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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

Toledo Board of Education gets teachers' plan to run city school

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Board of Education last night left the door open on a proposal to create a teacher-led school that would include a more rigorous atmosphere while eliminating the principal as head of the building.

Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, publicly unveiled the idea yesterday morning.

Ms. Lawrence said the school would be called GEM Academy, an acronym for Gaining Educational Mastery.

It would concentrate on early childhood education and community engagement, offer salary incentives for teachers, include a longer school year for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students, and teach Spanish to all students.

"As a board, we have consensus to look at the proposal we have received," Steven Steel, board president, announced after the idea was discussed in private by the board's five members. Mr. Steel directed Superintendent John Foley to investigate the cost and legality of the proposal.

David McClellan, president of the principals' union, blasted Ms. Lawrence's idea and efforts, claiming she subverted the district's school improvement committee by presenting the idea to teachers at Pickett Elementary and even worse, that her idea would violate his union's contract.

"I will fight this as hard as I can," Mr. McClellan said. "It is a clear violation of our contract and if they go through with it, I will file for an unfair labor practice."

State law that requires administrative leadership, particularly for disciplining students, and the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel union's contract states there will be a principal in every school.

Ms. Lawrence wants two "teacher leaders" in the school - one for instruction and the other for operations.

"I am not going to be derailed by roadblocks," she said. "This is not intended to be against Mr. McClellan or his model People throughout the country are looking for different models and they need to be creative."

Included in her 12-page proposal is a suggestion that the district promise to transport any student who moves outside the school's neighborhood boundaries. The teachers' union president previously said Pickett Elementary initially was considered, but backed away from that yesterday, stating that no school has been identified.

Her proposal states the school should be one that has underperformed academically and has a high rate of students living in poverty.

The ultimate goal, she said, is that the school will come off the state's school improvement status list, a designation placed on a school when it fails to meet guidelines for two consecutive years.

Pickett has missed the federal adequate yearly progress standards for the No Child Left Behind Act and is one of Ohio's worst offenders. It has placed on the school improvement status list eight years and also is rated in academic emergency, the state's equivalent of an F grade.

The school would "blend novice and veteran teachers," partner with churches and social agencies, host immunization clinics, and make the school a "neighborhood center," Ms. Lawrence added.

Keith Scott, principal of Pickett for nine years, last night declined to comment on the plan.

"Pickett is a great school and we have a very dedicated staff," he said. "Test scores have been rough and they have been up and down."

He pointed out that the school was one of about 300 in the state to post a 10-point increase in its performance index score in 2003-04 over the previous year.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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