Dec 14, 2015

Broken Promises- It's December - Still No Contract for You!

No More Broken Promises!
By Candi Peterson, General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

For the record, I AM NOT a member of the WTU Contract Negotiations team. I never have been. I am a concerned union member and I am tired of 'Broken Promises' of WTU Presidents. 

I've witnessed the campaign of mis-information, neglect and avoidance of what I consider the number one job of a WTU President - represent the interests of its members in getting a negotiated contract.

It’s December and after 3 plus years of desperately awaiting a teacher contract, DCPS teachers still don’t have a contract thanks to WTU President/Chief Negotiator Davis and former union president Saunders. Teachers are still in limbo and it seems unlikely that there will be a tentative agreement by the end of the calendar year as reported by President Davis in previous union meetings and newsletters.  The last WTU contract expired in September 2012.

Prior to the thanksgiving break, teachers were invited to the Kellogg conference center on the campus of Galludet University on November 19 by WTU for a Contract Action and Member Feedback session.

The WTU newsletter billed this event as the “first-ever WTU member engagement event on contract negotiations” and “an opportunity to represent  each school chapter utilizing state-of-the-art audience response technology and hand-held devices to interact, analyze and partake in preliminary contract voting and surveying of the full proposals and Articles completed by the WTU contract negotiations team. 

Some of the teachers I conversed with during the evening, initially seemed hopeful that this event was finally an indication that Chief Negotiator Davis and the contract negotiations team were a lot closer to a completion of a tentative agreement. By evening’s end, the presentation left teachers clamoring for transparency.

Michelle Smith, a WTU building representative said as she exited, “I don’t know anymore now then when I came.” Another teacher who requested anonymity said, “when will we see what has already been presented to DCPS ? Tonight was more fake transparency.”

Jim Leonard, a veteran teacher and long standing WTU Building Representative at Wilson Senior High school wrote a letter expressing high school teachers concerns who sat at his table at the Kellogg contract negotiations event.  Interesting how Jim’s letter similarly concluded that the meeting left a lot of unanswered questions for teachers.  "I really think that the time to take the pulse of the rank and file should be behind us. If we have established positions that the team has thoroughly vetted then we should go forward with the process, do the best we can and then bring the results back for a vote. If there is dissatisfaction, then let those members vote the contract down, says Leonard."

While Leonard said he initially planned to email the letter to WTU President Liz Davis, he opted to openly read his letter at the last union meeting of the year in December held at McKinley. 

Leonard tactfully confronts teachers concerns in his letter below. Please read and share this blog with teachers you know.

"I just wanted to give you the impressions from my table of high school teachers. Although I think it is a positive that the WTU is seeking input regarding areas that are being worked on, most of us left the meeting not really knowing much more than what we knew when we arrived. Is it that you can’t give us specific language that you have proposed, or has no specific language been presented to the district for consideration? That seems to be the biggest concern. 

Are we still trying to get the pulse of the membership to see what language should be presented or are we sharing ideas that have already been prepared and presented?  I would find it difficult to imagine that we could ever be in a position to complete the process if we do not yet have established goals with language to match already completed.

There were some areas that were informative, such as the WTU’s position regarding the extended day or year. If I heard you correctly the WTU would like to have its members be able opt out of either the extended day or year if their school votes to accept either of these.  That was definitive information. Thank you.

We also learned that there will be an attempt to tighten up the grievance process. I think the results of the question about being paid by administrative premium v. per diem, for after-hours work, was interesting. My only concern is that if we go to a per diem model the district will only give those positions to younger teachers, as it will cost them far less.

I really appreciate your time and effort and your concern about transparency; however I really think that the time to take the pulse of the rank and file should be behind us. If we have established positions that the team has thoroughly vetted then we should go forward with the process, do the best we can and then bring the results back for a vote. If there is dissatisfaction, then let those members vote the contract down."


© Candi Peterson, 2015

Nov 9, 2015

A Guide to Interpreting WTU-DCPS Contract Talks

Written by Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

For the record, I am not a member of the WTU contract negotiations team. Like you are, I am a  concerned union member. 

