Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New superintendent contract

Tribune article about the plan to get around the requirement under state law to wait until the final year of a contract before agreeing to a new contract, by having the superintendent resign and be hired under a new contract:

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/pittsburgh/s_649030.html

The article notes that terms of the new contract, such as any change in the amount of compensation, will not be disclosed until after a contract has already been approved.

65 comments:

Questioner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Questioner said...

The article notes that the proposed contract would be in place through the 2014-15 school year. This is a big investment; it is not clear why members of the public should not have the opportunity to review and comment on the terms.

Observer said...

It's disconcerting that the Pittsburgh school board would go this route. While I gave up on the likes of Fink and Colaizzi long ago because let's face it, they are housewife/hairdresser politicians, I would have hoped that school board members looked beyond the headlines that the Post Gazette provides as a public relations service.
Look at your schools. Look at Oliver, and Peabody, and Westinghouse, among others.
Look at the stories of teachers of 25 and 30 years being suddenly targeted for dismissal at especially the high school and middle school levels. Ask how teachers who were known to have been extremely effective over two decades or more are suddenly looked upon as people who are weak links. What is going on here?
Really, truly....what is going on here?
Is the idea that Roosevelt's administration wiped all old veterans who were capable of original thought out of the administrative ranks and now is the time to do the same to teachers?
And again, why would any teacher believe he has a union to defend him? What does the PFT actually do? Why aren't Mr.Tarka and his staff back in the classroom, too, where they belong.

Anonymous said...

Taxpayers and tax paying parents of PPS students in particular have a great deal to be angered over these days. It's a pity that in this region--in this nation--either apathy overwhelms outrage or those who actually do have concerns are given short shrift by the arrogant leaders in charge who feel they have no checks and no balances.
Roosevelt's contract is and will continue to be unsettling. One has to figure that a contract extension will put him in the area of $300K when all is said and done. In this economy, that's outrageous. Yet, consider that his lieutenants are making in the range of $140K or more and that most administrators not in the schools are well over $100 K. Consider that principals who get merit pay (and hey, every principal gets something in this scheme) are making in the range of $120 K. Assistant principals are making about $100K.

And ask yourself, how? This is NOT a corporation and our students are the biggest concern. How can people NOT in the the classroom make such salaries for doing little that affects the kids?? Why should any teacher who diligently does his job ever be made to worry about keeping his job--especially after years of dedication--in light of such outrageous salaries???

Questioner said...

Also important to remember is that over the past 4 years Pittsburgh public schools have done nothing to close the gap between Pittsbugh and state test scores- meaning that progress in comparison to the rest of the state has been average. We are rewarding average performance with stellar compensation.

Our board president is quoted as saying that the superintendent has succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. In terms of fundraising, he surely has succeeded beyond expectations- but fundraising has not yet translated into progress in education. And to keep the fundraising in perspective, a Gates grant of $50 million, while huge, would be only 1/10 of the $500 million + amount the city's taxpayers pay each year to fund the school district.

Anonymous said...

One day we will see the folly of putting a fundraiser in charge of education.

Questioner said...

At the university level presidents need to be good fundraisers, but they also have solid educational credentials behind them.

It is troubling that while principals will be held accountable for performance year after year, performance will have little effect on compensation at the superintendent level, for close to the next 6 years. Again- where's the accountability?

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable that we the taxpayers don't get to see the terms prior to a vote. Isn't this against the law?

Questioner said...

That is a problem with the Right to Know law- due to the time allowed to provide documents, by the time they are received actions based on the documents have already been taken. The Board could make the information available for comments but has apparently decided it doesn't need any input on this almost 6 year arrangement.

It also is not waiting for input from the newest board member, who will join in just 10 days.

Anonymous said...

More smoke and mirrors...

Questioner said...

Correction, the new member will join December 1 not November 10. But this contract will be in place for her entire term and she should have the chance to participate in this process.

Questioner said...

