Monday, May 31, 2010

Final Thoughts....

It has been a privilege and honor to serve as the President of NEA-Dallas / Classroom Teachers of Dallas these last seven years. We have accomplished much over that time period, but the time has come for me to pass the torch of leadership in NEA-Dallas to a new leader and focus on the education of my young sons in Cedar Hill and issues in my local community of Duncanville.

WE have accomplished much over the last seven years. For some who don't remember, let me remind you.

In the fall of 2003, we brought the National Education Association to the Dallas County Schools. Up until that time, leaders in our state and national associations did not realize that Dallas County Schools was an actual school district. Once WE gave them that education, WE proudly began organizing in DCS with two charter members: the late Elnora Brantley and Verbena Nedd.

Now, in 2010, our membership in Dallas County Schools is well over 700! And, NEA-Dallas members have had a unique relationship with their Board of Trustees and Board President. For several summers in a row, the Board President, Larry Duncan, sat down with our representatives from the respective service centers in DCS and rewrote policy so that the DCS would become a "kinder, gentler" place to work. That work was then taken to the Board, by Mr. Duncan, and put into policy.

On May 22, 2004, WE unified our three NEA-family organizations in Dallas and formed NEA-Dallas. The Classroom Teachers of Dallas, which had represented Dallas ISD teachers since 1927; the Dallas Education Support Professionals Association; and the Dallas Association of Paraprofessionals all came together to form ONE organization. That is why we have the three stars in our logo -- one for each founding organization.

WE have also brought over $100,000 in grants from the National Education Association to the Dallas ISD and Dallas County Schools. Grants through the NEA's Priority Schools Initiative,KEYS 2.0, Public Engagement Project and Minority Community Outreach Program have all come to Dallas ISD to help our students succeed and to get the community more involved in low-performing schools. In the Dallas County Schools, we have received grants to place computers in almost all of the service centers to allow internet access to many employees who would not have it at home.

In the Spring of 2004, WE, with the help of five Trustees on the Dallas ISD Board, were able to stop the insane idea of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations! Dr. Mike Moses' Administration had their plan all ready to go to the Board when Trustees Dr.Lew Blackburn, Hollis Brashear, Dr. Lois Parrott, Ron Price and the late Joe May told the Superintendent, "No!"

There would be many dark days in the Dallas ISD after that as new Trustees would side with the Superintendent on almost every issue. WE, were however,able to save "Longevity Pay" for employees in June of 2008 for those who were already receiving it but an unexpected $84 million budget deficit that Fall would be the District's darkest hour.

The Administration's original plan was to lay off over 800 employees and have them off of the District's payroll by the end of October. But, by working with Alliance-AFT, the Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Dallas School Administrators Association, WE were able to get a solution that was not quite as painful.

The Administration agreed to allow employees who were close to retirement to "volunteer" for the Reduction in Force. The RIF'd employees would leave work on October 16, 2008, but would get paid until January 16, 2009, allowing them to be eligible for one more year of credible of service for the Teacher Retirement System. A little over half of those employees released were those who "volunteered", thus saving the jobs of many younger teachers. And, for those teachers who challenged being released, NEA-Dallas/TSTA attorneys won all but one of those cases.

Things began to look better in the Winter of 2009 as Dallas ISD had three Trustee elections that should have taken place that May. This time, working with the Dallas Friends of Public Education and Alliance-AFT, WE were able to elect Bruce Parrott and Bernadette Nutall to the DISD Board and gave incumbent Dr. Edwin Flores a scare in District 1 with our candidate, Dr. Kyle Renard.

And again in the most recent DISD Trustee elections; DFPE, Alliance-AFT and NEA-Dallas were able to re-elect Dr. Lew Blackburn and elect Eric Cowan to the DISD Board. In just a few months time, by working together, employees now have ridded themselves of the "Bobblehead Bunch" and replaced them with enough votes to force the Administration to do the right thing by its students and employees.

