Teachers union draws on parent input in contract negotiations

Last school year the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union conducted a listening project with various parent groups throughout our community. Our purpose was to find out what parents like about their child’s school as well as what they believe needs to be changed. In March 2016, I reported out some of our findings in the Heights Observer.

In preparing for contract negotiations last spring, the concerns we heard from parents were fresh in our minds. The first union issue brought to the negotiating table was “How can we ensure the success of our partnerships with parents and the community?”

We advocated for a wrap-around services commission dedicated to coordinating supports that outside agencies offer in our schools. From our own knowledge and discussions with parents, we know that there are great things happening in all of our schools. However, sometimes a need exists that is not filled.

We promoted limits on the testing of our students.

We wanted to discuss the best time of day to hold parent conferences. Currently, conference nights are 3–9 p.m., twice a year, which restricts access for some of our parents.

We brought up the need for: more after-school tutoring, securing a late bus for each school for students who need to stay, providing universal before-school care for families who need to drop off students early, creating the possibility for teachers to work different overlapping shifts to serve some students longer during the day, and defining when it would be too hot in a building to provide instruction.

We had excellent conversations with the [school] board team regarding these issues, and have five tentative agreements that will be listed as “consensus statements” in our contract, when ratified. These statements are non-binding, but provide a clear picture of what both our teachers and the board could agree on for the students in our district.

The first consensus statement recognizes that we need to do a better job communicating with our parents the value of their attendance at school events, and that some parents need an orientation to better navigate their child’s school. The second statement also involves communication, specifically helping parents understand why their student is taking a particular standardized test and what the test results tell us.

The third confirms that a wrap-around services commission will be created.

The fourth commits the district to finding solutions that will alleviate lost instructional time due to student testing mandates. The fifth is also centered on testing: We reached consensus that when using standardized tests that are not state mandated, their purpose should be clearly explained to teachers and parents. The results from these tests should be used to inform instruction and should be kept to an absolute minimum. Teacher voice will be used in determining whether non-mandatory tests are useful to instruction, timely, and if the tool should be used in the future.

Our teachers have always advocated for their students. A fundamental goal of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union is to promote the welfare of children and ensure that they receive a quality public education. We take this seriously enough to have made it the first of the four major topics of the current contract negotiations. We will be conducting a listening project this spring and hope to learn even more.

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 7:11 PM, 03.30.2017