February 18, 2011
City school officials debate future of education at national conference
Three Cortland city school officials have spent most of this week in Denver, learning about ways for labor and management to work together in the new financial realities facing school districts.
Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring said he has been attending the U.S. Department of Education’s conference titled Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration.
He was joined by Bill Young, the city Board of Education president, and Lori Megivern, the Cortland United Teachers president.
The cost of the trip will not come from local property taxes because the federal government said if a district sent its chief school officer, board president and teachers’ union president, all expenses would be covered, Spring said Wednesday.
Cortland was one of 150 school districts chosen to take part, from 250 applicants.
The school leaders took part in both panel discussions and sessions where they met with school districts where management and labor have worked together.
One conference theme was improving student success by working together to use resources that fit local school needs, empowering local leadership, giving students responsibility for their own learning and engaging parents.
Plattsburgh was the only New York district among the 12 chosen to discuss their practices that have worked. The others included Denver, Baltimore, New Haven, Winston-Salem, N.C., and Helena, Mont.
The sessions focused on strategy for district direction, evaluating teachers and school boards, sharing responsibility for student academics, supporting ways for teachers to improve, shifting around district work force, understanding benefits and compensation, and making decisions about school matters in a dynamic way.
Plattsburgh — a city resembling Cortland in many respects, with a SUNY college and sometimes struggling economy — was asked to discuss its use of school-based planning committees and a district-wide professional development committee. The district also is piloting a peer assistance and review program with novice teachers.
In his opening speech, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he hoped educators left the conference with two messages: student success must be at the heart of any management-labor relationship, and school reform must rise about the drama of “yelling, finger-pointing, controversy” portrayed in the news media.
“President Obama and I are convinced that labor and management can collaborate to solve many of our nation’s enduring educational challenges,” Duncan said. “And we believe that progress more often follows tough-minded collaboration than tough-minded confrontation.”
Duncan said Plattsburgh’s relations between teachers and management have been stable for 35 years, with one union leader and four superintendents of schools during that time.
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