History Repeated itself — We probably never should have made you feel safe…

It is the nature of a teacher, some would even say (falsely – the science teacher would remind us) in her DNA, to make everyone feel safe and comfortable.  After all, everyone learns better when they feel loved, respected, and most importantly – Safe.  Every educator knows this.  Furthermore, creating the feeling of a safe environment is an expectation the parents (and all taxpayers for that matter) have for their public schools.  We are here to sound the alarm and tell you, no matter where you are reading this, be it here in Clark County, or anywhere else in the United States, your child’s school is not safe!  But here is the dirty little secret, you already knew that.  Until this recent organizing effort by the brave and civic-minded students in Parkland, Florida – your expectation was not that the schools were safe, but rather that they felt safe.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Some reading this post are old enough to remember “Duck and Cover” drills in preparation of a nuclear attack.  Whenever a history teacher teaches a lesson to students showing Bert the Turtle ducking and covering, the response from students is laughter and disbelief that America was, in their words, “that stupid.”  They would ask, how could anyone think hiding under a desk would save them from an atomic explosion?  However, these cartoon like explanations for why everyone was going to be okay, created an environment where the community felt their kids were safe in schools.  It took that generation of students to come of age, the ones who had to do those duck and cover drills, to demand that their government work with the world to limit, with the goal of eliminating, nuclear weapons across the globe, before the threat of nuclear annihilation was no longer a constant genuine threat.

Fast forward to today.  While our children are not ducking and covering to protect themselves from an atomic blast, they are just as unrealistically thinking that hiding in a classroom — or in a closet — or under a desk, will save their lives from a deranged gunman on campus, armed with a weapon of war.  Educators are making the same mistake as we did in the past, convincing the public that while these horrible things have happened elsewhere, we take all the necessary steps to keep your child safe at our schools.  (See some of the letters sent out by local Superintendents:  Evergreen PS   Vancouver PS).  The message we should be sending is, YOUR CHILD IS NOT SAFE and you should demand strong and sensible action by your government!  Maybe then, sensible gun legislation might become a reality.  Don’t get us wrong, the teachers and school administrative staff are indeed doing everything they can to try to keep your kids safe, but the actions taken are nearly as laughable as the actions by Bert the Turtle.  And up until now, that false sense of security aided in keeping parents from demanding that sensible gun legislation be passed to limit, with the goal of eliminating, gun violence in our schools.

Today, those who were in high school during Columbine or Jonesboro are now teachers and administrators, and have kids in our schools.  Today, kids are still facing this same threat, and now the new generation in power, a generation who has grown up in a world where school violence is not even front page news anymore, is demanding something gets done, much like the actions of a previous generation in the waning days of “Duck and Cover.”

This Saturday, March 24th, March for our Lives demonstrations are happening across the country, with the largest one being in Washington, DC.  Here in town, Evergreen Public School students, staff, and patrons (not traveling to Washington, DC) are asked to meet at the O.O. Howard House (the office of our congressional representative) at 1:00pm to march to Esther Short Park for a rally at 2:00pm.  If you are reading this outside of Clark County, the EEA encourages you to participate in the sister marches across the country.  You can find information here.  As a union of educators, the Evergreen Education Association has voted to endorse these marches and to help the amazing local student organizers be successful in banding together with their peers to advocate and use their voice on the issue of gun violence in schools.  To see our full resolution click here.

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Politicians — Don’t mistake our recent quiet for complacency!

Because every teacher (… and counselor, and nurse, and support professional) cares deeply about the success of every child, the end of the year makes it nearly impossible for us to take large visible actions.  While many in the legislature are busy collecting per diems for overtime sessions while not accomplishing much of anything, educators are busy trying to close out the school year.  At this time of year, teachers and counselors are working frantically to help kids graduate.  At this time of year, nurses are trying to make sure that our neediest students will have access to medical necessities over the summer when they are not on our campuses.  At this time of the year, everyone working in schools are putting in every ounce of energy they have to give as much education to our children as possible before they walk out the doors for two months.  Lawmakers, please don’t mistake our lack of daily visibility for inaction.   It is important that Senator Ann Rivers and Representative Paul Harris, who are part of the McCleary negotiations, know that the members of the EEA are watching and will take action if necessary.  We are just too damn busy to be out in the streets right now, but some actions that have already taken place (some more visible than others) are:

  • Members hosted a town hall to speak with legislators about the needs for the proper funding of our schools
  • Members have traveled 3 times to Olympia to be part of the Occupy Olympia action put on by the Seattle and South Kitsap Education Associations.
  • EEA members sent 100s of flyers to some legislators asking them to be Champions for Kids.
  • EEA members distributed post cards to friends and family asking legislators to do the right thing by our students.
  • EEA members waived signs at intersections calling on the legislature to fully fund education
  • EEA members picketed outside of Senator Wilson’s business to bring visibility to the State Senate’s damaging and unconstitutional budget proposal
  • EEA members, serving as the local WEA Political Action committee, met with candidates for Evergreen School Board, recommending the endorsement of Megan Miles (Pos. 1) and Janelle Tuominen (Pos. 5), who both agree to actually talk with the EEA and not take the EEA to court when they can’t get their way at the bargaining table.
  • On May 15th, the EEA Representative Council called for a General Membership meeting to take place on August 24th, where a strike vote will take place if:
    • The EEA and the Evergreen School District cannot come to an agreement on reopeners to our contract that are caused by the State Legislature as a result of legislation passed this summer, OR
    • If the Legislature’s action (or inaction) results in the Washington State Supreme Court ruling that the State is still in violation of the Washington State Constitution.

We may not be out in the streets, numbering in the thousands, but we are watching and we will act.  However, right now we are busy trying to close out the year for the people we care about the most, the students of Evergreen Public Schools.  We ask that those who care about public education contact their legislators and demand that the house budget be passed for the sake of the students of Washington State.  For contact information for the local delegations to the State Legislature, Click Here:  http://www.eeaoffice.com/file_viewer.php?id=3425

A day without women

In solidarity with women across this country, the Evergreen Education Association Representative Council passed the resolution below on Monday, February 27th.

A DAY WITHOUT WOMEN

March 8, 2017

 

Whereas, institutional sexism is alive and well in the United States, leaving many women to feel unsafe and objectified; and

Whereas, the women of Washington State have a median income that is 79% of that of working males in Washington State; and

Whereas, the President of the United States was once caught on tape bragging about how he can sexually assault women without repercussion; and

Whereas, the President of the United States, when campaigning, regularly made disparaging comments about women and their looks; and

Whereas, the President of the United States has yet to attempt to ease the rational fears of many women who feel he does not respect them; and

Whereas, the Evergreen Education Association is made up of 74.65 % women; and

Whereas, an international women’s strike is being organized on March 8th, international women’s day; and

Whereas, the women of the Evergreen Education Association have personal leave and union protections that afford them the ability to take part in this day of action, making it our responsibility to stand in solidarity with women across the country who are participating, and represent those women who cannot; and

Whereas, the Evergreen Education Association believes that it is more essential than ever to model for our students, particularly our female students, the importance of self-advocacy and standing up for what we believe in.

Therefore, be it known that the Evergreen Education Association endorses the March 8th Day Without Women action and directs the EEA president to take the following actions:

  • Inform the Evergreen School District of this endorsement so they can plan accordingly
  • Announce to the membership at large that the EEA makes this endorsement and encourages our female members to participate by taking personal leave on March 8th.
  • Encourage all members who plan not to work on March 8th to put the appropriate leave into the AESOP system immediately so as to give the District appropriate notice to adjust the school calendar should not enough educators plan to work on March 8.
  • Keep the membership updated on, and encourage participation in, any local events taking place on March 8th.

 

All Students Are Welcome

“Teachers are deeply committed to the success of every child.”  When speaking with a parent, with a student, or with the media, I make it a habit to say that line.  Not because it’s a nice sound bite, but because it is 100% true and it is a reminder of why we do the job we do.  It is this commitment to students that makes these teachers endure the multitude of problems thrown at them at a time, the constant requirement that they prove themselves in this profession, and the basterdization of the facts and figures related to the quality of education in this country, making them feel like they aren’t doing enough.