From where I sit, it’s not looking good for the negotiations between WTU and DCPS. Let’s just say negotiations aren’t dead, but negotiations seem to have broken off with WTU and members of the Chancellor’s team.

DCPS teachers are complaining because the last contract expired in 2012, and three years later, they still are without a contract. Having gone this long without a contract, it’s understandable why many teachers’ see no real end in sight.

In reaction to teachers’ concerns about not having a contract, WTU recently released a contract update on October 19, 2015; titled WTU-DCPS Contract Talks FAQs. My analysis here is an attempt to provide educators a guide in interpreting WTU-DCPS contract talks. The WTU FAQ sheet reveals:

“WTU President Elizabeth Davis and our negotiators are committed to reaching a new agreement by the end of December. In order to accomplish this, the WTU will direct its focus to engaging in full-time contract negotiations. We’re pushing hard towards that goal….”

We must ask if President Davis is recommending full time contract negotiations, is this a viable option given that most of the members on the negotiating team are  either full-time principals on the chancellor’s team or full-time teachers on the WTU team? Is it likely that DCPS would agree to this when this proposal would require that teachers and principals on both sides would have to abandon their schools/classes for an extended period of time?  Is the end of December 2015 a realistic time frame for the completion of a tentative agreement?  It seems highly unlikely unless Davis has a tentative agreement tucked away in her hip pocket. When did both sides-WTU and DCPS last meet? Was it during last school year (14-15) ?

The WTU FAQ sheet gives the following responses regarding Why negotiations
are taking so long?

“Bargaining can be a long and complicated process particularly when there are significant issues to be resolved. The talks have now stretched over two administrations. The former administration had offered proposals that would have lowered the professionalism and undercut the voice of teachers….

Your bargaining team drafted new proposals that would move us in a better direction …. Time and again, the school district has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining. We repeatedly proposed full time negotiations everyday-DCPS said no. We proposed meetings over the summer-DCPS said no. Back in January, we requested the financial and programmatic data essential to informed negotiations nearly 10 months later, we are still waiting. DCPS says it agrees with the goal of finishing by the end of the year, and we are hopeful DCPS actions in the future will represent a real commitment to this aim.

WTU and DCPS shared their respective proposals, and it was clear that we were far apart on some major issues; including protected planning time, class size, supplies and support.”

It’s a given that contract negotiations can be long and complicated and have spanned  two administrations under Saunders and now Davis. This is not news. This explanation  focuses on what former President Saunders’ administration offered in his contract proposal. What this explanation doesn’t tell us why President Davis has been unable to secure a tentative agreement in two years and three months in office?

 It would seem logical to me that both sides would disagree on the major issues cited above. Isn’t that the whole point of negotiations that there has to be give and take on both sides in order to reach a compromise?

There’s got to be more than just disagreements about when to hold contract meeting talks with DCPS.
What are the difficulties in communication on both sides?  Isn’t it true that previous contract teams didn’t meet full time or during summers yet negotiated a tentative agreement? The WTU FAQ sheet suggests that WTU proposed a 2015-16 contract negotiations schedule yet “DCPS said no.”  So are we to believe that the weekly dates printed in the WTU yearly 15-16 calendar  beginning September 10, 2015 and ending June 20, 2016 were all rejected by DCPS?

What does Davis mean when she states the school District has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining? The word ‘appears’ is the operative word in this sentence. It certainly conflicts with Davis’ earlier statements that the Chancellor and her team were refusing to meet.  As members, we deserve to hear the whole story not just some ‘talking points’ crafted to quell member dissension. Inquiring minds want to know the details.

What are our priorities?  The WTU FAQ sheet lists the following as priorities:

"Educational resources, expansion of the community schools concept, mutual consent alternative, time and tools and salary and benefits."

