BFT Speaks To School Board: We Are Not Broken

The following speech was given at the September 19, 2012 Board of Education Meeting by BFT President Cathy Campbell.

Good Evening Board Members, and Interim Superintendents Cleveland and Smith.

My name is Cathy Campbell and I am the President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

On behalf of my members, we want to say that we are pleased that this most current round of the search for a new superintendent is over. We are sure the Board wants to slow down this process and take time to reflect on next steps. We want to speak to you as the teaching professionals in this district with some of our reflections this topic. These thoughts and ideas are the result of a lot of input and discussion amongst BFT members these last few weeks.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we want to challenge the Board to reconsider any idea that this district is broken and needs fixing. This idea is inaccurate, and if it is the guiding light of the next round of this search it will lead to another fruitless effort. This idea has dented morale and needs to be reexamined.

As a district we have made great strides in answering the critical questions of a Professional Learning Community:

  • What do we want students to know and be able to do?
  • How will we know when they have learned it?
  • What will we do if they haven’t learned it?
  • What will we do when they already know it?

We have begun to put systems in place to bring clarity and cohesiveness to our district with regard to each of these questions, particularly in our K-5 schools. We have changed our frames and expectations to say that all teachers and administrators need to work together to be able to answer these questions, and to work with students and families to implement the answers. We have begun to change our systems and our measures. We have, in this way, been our own change agents, and our K-5 test scores, as well as district assessments, show that we are making progress.

Here is one quick example: Yesterday over 25 teachers came to an unpaid, voluntary "drop in" training on our new data system, Illuminate. Teachers are excited about and dedicated to using data to inform instruction and to improve their practice.

Another example: Today, for the first time, all kindergarten teachers in our district loaded universal screening data into Illuminate, a key step that will help these teachers, these students and their families. We are making significant changes, and some of them are happening at a quick pace.

Last example: Over a dozen common pre-assessments are being given at BHS in these first few weeks of school, and, most importantly, the results of these test are being used by teachers, in their professional development time, to inform and adjust instruction.

We, all of us, need to expand and ACCELERATE this progress. We need to close our equity gaps, and we need to serve in particular our black and brown students and families better. There is no doubt that this is true, but we are not starting from scratch. We can make this kind of progress at all levels with support, time and resources such as has been provided to our K-5 endeavors. And there are many places in our middle schools and high schools where we are already seeing the fruits of similar efforts. As examples, our African American students have gained 9 points in math, and our Latino students have gained 6 points in ELA in the last two years at our middle school level.

We need to scale up this work, we need to increase the pace of progress, but we need to push ourselves, and the Board needs to push our district, in ways that are not destructive, disrespectful and counter-productive. Suggesting that we are broken, that we need a leader who will come in and make radical change, that will accomplish our goals by proposing ideas such as merit pay and tying teacher evaluations to test scores will be destructive and distracting.

We need a strong educational leader, with significant classroom experience, that can amplify the powerful partnerships that we already have between teachers, paraprofessionals and district and site leadership, and between the district and the teachers democratically elected union. We need someone who can respect and build on the work and progress we have made, and that understands the vision that we have been building on now for five years. The change agent we need isn't one who subscribes to the notion that billionaires understand schools better than educators do.

We want someone who can pull with us, not someone who throws our oars into the water and tosses our boats. We understand the urgency of the significant equity gaps that we have; we understand the need to do more and quickly. But the disruptive change that comes from thinking that a business model approach to education reform will work (all research shows that it does not) is not what we need.

BFT stands ready to work with the Board in finding the right superintendent to help us continue to move forward in achieving our mission and goals.