Recent political events have driven school Districts and teachers to make statements that seemed silly to have to make in the past, declaring that all students are welcome at school and will be kept safe. It is disgusting that the current political climate has made it necessary to make such a statement.  You see, I have had the great fortune of teaching and serving as the EEA President in the same community in which I attended public school.  When I was in first grade at Washington Elementary School in the Vancouver Public Schools, there were several immigrant students, who spoke no English, who had escaped the political tyranny of Vietnam.  Being an innocent six year old, I had no idea why these kids were in my school, but I remember telling my mother “these kids are weird and don’t make any sense; I can’t understand them.”  While there was no way for my mother to explain this complexity to a six year old, it was my first exposure to culture outside of the United States.  I benefited from this exposure just as much as these refugee students from Vietnam.

In third grade, I moved into the Evergreen Public Schools.  Fast forward to eighth grade at Covington Jr. High School and it is there where I discovered, in casual conversation, that one of my classmates were among those refugees that I first met in my 1st grade class at Washington Elementary.  He told me stories of his parents sneaking him out of Vietnam and how they feared they were being followed and might get sent back.  Again, I got to learn from him.

Him and I, we had an assignment in our 8th grade English course, an essay on our dream future.  We were asked to edit each other’s paper.  In his paper, this young man wrote that he dreamed that he would one day be President of the United States, a country that he loved.  Me, being the insensitive and not all that clear of thinking teenager, told him, “you can’t be President of the United States, you weren’t born here.”  The look on his face still haunts me, I was responsible (though I was only 14 – cut me some slack) for crushing this kid’s dream.  His English had gotten pretty good, he was in those awkward teenage years where we all just try to find a way to fit in, and he was probably just starting to feel like he was just like any other American.  However, I just reminded him, that the country that he loves won’t allow him to lead because he might be disloyal.

I have no idea if this young man was (or if he is now for that matter) legally in this country.  What I do know is that he was incredibly thankful to be here, and while I have lost touch with him, I’m confident he is a person making our society better.  So, when the EEA executive board asked me to make a statement on behalf of our immigrant students, I knew that would be easy for me.  All our members, be they teachers, counselors, nurses, psychologists, librarians, or Educational Service Providers are deeply committed to the success of EVERY child!  The over 1,800 members of the Evergreen Education Association individually, and collectively, are committed to using our resources and connections to educate and look after the wellbeing of all the students that walk through the school house doors, regardless of their immigrations status, or any other status for that matter.  This is an easy commitment to make, for we are deeply committed to the success of every child, it is our calling, and our reason for doing this job!

-Rob Lutz (Evergreen Education Association President)

Walk In for the Education Students Deserve

Every student deserves the supports necessary to ensure their academic success.  Every student deserves the time to learn and our teachers need the time to teach.  Every student deserves a first-class education regardless of zip code.  One could ask anyone, without regard for political persuasion or personal beliefs, if students deserve these things and the answer would always be yes.  So why is it so darn hard to make these things happen if everyone believes them?  There are a whole host of answers and theories to that question ranging from money interest in politics and education to people wanting these things for our kids but refusing to pay for them with taxes.  This all may be true, but on May 4th teachers at Heritage High School and Mill Plain Elementary School invited not just EEA members, but the community, parents, principals, students, and anyone else who has an interest in public education to participate in a “Walk-in,” where all interested people could celebrate what is great about our public schools, talk about the needs our schools have, commit to doing their part to better our schools, and walk into the building together.

At Heritage High School, about 100 people gathered at 6:55am to talk about how great their school is as well as point out that there are some tools that are missing and a program being cut that denies the first class education the students at HHS deserve.  Heritage High School had traditionally been an AVID school.  AVID programs throughout the country help the typical student, who with a little push, succeed in school and go on to earn a college degree.  AVID was funded by a grant that dried up.  In an effort to provide this service to students, a new program was formed at HHS called Gateway to College.  Unfortunately, with that program being grant funded as well, and not funded by the district or the state, a decision was made to end the Gateway to College program at HHS.  Dozens of students were at the Walk-in with signs asking to save the program.  A couple students took to the mic, asking the district to step up and fund this program, meeting their needs as students.

Not just programs, but additional tools are needed to give Heritage students the education they deserve.  Right now there are around 1,800 students at HHS but only five counselors.  In addition to counseling students thus improving their mental wellbeing so school can be a priority, these same counselors are asked to do everything from monitoring grades, making sure graduation requirements are met, helping students with their college applications, writing letters of recommendation, covering classes when there are no substitutes, and even proctoring standardized tests.  We simply don’t have enough of these individuals to help our students succeed.