We all agree that resources, planning time, salary and benefits are givens in most contracts. But let’s cut to the chase. What else besides a mutual consent alternative is among WTU’s top key priorities? For starters, how is WTU approaching DCPS’ desire to extend the school day? Is extended day a non-negotiable item for WTU?  Has WTU resigned not to discuss this issue with management?

Where are we now? The WTU FAQ sheet says:

"We are in the early stages of mediation process that began when DCPS asked-and WTU agreed- to seek the help of a mediator. President Davis has met several times with the proposed mediator, and hopefully with the agreement of DCPS, we will soon begin full time negotiations."

What is the conflict that led to a mediator being considered by DCPS?  Has WTU presented their choices for a mediator to DCPS? If so, when? If not, why not?

What’s next? The WTU FAQ sheet indicates:

"….. Transparency has been a guiding principle for your bargaining team. We have tried to make sure you have accurate, real time information on our negotiations. Over the next few weeks, your WTU leaders, district representatives and building representatives want to have conversations with as many members as possible…..”

I certainly hope transparency will be the new flavor of the day and is not just some promise of empty rhetoric.  So far the lack of transparency has not been the trademark of WTU Chief Negotiator Elizabeth Davis. After two plus years of negotiations, we are long overdue for regular updates.

We cannot remain complacent when it comes to teacher contract negotiations like many teachers did during the 2010 sellout contract negotiated by former WTU President George Parker and AFT President Randi Weingarten. What I hope to show here in this article  is that we must learn to interpret political double-speak because oftentimes we are given only partial truths, albeit from elected leaders. Feel free to use some of my questions posted here as a guide when asking questions about WTU contract talks.

On Tuesday, November 10th we will hold our next WTU Representative Assembly meeting at McKinley SHS @ 430 pm where teacher contract talks will be the subject on the agenda. Come prepared to ask the tough questions for which you want answers. Hope to see you there.

© Candi Peterson, 2015

Oct 19, 2015

Three Years And Counting, And No WTU Contract for You!

By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

Mass emails were sent out to many DC Public Schools teachers on the Columbus day holiday to their DC government email accounts and some personal email accounts from a relatively unknown teacher who refers to himself as Coach Spinner.  You may recall Coach Spinner as he ran against me for WTU General Vice President position on the Saunders slate in 2013 and lost.

The subject of the email sent to members was titled the “New WTU” and introduced readers to a blog which harshly criticizes current WTU President Elizabeth “Liz” Davis for failing to address Impact-teacher evaluation system, financial malfeasance and failure to get a union contract which is the union president’s primary responsibility as the “Chief Negotiator.”

Based on a little digging, I have learned that Coach Spinner is a campaign surrogate for former WTU President Nathan A. Saunders who lost his bid for presidency in 2013. So it seems according to a former WTU staffer now working for him, Saunders wants another shot at the WTU presidential seat. No surprise here.

When I asked union members if they knew who Coach Spinner was their typical response was they did not know him. One of the current WTU Executive Board members who requested anonymity agreed that she didn’t know the person sending her the email about the new WTU. She said, “I thought someone had fed him (Coach Spinner) information because he seemed to know a lot about the state of WTU affairs.”

Using a surrogate in politics is a common practice to launch an election campaign. The surrogate is usually someone who can step in and deliver a message on behalf of the candidate, rally the supporters and in this case represent a failed brand. 

One might ask why Saunders' would need a campaign surrogate? I think the Saunders’ team is likely using this surrogacy as a strategy because they don’t want teachers to remember the wreckage Saunders' left behind during his years as elected WTU officer from 2007-13. Putting his former running mate with little to no name recognition, out in the forefront is a way to deceive the union membership.

As you may recall, Saunders' refused to gracefully exit the WTU headquarters in 2013  at the end of his term (June 2013) and extended his stay an additional 30 days in violation of the WTU Constitution and By-Laws with the blessings of his Saunders-friendly election committee. I covered that story on The Washington Teacher blog.

Saunders refused to cooperate with a former WTU Executive Board while General Vice President in his second term, and was later exiled back to the classroom for failure to provide the board the requested accounting of the work he had performed on behalf of members, while an officer.  

