urban school districts are wrestling with the question of how to close the educational achievement gap. Too often, teacher unions are criticized as barriers to change or as focusing only on the narrow issues of wages and benefits. Alternatively, in the last 12 months, St. Paul educators decided to work together with parents and community leaders to develop an authentic agenda, “The Schools Saint Paul Children Deserve,” to improve the schools our children attend.
This agenda flows directly from educators’ training and classroom experience, strong learning theory and child development data, and support from the larger community; i.e. Microsoft, parents, taxpayers, etc. Some examples toward becoming a stronger city/developing skilled citizens are:
- Implement district-wide Pre-K. The evidence and research regarding the long-term positive effect of Pre-K is huge and solid. Check out Geoffrey Canada’s Promise Neighborhood Program!
- Reduce the huge burden of time on standardized testing, which frequently interferes with essential teaching — daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
As a retired educator, I believe all of us — working together in the spirit of reconciliation, not adversity nor revenge — can reach the result everyone wants: namely, a stronger City of St. Paul and brighter futures for all of St. Paul’s children.
Let all of us St. Paul citizens and employees renew ourselves to working together and openly for the students of our school district. Let all of the parties in the specific contract negotiations and in the general well-being of the St. Paul Public Schools work together as a team. We can do it!
Virginia M. Zoncki-Bunker is a retired teacher, facilitator, central administrator and building principal.
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