Similar messages of love for their school but the need for improvement were expressed at Mill Plain Elementary school.  Right now it is “testing season” and Rachel, a 5th grade student at Mill Plain, took to the mic and explained that she does not need more testing, she instead needs the time that is used for testing to be educated by her teacher and to have more access to the arts.  Furthermore she expressed that every child should have access to a fully stocked library and to a high quality librarian.

Everyone has to decide what role they are going to play in helping our students get the first-class education they deserve, regardless of their zip code.  For our part at EEA, being a bargaining year, we have proposed several bargaining proposals that we think will aid in this endeavor.  A few examples include:

  • We ask the district to commit to providing quality curriculum for every class.
  • Additional counselors in our schools
  • We ask the district to commit to maintaining the current practices we have around Librarian staffing.
  • Additional Nurses
  • Smaller caseloads for our special education teachers.
  • A guarantee that if a severe special education student needs a staff assistant to help him/her, one will be employed.
  • Additional non-teaching staff to work with special needs students who transition into the everyday classroom.
  • An end to unnecessary assessments
  • We ask the district to commit to providing equitable resources in each building for our PE, Music, and Library programs.

We all love our schools here in the Evergreen School District and we all must do our part to protect and promote public education and to continue to work toward giving our students the first class education they deserve!

The Sub Shortage is costing you money and is hurting YOUR kid!

We only get 180 days of instruction, and we need every one of them! For this reason, high quality subs are of great importance. With the ever increasing demands on our teachers and the school system as a whole, there are three major factors that play into why there is a sub shortage.
1.) There are some critics out there who want to point to numbers that show that teachers only teach for 180 days, yet they tend to be out of the classroom for 10% of those days. What those numbers don’t tell you is that because the state has cut the professional development days that used to be paid for, districts are instead opting to pull teachers from the classroom to give them professional development, so they don’t have to pay them extra money. Consequently, some teachers are not in the classroom for 10-20 days in a year, not by their choice, but rather because the district needs to pull them out in order to train them. In any given day in the Evergreen School district, 80 teachers being pulled from the classroom for professional development is not unusual.
2.) As the pressure and expectations continue to mount on our education professionals, health is diminishing. It is not unusual for teachers to e-mail the EEA office at 1:00am in the morning. Why that late? By the time a teacher does her job in the classroom, goes home to her family, gets the kids to bed, and does her 2nd job of grading and planning, it is 1:00am when she gets a chance to communicate to her union. When working these types of hours, it should not be surprising that health is failing, resulting in more sick leave usage.
3.) Subs make very little money! A day to day substitute in Evergreen Public Schools makes $132.07 per day, with a maximum opportunity to work 180 days. A yearly wage of $23,772.60 is not going to be satisfactory when the individual has student loan debt that was taken in order to earn a teaching degree that needs to be paid off. Consequently, unless an individual is in an economic place in his/her life where the money is not needed, they rarely stick around to do the job. They instead take their college degree and do something else. After all, if someone can manage 26 kindergarteners who are strangers to them when they walk in the door, they can supervise a few employees for a small business.

So here is a math story problem for everyone… If eighty teachers are pulled out of the classroom for professional development and several teachers are out ill with not enough substitute teachers to cover your first grade daughter’s class, what does the school do? The current answer, take away one of the two things your first grade daughter loves, their specialist time. Ask any elementary kid what their favorite things were for that day at school and (s)he will probably first say recess/lunch and then name what they did in Music, or read at the library, or did in PE class. However, since someone is needed in the classroom, the PE teacher will not be teaching PE that day, (s)he will now be teaching in a classroom for the day. The other option that is sometimes utilized, split a class up and put them in other classes for the day. Sometimes, students are sent to classes that aren’t even their own grade level.

This all has costs! When canceling specialist, students will not enjoy their school experience as much. Student burnout for the day, especially at the younger grades, will increase. There is already so very little room left in the elementary schedule for anything other than literacy and math, cutting out the little bit of physical activity a 1st grader gets or cutting out the creative outlet the music class provides is detrimental to the well being of our children.