I believe Saunders also lost credibility with teachers when he summarily dismissed me as the General Vice President in 2011 without due process and robbed members of their vote. This decision on Saunders’ part, sanctioned with the approval by the then WTU Executive Board cost our union hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees alone. By the way, Coach Spinner was a member of the WTU Executive Board who rubber stamped Saunders’ request to oust me. I think one of the main reasons Saunders wanted me out was because he preferred a top down management style where he alone could rule with an iron fist...

While some of Coach Spinners' accusations against WTU President Liz Davis are accurate, they only represent half-truths.  

President Liz Davis can’t be let off the hook for not being transparent about the current state of union affairs, the status of contract negotiations or what has happened to the VEBA (Voluntary Employment Beneficiary Association account funds for eligible retiring teachers) and why the District has refused to provide anymore VEBA payments to the WTU since 2013.

Davis has vacillated about what the real problem is with contract talks and has not been totally honest. Initially, Davis blamed the Chancellor for failing to regularly meet with the contract negotiations team.

What Davis has not disclosed to members, is that she failed to cultivate a working relationship with Chancellor Henderson and her team from the outset. When President Davis refused to attend bi-monthly meetings with the chancellor’s team, this set the stage for a break down in union/management communication. Davis later aborted central office meetings I attended in order to resolve teacher issues claiming it compromised contract negotiations. Open communication with management is vital to the success of negotiating any contract and resolving teachers' issues.

Members have been recently informed by Davis that a mediator will be brought in to assist WTU and DCPS with contract talks with no details about the impasse that led to need for a mediator. As a non- member of the contract negotiations team, I think it is important for members'  to understand what has actually transpired.

Certainly members should demand transparency and accountability from President Davis. Union members have the right to know the status of the unions' financial affairs and all other matters...  Members also have an obligation to request to see detailed financial records, bank statements, mortgage loan statements, internal auditor reports, proof of WTU staff/officer’s income, expenses and benefits, Executive Board meeting minutes, copies of VEBA bank statements and other forms of documentation, etc.

My problem with Saunders and Spinner is that, they don't have 'clean hands' and certainly neither of them should be the ones to point the finger of blame at anyone.

Here are some important information about Saunders:
*Saunders didn’t deliver a teacher contract during his term as union president from 2010-13

*Saunders did not address many of the IMPACT teacher evaluation issues despite his campaign promises

*Saunders fell behind in dues payments to AFT in 2013, our parent organization leaving WTU at risk for an administrative takeover

*Saunders allegedly paid himself more than his 2010 board approved salary of $160,000 and appears to have paid himself as much as $240,000. However, given that WTU President Liz Davis did not proceed with conducting a forensic audit, we can’t be sure of how much beyond this was spent.

*Saunders did not leave $1.7 million in the VEBA account as reported! This money had not yet been forwarded to WTU prior to Saunders’ departure at the end of July 2013.

*Saunders left WTU with an office building that is strapped in debt with 3 mortgage loans totaling 4,885,904, almost 5 million dollars. The Pennsylvania Avenue historic building is a money pit. A construction loan had to be converted to a mortgage loan.  A second mortgage loan had to be guaranteed by our parent organization, AFT. There is a financial covenant which requires a minimum debt service coverage ratio. There has been no default of the loan to date, however, under Davis there have been violations of the debt covenant which the bank has agreed to waive.

Certainly, it is highly probable that we could have found a building in Washington, DC much cheaper than the 5 million dollar price tag of our current headquarters. The extensive cash reserve (a million plus) left over when former President George Parker vacated office in December 2010, no longer remains in the union coffers, thanks to Saunders.

When I spoke to 42-year veteran DCPS teacher, Emily Washington about the unfolding of events, she asked, “Why now? Saunders’ timing is suspect and it represents Déjà vu all over again.  People who want this office sit on their butts until it’s time to have another election.  Saunders and Coach Spinner certainly have had the opportunity to bring these issues up before now. You never see them at union meetings, or  any of the union sponsored events. In fact, since the Saunders' and Spinner's defeat, they have been conspicuously MIA (missing in action).  We need to re-examine who gets elected as an officer and who gets elected to the executive board.”  