WE have also accomplished much in our state association. At the Texas State Teachers Association convention in April, NEA-Dallas sponsored and passed a new business item that would have TSTA aggressively oppose any participation in the Obama Administration's Race To The Top Incentive Program.

Why did we do this? Because for years WE have said that, "Children are more than test scores!" If our students are more than test scores, so are we! The Administration's Race to the Top Program would have states tie teacher evaluations to student test scores. That's an idea that we defeated in Dallas in 2004 and one that we must ensure that Texas does not fall for.

WE have accomplished much, but YOU MUST ACCOMPLISH MORE! There are very troublesome times ahead for the Dallas ISD, Dallas County Schools and public education in general and YOU must be ever vigilant.

YOU can do it! Just as people had faith in a newcomer from Louisiana some seven years ago, I have faith in YOU!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Time for a Couple of "Job Well Dones"

One of the things that I have enjoyed about being NEA-Dallas President is that I have been able to visit the schools of the Dallas ISD. I will never forget the first time, and everytime since, that I have walked the halls of our DISD elementary schools.

Students all in line, their hands behind their backs, moving very orderly and QUIETLY through the halls. For all of the grief our elementary teachers receive from the Administration and everyone else, they do a fantastic job!

And, I, for one, want to say, "Thank You!"

I was in an elementary school just last week in one of the suburbs. You know the ones: no portables; nice cool buildings because the air conditioning is working; state-of-the-art equipment, etc. Well, let me tell you, those teachers aren't even in the same ballpark as our DISD teachers!

I just happened to be in the hall when the bell sounded. It was like a jail break! Students running up and down the halls, yelling-hollering... reminded me of the video "School's Out For Summer", but it wasn't... I would have expected something like that in a middle school or even a high school, but an ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?!?!

Students came tearing down the hall without teachers, so I asked the counselor, with whom I was walking, "Where are their teachers?" She looked kinda bewildered and about that time a couple of teachers rounded the corner. I told her, "Boy, these teachers better be glad I wasn't their principal!"

So, whenever you start thinking DISD teachers aren't doing their jobs, you should think again. I have never seen an elementary school in the DISD where students were allowed to behave so badly.

My other "Job Well Done" goes out to the Dallas County Schools Board of Trustees. At their meeting on May 20 they passed a new program aimed at helping their employees. This program will reimburse up to $1000 a year for college/technical school classes for part-time employees and up to $2000 a year for full-time employees.

At a time when school districts across the state of Texas are cutting employees and freezing salaries, the Dallas County Schools Board of Trustees is doing something to help their employees.
Thank you Trustees!

If you want more information on the Dallas County Schools program, you can contact the DCS Communications Director, Deanne Hullender, at 214.944.4545.

Monday, May 10, 2010

HOPE is Finally Alive in DISD!

Hope is once again alive in the Dallas ISD! With the re-election of Trustee Dr. Lew Blackburn and the election of Eric Cowan, students and employees now have the opportunity for the DISD Board of Trustees to vote in THEIR favor, instead of just going along with what the Administration wants.

This is the first time in six years that we have what some would call a "student/employee friendly board". The first time since Trustees in 2004 told then Superintendent Dr. Mike Moses, "NO!", to tying teacher evaulations to student test scores! The days of the Administration doing whatever it wants, whenever it wants will now be much more of a challenge and that challenge could not have come at a better time.

The newly-elected Trustees will be sworn in this month and have to hit the ground running. DISD has just over a month to finalize and approve its 2010-2011 budget. Already the Administration has done another "staffing formula" change when it comes to Special Education resulting in the release of many teachers and teacher asssistants.

It will be up to Trustees to ask the tough questions and DEMAND the answers. It will be up to them to make sure that this District does not shortchange its students while continuing to pour money into consultant contracts, incentive programs that can not be properly run, and high-priced administrators.

It is now up to all of us who have supported these candidates to continue to support them and to push them. Students, parents, tax payers, and educators must now continously update these Trustees and give them the information that the Administration will sometimes not want to give them.

We still have much work to do. Winning the election was just the beginning. But, because of these elections, Hope Is Alive!