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Clear Communication on Contracts

Rather than letting tensions run high as the Boston Public Schools approaches new contract negotiations, Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson touts recent student gains and teacher accomplishments and emphasizes the value of negotiations to invest in Boston’s teachers.  In her recent letter to staff, reprinted below, Dr. Johnson moves the conversation beyond cuts and reductions to focus on the important restructuring that needs to happen: essentially strengthening the professional path for teachers with

  • changes in the compensation structure,
  • the creation of a Center for Teaching Support,
  • links to student performance, and
  • the needs of students placed at the forefront.

We applaud this straightforward, constructive communication that attempts to set the context, displace fears, and invest in what’s working for students.

Reprinted from the newsletter, BPS This Week

The next BTU Contract: Let’s invest in talented teachers and help good teachers become great

April 15, 2011

Dear Boston Public Schools family,

In the coming weeks and months, you will hear many thoughts and comments about the negotiations that are underway for the new teachers’ contract that will replace the contract that expired last fall. The plan we have proposed will invest in talented teachers and will support good teachers so they become great. The current contract falls short of that and does not recognize all that we know about creating and sustaining great schools.

Many school districts around the country are using their negotiations as an opportunity to increase class sizes, slash salaries, cut pensions or restrict bargaining rights. Not in Boston. Here, we see these negotiations as an opportunity to invest in our teachers and give our students great teaching and learning experiences. We are now able to identify, replicate and expand our best schools and our successes; and we have the opportunity to create a new salary structure that encourages innovation and teamwork and invests in quality, useful professional development.

Far from lowering teachers’ salaries, our proposal raises the starting salaries of new teachers by seven percent (to attract an even stronger cadre of teachers to Boston), protects the class sizes in the existing contract, offers new teachers the chance to earn higher salaries in their first nine years (by replacing the automatic step system with one that offers higher raises in exchange for receiving good feedback from students and parents and positive evaluations), and offers bonuses to teacher-leaders to work with their peers as we move forward in helping good teachers become great.

Far from saving money, our proposal would probably cost more money, through higher teacher salaries based on successful performance, in the first several years. We know that many of our teachers may like the current compensation system; our proposal would give our current teachers the choice to either enter the new system or stick with the existing system.

The tradeoff is this: our plan would create a professional path for teachers. Instead of relying on smaller automatic raises every year, we would link a portion of annual pay increases to student growth data (such as measurable increases in test scores), parent and student feedback, and classroom observations.

We know that becoming excellent does not happen overnight and without support. Under our proposal, teachers themselves would play a role in determining who joins their professional ranks and who advances to leadership positions established by the career ladder. At the central office, we are creating a Center for Teacher Support to connect teachers with professional development and offer critical tools that will help our teachers strengthen their skills in the classroom with our diverse student population.

The other teachers’ unions in the state and the leadership from major national unions, including American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, agree that student data should play an important role in evaluations. So far, that has not been the case for the leadership of the Boston Teachers Union. We are confident in our teachers’ capacity to educate and be accountable for all students. We would expect the BTU to share that same level of confidence in its members. Our teachers in the Boston Public Schools are the very people who have skillfully helped our students score higher and higher on the MCAS tests every year. Our teachers have already demonstrated their capacity to teach to proficient and advanced performance levels.

Boston teachers inspire our students and keep them coming to school every day. Because of their work, our graduation rate is at its highest level since measurements began, and our dropout rate is at its lowest level in a generation. Our mission now is to keep all of our students in school, close access and achievement gaps, and get them ready for success in college and in life. The best way to do this is to ensure a caring and competent teacher in every classroom.

These negotiations are an opportunity to improve our schools, invest in what works, and fix what is not working. Sometimes people hear or read about the district’s proposal and are led to believe that what we are recommending is radical, anti-union, and will not support the very educators we trust to educate our students. These scare tactics and misrepresentations of our proposal distract from the most important academic outcomes that all of us want for Boston’s children.

In order for all - not just some - students to achieve success, our students need more time to learn, our teachers need more time to plan, and school teams should have the flexibility to recruit and select a team of other committed professionals to join with them in what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in America. When these teachers and leaders succeed, they should be recognized and rewarded, and we should learn from them.

Our contract proposals are designed to support teachers, respect and honor their work, and treat them fairly, all while putting the needs of our students at the forefront of everything we do. We must work together and be willing to change if our students are to succeed.

Dr. Carol R. Johnson
BPS Superintendent


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