My conversation with Ms. Washington echoed how I have been feeling for some time. I agree that the functionality of an organization is tied to its officers, its’ executive board, as well as its' members. If a board is dysfunctional then it affects what happens within the organization.

As an outspoken union member and officer, I've been frustrated on the union Boards that I have served on and often felt like some board members were more concerned with remaining loyal to the president than abiding by our unions' Constitution and by-laws. I have been a lone dissenter followed by one or two others willing to challenge the status quo.

There is an obligation on the part of all union members, especially our elected officials to ask the necessary critical questions, to speak up, to be transparent with the membership and to make the tough decisions required of a governance body in the face of unethical leadership, suspected malfeasance or impropriety, not just at election time.

© Candi Peterson, 2015

Sep 28, 2015

The Dwindling Black Educator and the Death of Transparency in DC

By Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

Think back and try to remember all the teachers that left the District’s public school system since the era of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and beyond? (2008-2015)

How many of those teachers were African-American?

Unfortunately, we can’t answer those questions because we don’t have hard data, mainly because the District fails to provide data on the number of teachers hired, separated, resigning, and retiring by race, age, gender, school and years of service on a yearly basis.

Simply put, government officials in DC do not have the authority to refuse to honor Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. When I chaired a WTU Data committee, we attempted to get information about teacher terminations through a FOIA request, as well as through other internal channels. We requested information be released by common identifiers but the information we received was heavily redacted and of little practical use.

Either approve or deny the request. The practice of keeping information out of the hands of the public is government’s way of covering its tracks. 

Albert Shanker Institute researchers encountered similar challenges when preparing their national Teacher Diversity report. “Despite intensive efforts over the past 1 ½ years, we have been unable to procure teacher-level data for the District and charter schools in Washington, DC. We were therefore forced to draw data from a sample provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Schools and Staffing Survey,” as quoted by Shanker researchers.

The Albert Shanker Institute gathered in September to release their findings from their study titled: “The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education.” The group examined teacher diversity from 2002-2012 in nine major American cities: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, DC, LA, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

University of Pennsylvania Professor Richard Ingersoll, recently spoke about the Shanker diversity report to an audience at the National Press club gathering in DC. Ingersoll said the rate of minority teachers ballooned from 1980-2008 and doubled that of non-minority teachers, before the recession.

Since 2008 and post recession, Ingersoll reports that minority teacher rates across the US declined tremendously due to layoffs and “high quit” rates of minority teachers due to job dissatisfaction around poor working conditions in the mostly urban schools where they teach. Other factors cited for lower minority teacher hiring are budget cuts, new charter school openings, and shifting of resources from public schools to charter schools.

Due to a lack of data from DC, Shanker researchers were forced to draw data from the small sample surveys from Department of Education. Based on these surveys, African American teachers decreased from 77% to 49% while white teachers more than doubled in size from 16% to 39% between 2003 and 2008 in DC. Hispanic teachers increased moderately. In contrast by 2022, non-white students are projected to make up 54% of public school attendance, according to the Department of Education. 

The Diversity report noted that black teachers declined as a proportion of all the cities teacher workforce they examined but the shrinkage in black teachers in Washington, DC was described as “alarming”. I suspect if we had data available beyond 2012, the numbers of black teachers exiting our school system may be even greater.

“We just had no idea the extent of it. What’s clear from this data is over the last 10 years or so with the recession, if you look at every one of these cities, there’s a loss of teachers—but African Americans are bearing a hugely disproportionate share of the loss,” Leo Casey, executive director of the Shanker Institute told The Washington Post. The number of black teachers in the workforce declined, in varying rates of severity—from roughly 1 percent in Boston’s charter sector and Cleveland’s district sector, to more than 24 percent in both New Orleans sectors and nearly 28 percent in Washington, D.C’s charters and districts.”

