Letter to the Editor: Jene Chollak, Sweetwater Education Association President Addresses Teacher Workloads and District Priorities

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Jené  Chollak
Sweetwater  Education  Association  President

There  has  been  talk  that  the  Sweetwater  Education  Association  and  the  school administration  are  on  opposite  sides.  There  is  only  one  side,  What  is  good  for  students. I  would  like  to  inform  the  board  and  the  public  that  the  administration  and  SEA  are  on  the  same  side.  Our  collaboration  has  been  ongoing  in  solving  district-­‐wide  issues  and  supporting  students.  We  have  partnered  with  administration  time  and  time  again  to  make  sure  that  we  continue  to  put  the  most  important  issues  for  students  at  the  forefront  of  our  work  as  a  district.

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There  is  perceived  opposition  between  administration  and  SEA.  I  would  say  that  there  is  opposition  between the  board  and  SEA.  It  was  this  body  that  several  years  ago  publically  announced  that  staff  was  no  longer  the  priority  it  used  to  be  as  part  of  the  long-term  plans  for  the  district.  It  was  the  board  that  decided  that  our  support  staff  are  no  longer  valuable  individuals  and  key  components  to  the  success  of  our  district  when  it  stripped  them  of  all  due  process  rights.  It  was  the  board  that  decided  to  leave  the  communication  with  legislators  about  the  budget  to  others  in  the  state.  It  was  the  board  who  hired  our  last  administrator  and  continued  to  back  him  with  staunch  support  even  after  many  people  came  to  you  to  begging  for  relief  from  his  misguided  leadership  of  our  district.  It  was  this  board  who  has  abandoned  the  leadership  of  the  district  solely  to  the  superintendent  and  the  lawyer.  It  is  this  board  that  refuses  to  negotiate  anything  associated  with  working conditions.  The  board  has  opted  out  of  any  discussions  that  would  impact  the  overall  moral of  the  district.

Our  superintendent  has  been  left  to  manage  alone  while  this  district  has  faced  some  of  the most  difficult  decisions  in  decades.  Changes  in  standards,  curriculum,  school  accountability, and  special  education  and  the  budget  plague  our  district.  At  the  same  time,  leadership  in  our  district  is  at  an  all  time low  when  it  comes  to  experience  and  training.  We  have  new  directors,  new  principals,  and  new  teachers  throughout  the  district  and  inexperience  out  numbers  experience  in  nearly  every  building. Worse  we  cannot  keep  the  staff  we  find  from  year  to  year.    Our  students  need  consistency  to  progress  and  our  district  is  in  the  midst  of  some  of  the  biggest  changes  in  every  aspect  of  education.

Our  staff  is  overwhelmed. With  change  comes  additional  work. While  the  district  overall  is  taking  a  long-term  approach  to  curriculum  alignment,  students  are  being  tested  on  these  standards  now.  Teachers  have  risen  to  the  challenge  and  aligned  to  new  math  and  language  arts  standards,  selected  materials  and  planned  effective  lessons. This  is  hours  and  hours  of  work  each  week  that  has  been  left  on  the  shoulders  of  the  individual  classroom  teachers  while  our  outdated  curriculum  is  shelved  and  new  curriculum  is  being  developed. Special  educators  are  completely  overwhelmed  by  their  additional  work  responsibilities  and  case  loads.

At  the  same  time,  the  relief  of  smaller  class  sizes  promised  by  the  new  buildings  is  not  being  realized  across  the  district.  Some  classrooms  are  at  the  16  to  1  ratio  recommended  by  the  state  but  many  classes  in  our  district  remain  as  crowded  as  before.  Equally  dismaying  is  the  removal  of  much  of  the  support  staff  that  provided  support  for  our  elementary  teachers  who  have  taken  on  those  additional  tasks  as  well.

Our  district  needs  support  from  the  board.  You  don’t  give  a  new  employee  the  keys  and  say  “here  ya  go,  as  you  walk  away.”  This  district  needs  the  board  to  provide  structure, guidance  and leadership  for  the  administration  and  the  staff  so  that  we  can  resolve  these  issues.

At  this  time,  SEA  invites  the  board  to  join  the  administration  and  SEA  to  meet  and  seriously  discuss  teacher  workloads  and  the  priorities  of  this  district.