• National teachers union leader points to St. Louis as model

    August 14, 2013 12:15 am    By Elisa Crouch ecrouch@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8119

    ST. LOUIS • The head of the nation’s second-largest teachers union said Tuesday that school districts and unions should aim to solve problems rather than win arguments, and she pointed to St. Louis as a model.

    Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, met with early childhood educators, toured classrooms and observed a special education class inside Gateway Elementary School west of downtown St. Louis. She later told reporters that public education nationwide is on the ropes and that the unusual working relationship between the city’s teachers union and the St. Louis Public Schools was an important ingredient to help save it.

    That relationship involves a union-district effort to remove ineffective teachers from city classrooms, including teachers with tenure, but only after providing them training to improve. It also involves mentoring first-year teachers to help them get off on a better foot. It’s called the St. Louis Plan.

    “We’re better together than apart,” Superintendent Kelvin Adams said of the union.

    “This should be the model and not the exception,” Weingarten said.

    Earlier in the day, she addressed a United Mine Workers of America rally at Kiener Plaza.

    Since Adams began leading St. Louis Public Schools in 2008, he and the leaders of AFT Local 420 have worked as though they were trying to right the same ship. 

    “If the district fails, then where are we?” said Mary Armstrong, president of the local chapter. “Where are our jobs going to come from?”

    Adams and union leaders have worked to expand preschool and have received grant funding for a program that allows teachers to share best practices, lesson plans and professional development.

    But their relationship isn’t without tension. After months of negotiations, union members are scheduled to vote today on whether to ratify a contract package that would give them their third salary increase in five years. If approved, it would go to the Special Administrative Board for consideration on Thursday.

    “So collaboration does involve some dollars,” Adams said. “Maybe not as many as people want there to be, but it is an effort to give teachers the financial support they are due.”

    Weingarten spoke to the transfer situation involving the unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts, and said assigning blame is less effective than coming together as a community to support struggling schools.

    “People who do not want to invest in public education want to pit parents against teachers, rather than have people work together,” she said.

    But Weingarten kept returning to the union-district collaboration, which often comes as a surprise to those outside the school district. It needs to be replicated, she said.

    “For that to happen you need the powers-that-be in this country to celebrate this.”
    The story can be accessed here.