The lack of teacher diversity has been addressed as a national epidemic by education scholars. Among the educational analysts studying this problem is Dr. Leslie Fenwick, Dean of the Howard School of Education. Dr. Fenwick sees the elimination of black teachers from the classroom as not only an economic loss for those educators but a disservice to their students and a detriment for the teaching profession as well.

Studies in the late 80’s and ’90s, found that teachers of color can boost the self-worth of their minority students, partly by exposing them to professionals who look like them. The benefits of keeping teachers of color in the classroom extend far beyond role models.

Research has also shown that students perform better academically and graduate at higher graduation rates, and stay in school when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do. White students benefit, too. Early interactions with teachers of color can help dispel damaging stereotypes about different ethnic groups.

The question is what can be done to stop high attrition rates of black teachers?  The Shanker Institute study suggests there should be more programs at the state and local level to help minority teachers stay in the classroom.

At DC's New Teacher Orientation (NTO) this school year, I had a conversation with a central office staffer who confirmed my hunch that more teachers of color, more male teachers and more veterans had been hired this school year. Certainly, that’s progress from where I sit but there still there is a lot more to be done.

Simply setting goals to hire more teachers of color is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. If we are really serious about attracting minority teachers to our school district, we are going to have to be willing to examine the reasons these teachers leave, get forced out and what we need to address to retain them. If we are not willing to be honest- it will be impossible to make things better.

One of the major reasons that DC is taking steps to recruit more seasoned Black teachers is likely due to the breakdown in classroom discipline as the recent wave of Teach For America teachers from suburban and mid-western backgrounds are failing to understand the cultural complexities of teaching and communicating with urban youth. New teachers also don't receive the much needed mentoring they need to be successful. 

Not to mention, the results from the independent evaluation of DC public schools which shows that student gains still remain acceptably low and more than 50% of students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities remain less than proficient despite the purging of many of our veteran teachers.

The perverse cycle of "teacher churn" has come full cycle in the District as DC's Human Capital Team are beginning to realize the value of “culturally appropriate” relationships and classroom role models as they ramp up their efforts to recruit more seasoned veteran black teachers.

Yet at the same time the District government resists the demand from parents, school activists and the public to be more transparent as the demographics of Washington, DC's  under-performing schools stay persistently black and charter operators continue to cherry pick students and diversify the teacher workforce as the Bowser administration continues to pay lip service to transparency.

© Candi Peterson, 2015

Sep 20, 2015

Cynthia Lee: The Price of Justice is Too High in a Fairfax County Public Schools Teacher Firing Case

By  Candi Peterson, WTU Gen. Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

It’s easy to take for granted the rights and benefits we have as union members. That is, until we need the support of our local union. It’s like insurance. No one ever thinks they are going to need insurance until you get sick, you are in an accident or your house burns down.

Working in education carries risk and none of us, even tenured teachers aren’t immune anymore. From accusations of corporal punishment, workplace disputes, imperfect evaluation ratings, bully principals, suspensions and terminations, teachers regularly face a myriad of problems in the workplace, like never before.

Imagine if you had to seek redress on your own. The price of justice would be way too high for most of us to afford. Not to mention, most people need technical assistance in  interpreting their union contract or help with understanding all the rules and time lines governing the grievance and arbitration process.

I get a lot of calls regularly from DC teachers ranging from questions about the contract to how to approach their boss to advice on how to deal with an administrative investigation to requests to grieve a workplace dispute, suspension or termination.

 It caught me off guard when I received a voicemail from Cynthia Lee, a former African American Fairfax County Public School teacher who had been terminated in 2012 after 13 years. I couldn’t imagine how I could be of help. So it seems my blog, The Washington Teacher caught Lee’s attention and she thought I could offer her some media coverage about her termination.

I guess I always thought the grass was greener on the other side and that teachers in Fairfax County Public Schools somehow had it better. On the national front, in my opinion there seems to be a push to rid our schools of veteran teachers and teachers of color. What a pity for the children we serve.

