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Voice: Larger issues than pay in El Centro Elementary dispute

May 01, 2001

I want to thank parents and community members who have been supportive of the El Centro Elementary School District's teachers in their contract dispute. The hard-line, divide-and-conquer mentality of the board has not been conducive to a settlement. Salary is certainly an issue for me, but not nearly as important as contract language that minimizes teacher input and maximizes authority of the district over its teaching staff.

However, there are larger educational issues to consider. Are our schools healthy, safe places for children and teachers? Are students receiving a well-rounded education that promotes joy in learning?

There are portable classrooms in at least one of the schools that I would call "sick." The district attempted to solve the problems, but some are still there.

There are the age-old concerns about nutritious food at schools. I see an inordinate amount of sugar-sweetened items for breakfast and processed or canned things for lunch. Not all classrooms have access to outside phone lines without contacting the office first. This is particularly troublesome for teachers working late or weekends in their classrooms.


The district, without the input of teachers, has adopted a new reading program, Open Court, that is time-intensive, lockstep, one-size-fits-all. It is primarily designed for at-risk students, who comprise about 30 percent of my school's population. What about the other 70 percent of students?

The implementation of this program necessitates hiring a reading teacher to "monitor" the program at each school. While I think very highly of the teacher selected for my school, the extra expenditure means schools must lay off most instructional assistants who work directly with students. Purchasing the training for teachers and the program itself leaves insufficient funds to update our math series that is over 20 years old.

It will take half my instructional day to implement this reading program. That does not include teaching writing, spelling, math, social studies, science, art, music and physical education. Classes are not to be interrupted during reading time to go to the library, computer lab or other activities. There is a strong after-school component to this program as well. Is this balanced education?

Then there is accountability. There is so much pressure nationally, statewide and districtwide to administer tests and improve scores that we spend too much class time preparing for tests. There are the usual end-of-lesson tests like spelling and chapter tests. At the primary level, we have monthly writing proficiencies. There are quarterly math proficiencies. Open Court has weekly tests. Then there is the norm-reference SAT test given yearly. It seems the state is always adding one test or another. Where will it end?

Schools in Scarsdale, N.Y., known for their high achievement, are experiencing parent and student revolt. Parents are opting out of having their children given nationally normed tests. Students are refusing to take them. Why? They feel they are missing out in the curricular areas that made their schools excellent in the first place.

Parents in other communities are requiring their districts to set realistic homework expectations that do not include two and three hours of nightly homework.

Now that there is this focus on education in El Centro, take this opportunity to think through what you really want for our children. Get involved with other parents and exercise your influence. You have more power than you realize.



El Centro School District

Pine Valley

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