Education Opinion

Dancing the Two-Step

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — January 29, 2008 4 min read
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This morning, I was thinking about the progress we’ve made in the past month. The New Year started off well for us at McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School. We’ve been able to hire a bright, young man for our middle school math position. The students’ reception was positive at their first meeting. We’ve also hired a Special Education para to work with regular education teachers in classrooms that have students with special needs. We almost hired a second person as a para, but she got a better offer from RSD as a Math teacher, her area of concentration. Although she has a degree, she’s not certified yet and we must make every effort to hire certified teachers according to our charter agreement. We can’t honestly say that we’ve exhausted all possible sources until we advertise the vacancies in the newspaper.

Our new speech therapist is working very well. She has already screened quite a few children identified by the teachers. I expect that she will have a full schedule of students once all of the new students have been evaluated. She’s also working on compensating the students who have IEPs. She is making up their time lost in the first semester when speech services were not available.

We are finalizing the paperwork for our Social Worker, who will be with us full-time. She will report soon, but must give notice to her current employer before she can start working with us. Her work is cut out for her because we hope to offer Family Services in addition to meeting the needs of our students. Hopefully, she can assist with medical and mental health referrals for our families who are returning to New Orleans. There are lots of agencies offering assistance; we need someone to coordinate the resources and maintain contacts.

Just as I became gleeful about these new hires, this afternoon,I learned that one of our great teachers will be leaving for a new position with RSD. The central office position is a good opportunity/growth experience that pays about $5,000 more than the regular teacher salary. This teacher was in a similar position pre-Katrina, so I can’t be angry about the move [Good-bye and good luck, friend] , just disappointed. Good teachers are a valuable commodity here (and everywhere).We seem to be taking two steps forward and one step back in stabilizing our staff. How hard can it be to staff one school?

We made a decision to only hire people who were not already obligated to another local school. Although several teachers from different schools have inquired about transferring to our school, we have not hired anyone who is working at one of the RSD-operated schools or another charter school since September. I want to suggest that an agreement on teacher transfers be drafted among the charter schools to avoid the “musical chairs” that is going on with our teachers. This would not include promotions or new job categories. People must be allowed to move up in their careers or they will move out.

Our principal wants to hire someone as a Curriculum Coordinator. His first choice is a teacher(a former principal) who is currently teaching fourth grade in another part of the state. I wouldn’t think about asking her to move before the high-stakes testing in March. I know she is anxious to get back on an administrative track. We can wait a little while; her fourth graders are short on time.

I think we should have a brief period—midyear—when transfers can occur. By now, we have listed the teachers on our state employee report, created budgets based upon their specific salaries and benefits, and turned away potential employees in favor of the ones we’ve hired. Yet, some teachers are willing to hopscotch from one school to another without any concern for the students they leave in a lurch. Even the lure of a contract that guarantees employment in an “at will” hiring environment does not always help.

This is not a new problem. Pre-Katrina when the district had 128 schools, we had a written agreement in our collective bargaining contract which prohibited the unorganized movement of staff that we are now experiencing in our multi-agency school districts. The state takeover and the subsequent opening of charter schools may seem unfriendly to union organizers. But, the lessons we learned when the teachers had a union should not be forgotten. We also had a time limit on when externally funded programs could cherry-pick our best teachers to move into central office positions. Too often we were left with inexperienced, and uncertified teachers because a newly funded federal program didn’t start up until January.

We also need to make a better effort to recruit retired teachers who were forced out of work by the state takeover of 107 of our schools. Many people retired earlier than they had planned because they had no other income. The schools need them back. We have lots of incentives to draw out-of-state teachers to New Orleans. Maybe what we need now is an incentive to draw people out-of- exodus.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.