In many ways, Cynthia Lee’s story is similar to another African-American teacher Fairfax County Public Schools tried to fire in 2012. Violet Nichols, a 30 year veteran tenured teacher also faced threats of termination due to allegations of incompetence.

Virginia law says that teachers may be dismissed for incompetency, immorality, noncompliance with school laws and regulations, conviction of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, or other good and just cause. Regardless of whether a teacher in the state of Virginia is tenured and has a long history of good evaluations, one administrator can throw all that out the window and deem a teacher incompetent.

Some of the reasons cited for Nichols incompetence was that she used too many worksheets and had poor use of technology which she rebutted. Let’s say for a minute we believe these allegations, doesn’t sound like a very high bar to label a teacher incompetent.

Nichols story appeared several times in the Washington Post beginning in June 2012. Although personnel proceedings are confidential, according to the Post-Nichols decided to make her fact finding hearing open to the public , “because she wanted to shine a light on what she felt was a witch hunt.”

Nichols was eventually vindicated after a public fact finding hearing in which evidence was presented and many supporters testified (parents, students). She was later reinstated. Thank God for union representation and media coverage.

Unlike Lee, Nichols was a union member and held a leadership role in her union. Her union membership status afforded her certain rights that non-members in the Virginia Education Association (VEA) aren’t entitled to including representation during the grievance process and payment of her attorney fees as well as hearing costs, which can be quite exorbitant in Virginia (roughly $8000 assessed as the teacher’s responsibility plus payment of half of the panels’ salaries during the hearing).

The Virginia Education Association (VEA) represents more than 50,000 teachers and support personnel in the Common Wealth of Virginia. According to VEA website , “union members are entitled to a hearing. Either the teacher or the school board can ask a fact-finding panel (made up of one school employee nominated by the superintendent, one school employee nominated by the teacher, and a neutral chairperson) to conduct a preliminary hearing and offer findings and recommendations. However, the final decision to dismiss the teacher for cause rests with the school board.”

Cynthia Lee describes herself as the poster child for becoming a union member. Lee said “teachers should join the union, the minute they walk in the door.” She dropped her membership for financial reasons thinking she was safe as a tenured teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools. In hindsight, Lee now knows differently.

There are some parallels to both Nichols and Lee’s cases. Both were African American tenured teachers with advanced degrees and a history of good evaluations. Both had letters of support from parents. Both demonstrated student tests results that supported student achievement gains, no worse than their peers. Both filed discrimination cases that their negative treatment was racially motivated. Both were placed on probation.

In Virginia, once a teacher is placed on probation they must accept a plan of assistance to help them improve. Fairfax County Public Schools provided Lee a coach as well as a committee that helped her to improve her teaching. Lee reports she passed with flying colors and was quite excited about her success and recommendations that her conditional status as a teacher be removed. 

Subsequently, Lee’s principal arbitrarily recommended her for termination due to incompetence in spite of the recommendations by her coach/committee to have her conditional status removed. The principal’s recommendation was made during Lee's mid-year evaluation in January.

Lee states she had a presentation ready to show her principal during her evaluation and was stunned when the principal and her assistant refused to see the presentation. Lee was escorted to the back of her classroom by the principal. At that time, the principal gave her the news that she would be "fired" at the end of the school year. Lee asked the principal, “Is there anything I can do to improve between now and June so I won’t be fired? The principal responded,“no”.

What followed next is unconscionable. Lee attempted to file a grievance about her recommended termination at the Step 1 level with the principal but Fairfax County public schools denied her right to file steps 1-4 because she was a non-union member. Nichols, on the other hand- a union member was able to grieve her recommended termination with the support of the union by her side during the various stages of the process.

“Every time I called the union for help, they told me they couldn’t help me because I wasn’t a union member”, Lee said. The school district advised Lee that she could only appeal her recommendation for her termination at the Step 5 level which is an advisory fact finding hearing. 

