For the good of the kids!
As I approach the completion of my eighth and final year on the Toledo school board I can t tell you how many times I have heard that mantra.
Is the best interest of children the primary factor taken into account in Toledo Public Schools?
My answer is a definitive NO!
A few years ago I took a controversial stance and opposed a new school levy because the administration was making claims we not only would be out of academic emergency, but also would move up two categories to continuous improvement.
I remember Superintendent Eugene Sanders claiming we had the blueprint for change in a reform plan he waved above his head.
Yet today we are still in academic emergency and again in the early stages of another recently unveiled reform plan.
Yes, we have lots of excuses for our inability to meet our goals, such as blaming the new state requirement to include special-needs students in the proficiency test score results.
Yet four other Ohio urban districts have climbed out of academic emergency. One of these districts, Cleveland, was in such dire straits a few years ago that the city, under the leadership of the mayor, took over the schools.
In the meantime in Toledo we continue to lose students to charter and private schools because parents are frustrated with the perpetual rhetoric, lack of respect, and slow progress.
And of course we continue to hear the administration s mantra - make decisions based on what s best for the kids! Children first! Vote for levies for the good of the children!
So the question must be, “What governs decision-making in Toledo Public Schools?” Are children s needs taken into account first?
In my opinion and that of innumerable citizens I have met over the years, including many teachers, decisions are based on the self-interest of a powerful few.
Rather than initiate true reform and make systemic changes, we “work around the edges.” We put together a few academies, explore uniforms, and construct new buildings. But the overall system stays the same.
Why is that? Because the Toledo Federation of Teachers has been ruled under the old and outdated style of confrontational leadership.
Thirty years ago, this leadership was in the hands of Dal Lawrence, followed by his wife, Fran Lawrence, who together have acquired so much power they now have the final say on almost every decision affecting Toledo Public Schools.
As a result, the power for principals to lead their buildings and parents to have a voice in their schools has been virtually eliminated and the focus on the good of the children has been lost.
I have been approached by a number of teachers who are frustrated by regulations advocated by their union leaders that discourage independent initiatives and support the protection of their peers who perform poorly.
While I understand there are numerous factors leading to quality education, such as parental involvement, principals with good leadership skills, adequate financial support, class size, creative curriculum, and modern facilities, most people would agree we need to start with talented and caring teachers.
One point I want to make very clear is many of our teachers are great educators. However, if most educators and parents can identify those teachers who show a lack of caring or quality teaching for their children, then why can t the administration, and why is no action taken?
One poorly performing teacher can affect more than 150 students and cause parents to send their children to private or charter schools. Yet the teachers union leaders have the final say on the evaluation of teachers, and veteran teachers are rarely evaluated.
Is that putting children first?
Common sense would dictate we assign teachers to schools where their talents are needed most. But common sense doesn t prevail in Toledo Public Schools and teachers are assigned by seniority, leaving inexperienced teachers for lower performing schools.
A new program providing incentives to experienced teachers to transfer is inadequate to correct this problem and controlled by the Lawrences.
The process for assigning teachers can drag on until a short time before the start of the school year, thus preventing some teachers with sufficient time to prepare for their classes or causing turnover in the classroom.
Is that for the good of children?
To implement a new program in a school building that most teachers and parents believe to be beneficial to students, it isn t merely sufficient to obtain a simple majority vote of teachers, but rather more than 75 percent agreement.
One example is block scheduling in which students are provided longer class periods, enabling them to take more credit hours. Yet block scheduling was stopped in some schools because a few teachers didn t want to adjust their lesson plans. Now students in some high schools can take more credit hours while others cannot.
Is that what s best for all the children?
Everyone is aware of the recent budget cuts. We have reduced the number of teachers and additional staff. But Fran Lawrence refused to agree to health insurance co-pays without taking it to a vote of her membership, even if it meant saving jobs.
Is that in the best interest of our children?
Many teachers that I have met are fed up with the tactics of the Lawrences, but are intimidated into supporting or keeping quiet publicly about their union leader.
I support the important role unions play in this community. In fact, labor organizations in Toledo have evolved with the times, leading to greater collaboration with their employers.
These labor leaders shake their heads at the old style confrontational leadership of the Lawrences.
For too long superintendents and school boards have not had the courage to stop the negative hold on our school system by the leadership of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.
If we are sincere about creating a first-class educational system, everyone from the superintendent to the school board to the taxpayers to our teachers must stand up and speak as one voice against the Lawrences and demand comprehensive reform and a true teachers union now.
Let s do it for our kids!
Terry Glazer is a member of the Toledo board of education.