Furthermore, there are actual financial costs. Right now, a sub costs $132.07 for the day, while buying the planning time of the nine teachers who can’t send their kids to the music class because the music teacher is subbing costs $185.40 for the day, never mind the fact that the teacher who was supposed to be teaching music is now getting a full teacher’s day of pay for subbing. As for the practice of sending your child to another classroom for the day, all this does is result in your child being warehoused in a classroom, thus missing out on instruction. While it might be fun for the fifth grader to spend the day in the first grade class, helping the students, that fifth grade student didn’t get his/her education for the day.

There is no easy answer for solving the sub crisis. Society has made the teaching profession less desirable, consequently there are not extra teachers to serve as substitutes. The EEA recommends three things to help mitigate this problem:
1. Pay substitute teachers a living wage so they can afford to do the job.
2. Lighten the workload on our teachers so they can keep their physical and mental health, thus needing less time out of the classroom.
3. Have less professional development during the school day. Offering more evening and weekend trainings and pay staff to attend might be preferential to many teachers.

The lack of substitutes is not just hurting teachers, it’s hurting your kids as well. We recommend that parents demand that the district aggressively work to mitigate the sub shortage problem.

Extra-Curricular and Fairness

Over the years the Evergreen School District has had very successful extra-curricular programs ranging from athletic state championship teams to the cultivating of a student’s love for government and civic involvement via ASB participation. Most of us owe a great deal to our teachers in the classroom for our education, but the ones we often times remember most are the coaches and advisors we worked closely with in our extra-curricular activities, making us feel like we had a unique skill and something to offer to society in the future. At this time, the coaches and extra-curricular advisors in Evergreen Public Schools have failed to reach an agreement with the district for a contract, even after negotiating since December of 2014. The major sticking points: Safety, equal access to success for all, and appropriate compensation.
Safety: During the great recession, like most school districts, cuts took place in the extra-curricular arena. Many sports found themselves without an assistant coach, resulting in some sub-varsity teams being cut. Even worse, some sports were expected to continue with “business as usual,” such as track, all while having implements like javelins, discusses, and shot puts, flying through the air. The EEA was never comfortable with this risk, but now there is no excuse for it.

Many think of sports when they think of extra-curricular activities, but let us not forget the ones that often times do not get the large scale public accolades. The Evergreen Public Schools has produced outstanding and award winning drama productions, but these productions do not happen without help. During the recession the district cut the Drama assistant position, forcing schools to fundraise simply to have an extra set of eyes for a large group of kids, let alone choreograph musicals, do lighting, or design sets and costumes.
Equal Access to success for all: The Evergreen Public Schools has faced equal access problems before with respect to Title IX. This is why it is baffling to the Evergreen Education Association that the district cut the Dance Team assistant. There have been state champion and national contending dance teams in our district, but somehow one coach is expected to supervise and coach fifty dancers. As a result, some schools are considering creating a “cut program” where they tell girls who have not had the money to be part of dancing clubs throughout their childhood, sorry young lady, you are not good enough to participate on our team. In a district with over 49% of its students living in poverty, that is unacceptable. In addition to teams now considering limiting access, it is also safety issue. We would never ask a PE teacher to supervise 50 kids in a gym.

Appropriate Compensation: Every coach will tell you they love what they do and that it is like a hobby. The reality is through, as the profession of teaching becomes more and more demanding, time for “hobbies” start to disappear. These coaches and advisors need to be able to justify to their spouse and their children why they are not coming home until 8:00pm that night because they held the extra-long prep session or practice to get his/her competitors ready for that big competition. These coaches need to be able to justify to their spouses why they have to run the fundraiser over the weekend in order for the team to be able to afford to compete at the next competition. These coaches need to be able to justify to their spouses and children why they are gone for the next week at summer camp to prep their team for next year. It might be a fun hobby to the coach, but it is not a fun hobby for his/her family.
Inflation has been above 13% over the last seven years, yet over this same time period the district has increased extra-curricular salaries by only 1.9%. The EEA’s ask of an average of about $72 to be added to each coach/advisor’s annual paycheck each of the next three years does not seem like an unreasonable ask.

The patrons of Evergreen Public Schools have unwavering support for our levies and we look forward to their vote of support in our request for a replacement levy this February. Don’t forget however, these extra-curricular activities are what levy dollars are supposed to pay for. The EEA asks you to e-mail the school board at board.directors@evergreenps.org and ask them to support safety for our students, equal access for all, and respect for our coaches and advisors by settling a fair contract now!