Initially Lee had no idea that her cost to pay the arbitrator alone would be more than $8,000, until she hired an attorney who advised her of the fee-splitting costs charged by Fairfax. Ultimately, she spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees.

 According to a Fairfax County Public Schools regulation 4461.1 “the employee shall bear his or her own expense. The school board will bear the expenses of the superintendent. The expenses of the panel shall be borne one half by the school board and one half by the employee.” Lee was livid when she learned that non-union members also were required to pay for the panel members’ salaries during the course of the hearing. Had Lee been a union member, the union would have subsidized these costs.

Fairfax officials also told Lee that in order to appeal using the Step 5 hearing, she would have to waive her right to grieve her termination (using steps 1-4 that had no cost). So Lee wrote the letter to waive her rights.. Even with an attorney, Fairfax refused to allow Lee to use the grievance steps to appeal her termination.

As you can imagine having to make this kind of choice is no choice at all. Lee was unable to afford the costs of the Step 5 fact finding hearing and had to forgo it.Lee admits to signing a settlement agreement with Fairfax County Public Schools under duress, so she wouldn’t be fired and agreed to take a lesser job as an instructional assistant with a $25,000 pay reduction. She remained 1 ½ years in that position. 

 “Thank--you for helping to get the word out about my case. Most minorities cannot afford the high costs of litigation so when employers put fees in their grievance and arbitration procedures, it produces a disparate impact.  Just like the poll tax. We need to lobby congress to create laws that regulate fee-splitting.  Two good teachers with two different results.  By going public with a comparison of my case (no union - no due process - no money to pay for "Fact Finding Panel" - no vindication) and Violet Nichols case (union paid all costs – due process- vindication) it will get the word out to the public that unions are necessary and that law makers need to intervene,” Lee said.

In time, Lee retired and was able to hire another attorney with some of the proceeds from her retirement funds. It’s a shame it had to come to this. She has had several attorneys working on her behalf and remains committed to pursue her case by filing a petition for an en banc hearing (heard by the full court) with the 4th circuit in the hopes they will address the fee-splitting clause in Fairfax's grievance procedure. Hope this helps.

New and veteran teachers, this could be you. Take Lee’s advice, join a union.

© Candi Peterson 2015

Aug 20, 2015

Rockin' IMPACT: How to Improve Your Teacher Evaluation Score

By Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Great teachers are not born, they're made. It takes time to become a great teacher.

We are more than just the sum of our teacher evaluation (IMPACT) scores. But let's face it, IMPACT scores determine whether teachers remain in our school system or get fired. I've seen great teachers get forced out of DC Public Schools because they didn't really have a good grasp of the Teach standards by which teachers are judged. Not to mention the training that has been provided in recent years by DCPS has been less than adequate.

It seems like a 'no-brainer' to me that professional development is one of the main ingredients to turning around teachers' effectiveness. Not just any professional development but specific training on the Teaching and Learning Framework (TLF), Common Core state standards and job-embedded professional development.

When I learned of the Masted Educator led professional development series on IMPACT last year, I began encouraging many of the teachers I knew to sign up for a workshop after school. After all, getting training on strategies to improve your teaching practice from the very people that evaluate you- couldn't hurt, in my opinion.

I hope all new DCPS teachers and any teacher who has received a Developing or Minimally Effective IMPACT evaluation score last school year will sign up for one of the Master Educator Led professional development sessions, - Setting Up For Success.

This year, Master educators will host Teach Sessions to introduce and deepen understanding of the Teaching & Learning Framework. Four series (General Education, Special Education, Language Acquisition and Early Childhood) will be provided starting on August 24.

All participants must register for each session they will attend on PD Planner at or complete the Google Survey at Participants will receive 2 PLUs for each session. For more information, please see the  “Setting Up For Success PD Sessions" flyer below or reach out to or contact them on 202-719-6553.

Hope you will share the flyer with your colleagues and encourage them to sign up as well. Use the scroll bar on the right of the flyer to see the entire flyer. Here’s to a successful year and Rockin' your Impact evaluation!