Betts Putnam-Hidalgo, who is running for TUSD School Board, attended a house party recently in which teachers were invited to come and share their concerns. We interviewed Betts following the house party to find out what she learned here and elsewhere and how she intends to address what she’s hearing from teachers.
Q. So what is your take, what is the story you’re hearing from teachers?
A. So I recall asking them at one point, after hearing them talk about their classes, I asked them
“So the smaller class sizes, that have been a district initiative for the last couple years, you didn’t experience those?”
and they laughed.
They talked about computers and technology, broken and outdated computers, the district spends a lot of money on technology so I was surprised to hear we were still experiencing that, to the level that we were. When I worked in an elementary school I know that that was a constant and ongoing problem. Between the wireless and the hardware, something was very often not working. But that was a few years ago …
From the board meetings, one would have the understanding that these problems have been solved. So, that is why it’s so incredibly important to talk to teachers.
Q. So technology, class sizes – were there other big points that came out?
A. Yes. Discipline, reporting
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. That there was a healthy discussion of cases of discipline infractions that should have been reported or even were reported but then were downgraded in their severity for the ultimate report.
The lack of reporting is to artificially keep the numbers down for those that are monitoring the numbers of infractions.
In some cases, such as sexual harassment or suspicion of sexual abuse not reporting an incident can be out and out illegal. As far as I know, school personnel are mandatory reporters of such issues. And for good reason: our schools should be in the front lines of protecting children.
Not reporting cases accurately, or not reporting them at all, works for the district’s goals, which is to make our schools look like they have fewer discipline problems than they actually have.
But, it leaves kids vulnerable and unprotected. And it leaves parents and community members completely confused. Which is why I am calling it a game of smoke and mirrors. But it’s extremely unethical to play it that way–it’s a very damaging game to the kids
Q. I know that you have strong positions on standardized testing. Did that subject come up in your conversation with the teachers?
A. Yes. It primarily came up as a measure of their performance. We talked a little bit about how imperfect a measure it is of student performance, and the incentives to teach to the test, but the bulk of the conversation as I recall was the impact of test scores on the teachers’ performance evaluations.
We were talking about the performance bonuses, which one of the teachers called “imaginary money”. Because, he said, you’re promised it, but you don’t ever get it. In addition to test scores, the performance pay comes to you based on a whole evaluation system called Danielson that evaluates teachers on twenty-two separate points. So from a teacher’s perspective, this can feel like horrendous micromanagement that doesn’t necessarily have much to do with what kids need.
It seemed that they felt, that the standardized tests and other teacher evaluation practices were being used punitively, and not being used in a diagnostic fashion to help them.
Q. Did anything the teachers said surprise you?
A. I was surprised that the salary compression that took place has clearly missed a number of teachers. There were cases where (and I understand maybe this was by the rules, but it still doesn’t seem fair) experienced teachers are being paid less than new teachers. The salary compression was supposed to alleviate that.
Q. What is salary compression?
A. Salary compression was supposed to take care of inequities that resulted from years of frozen wages. But it doesn’t seem to have gotten to everyone, and this should be looked into. Within the space of two days, I ran into three really egregious cases where a lifetime of experience is not being paid for.
Q. What would you say is the very first step the board needs to take to address these issues, and what would you do if you joined the board to make that happen.
A. The first thing that the board needs to do, whether it has to do with pay raises, whether it has to do with use of finances, evaluation system, the desegregation system, the first thing the board needs to do is exercise oversight over the superintendent. That begins with asking questions and following up to make sure that they get the answer.In addition, the board needs to make it clear that it will not vote on items that have not been clearly explained in the Board packet, with enough time to actually read and comprehend them.
For example, the Superintendent is not supposed to be making policy.
The confusing order to reduce the level of reported infractions through deception and lies of ommission (at least!) came directly from 1010. That’s not acceptable. Families and community members thought that the policy had been changed. But the policy wasn’t changed, there was a unilateral mandate from 1010 that all infractions had to be called into the District headquarters before being reported (and apparently from there many problems were downgraded) , but that’s not the same as a policy change.
The board is supposed to be watching, they’re supposed to be on top of this. So what would I do as a board member? I would be an honest-to-god critical thinker with knowledge based in on-site reality who never stops asking questions.