Sunday, April 06, 2008

Confidence in schools chief wavers among educators

Kit Raney has considered Terry Bergeson a friend for 28 years.

They met through the Washington Education Association, and Raney was drawn to Bergeson's energy and vision for the teachers union.

When Bergeson ran for vice president in 1981, Raney, then a Snohomish elementary teacher, volunteered to help with the campaign. Raney helped Bergeson successfully campaign for WEA president and for the state superintendent of public instruction three times.

This year, things are different.

Like thousands of educators in the Puget Sound region, Raney is considering taking a no-confidence vote against Bergeson. Citing the superintendent's continued support of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, several Snohomish County branches of the Washington Education Association are discussing a no-confidence vote for later this month.

Bergeson is up for re-election this fall.

"It's hard for me not to support her, but I think we need new leadership at OSPI (the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction)," said Raney, president of the Snohomish Education Association. "The WASL is a symptom of the problems with Terry's leadership. I think that she has blinders on as far as the WASL and has a stay-the-course mentality that isn't working."

Local branches of the teachers union in Marysville, Lake Stevens, Edmonds, Snohomish and Mukilteo are among those considering a no-confidence vote.

It's difficult for Bergeson to consider losing the support of teachers and a union she once led.

"The kids and the teachers, to me, are what my whole life has been about for 44 years of work in education," she said Friday. "I would feel very sad to get a vote of no confidence."

This is the first year Washington students must pass the reading and writing portion of the WASL to graduate. In late March, lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire agreed to replace the math portion of the standardized test with tests on individual math courses.

Some teachers don't want the WASL to be a graduation requirement. They believe the test devours too many resources and puts too much pressure on students and teachers.

"There's a high level of concern about the amount of money and time it takes," said Catherine Kernan, president of the Mukilteo Education Association. "It doesn't really inform your teaching. When you get the WASL results back, the students have already gone on."

Supporters of the test say it gives diplomas meaning by making sure kids know the basics before they graduate.

The WASL is part of President Bush's No Child Left Behind plan, which aims to help all kids succeed by toughening standards and requiring more standardized testing."There's no question it's made our state a better state academically for children," Bergeson said.

The Washington Association of School Administrators agrees that the WASL has improved student performance. The test has given teachers and students a benchmark to work toward, said Barbara Mertens, assistant executive director of the association.

The WASL is not perfect, Mertens said, but she supports Bergeson's willingness to change the test over the years. Bergeson said she's currently working on a plan to help teachers check their students' WASL progress earlier. She also wants to strike more of a balance between testing and professional development for teachers.

"When you take an individual like Terry Bergeson who's been the superintendant of public instruction through all of those changes, I don't think that you can just focus on one thing like the WASL test," Mertens said. "You have to take her entire leadership contributions over the last 12 years into account."

Several local Washington Education Association chapters are surveying members now about the possibility of a no-confidence vote. They plan to make a decision in late April.

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.

Reporter Kaitlin Manry


Anonymous said...

I read this article in Sunday's Herald newspaper with interest. I do agree that the WASL needs re-addressing, but have met Terry on several ocassions and believe her to be very competent in her job, however, she needs to take a look at WASL and make some changes; one often gets too "comfortable" in their positions. Terry is a good lady.

Anonymous said...

I have watched Terry Bergesen's career over the years, and I have admired her work. Until recently. After observing the bullying of students and teachers in the district and being bullied, ignored and picked on, I inquired to the Superintendent's Office as to what they can do. Amazingly, they state that they can do nothing. I find that difficult to believe. At the very least they could look into it. They could look for a way to solve the problem. Private exit interviews.
Similarly, I have watched Christine Gregoire's career. This state had a bill sponsored to protect workers from bullying. I do not believe for a minute that our leader did not know that. Yet the bill went no where.
It appears that these people do not comprehend the significance of a bullying atmosphere on student learning. Feeling safe is a necessity; bullying or fear of harm are counter the to relaxed yet challenged mindset necessary for learning. Continued exposure to bullying has long term consequences. What hurts the teacher, hurts the students. Students see the behavior and try to hide or blend in. Some participate.
The new Superintendent of Seattle School District stated in her opening speech that there are three reasons teachers leave a school district: retirement, other opportunities, moving from the area. That is what the district says, but it is not the complete picture. If they are so sure of this, then they should not object to a validation of their opinions.
It is time for teachers to complete exit interviews with an unbiased source. I know for a fact that the interview I had with EEA rep Spring of '05 had little to do with any of the standard reasons. It had to do with mean working conditions, lack of respect or consideration on the part of administration, and bullying. I reported these conditions to Tam before I left and found out that staff sent to a Anto-bullying Workshop were "power players" at the school. Atleast there was an appearance of education in this move.
As one boy said to me this year,
"You can't force us to learn." I agree. Kids work when they feel safe, when we genuinely involve them, and when they know we care. Our leaders should care too.

Chris Reuther

Anonymous said...

Bullying will not stop on the job until the employer understands the research that is now being done that clearly shows bullying COSTS the employer money.

Bullying will not stop in our schools until the public understands that high profile incidents like Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc. are just the tip of the iceberg. The recent U Tube video of an assault on a Baltimore teacher (and the reaction of the building principal blaming the teacher for the assault) should be the wake-up call for every stakeholder in the education system.