Also, has been noted before, people who are homemakers, etc. can be fine board members. More important than how they earn a living is that they take time to listen, make careful, evidence based decisions and do not let self-interest affect their decisions.

solutionsRus said...

Questioner, Here, here! name calling only detracts from the very valid points that are made on this blog. We don't need it. Just the facts are good enough. I know that everyone feels a great level of frustration, as do I, with the current reform process, but let's try to stay as constructive as possible.

Anonymous said...

Name calling? One board member with a lot of clout is a housewife. Another with a great deal of pull is a hairdresser. How is that name calling?
The time has come to appoint individuals with backgrounds in educational issues to be members of the school board. Putting the best interests of the students should be at the top of each member's list.

Questioner said...

Calling someone by their occupation reduces them to that one characteristic and implies that someone who is "just a homemaker/hairdresser/etc" could not be qualified for the school board.

But we have or have had members of the US Congress who were "just a mom in tennis shoes," for example, and have done a terrific job.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:40, it would help if more people saw the rewards of running for a position like school board member. There are few upsides that are obvious but most likely some unseen perks might exist?

solutionsRus said...

Anon 7:57, good point. It is a volunteer part time job with lots of time commitment but little else.

One issue is that it takes a lot of time, energy and money to run against an incumbent. How about term limits? This would ensure that at least every eight years, we would have fresh faces/perspectives

Anonymous said...

Questioner, I don't see it your way for the most part. True, some housewives were simply forced to be such by the fact that they had to raise their kids. Ordinarily, they would have been terrific professionals. I apologize if I have thrown aspersions at those kinds of individuals. On the contrary, I am merely saying that individuals with some background in educational issues should be appointed as school directors/board members. Ideally, we'd have people with teaching degrees or educational administration degrees who would be selected. Why is it that there is no doubt in my mind---none--that this type of administration would not have been allowed to spiral out of control as it has.

Anyone seen John Tarka around?

Questioner said...

It's fine to suggest that a background in education would be a plus for voters to consider when considering a school board member. The mayor stated he was looking for this type of background when he was called to appoint a school board member. A parent who had shown years of dedication volunteering at schools could also be a good choice.

sick of the whining said...

Individuals with a background in educational issues are certainly able to run for a school board seat. Putting in long hours for ZERO pay is not a job one takes on for fun. Anyone who runs should have the students best interest in mind.

Jean Fink and Theresa Colaizzi are two of the most dedicated board members. It does not matter WHAT they do to earn a living. They are trying to see the entire picture of the district's future and attempting to keep it on a path to success. Keeping Roosevelt is a piece of the puzzle.

Teachers....the education world is changing. Get involved in the union issues and stand up for your issues. You have really good jobs and pay and benefits...yet continue to complain that you cant teach how ever the heck you want. Well, if kids are coming out of school unable to read and add...something has to change. Obviously there are too many weak teachers fumbling through the day and failing the kids in the process.

Questioner said...

But then, there are plenty of kids coming out able to read and add and much much more. If success was correlated with who the teacher was, teachers could be held completely accountable. But there is much more to the equation.

As to keeping the superintendent, to be sure we understand, what are the most notable academic achievements in his 4+ years in Pittsburgh?

sick of all the whining said...

Anyone with a bit of experience with a kid in school knows that there are some teachers who are better than others. They are the ones parents choose to place their child with for the following year, and tell their friends about when talking about schools among other parents. Many have commented on the fabulous teachers at Schenley. Soooo....is it only when teachers are good that they get credit? Cant have it both ways. A good teacher is crucial to learning. A lack of a good teacher hinders learning. When good teachers only want to teach the gifted or the IB or the AP classes...theres a problem. Who has to teach all the rest of the students?

Questioner said...

Actually some of the fabulous teachers at Schenley chose to teach in mainstream classes. But if for example kids didn't come to class there wasn't much they could do. Or, if a kid came in at a 4th or 5th grade level at math, there wasn't any realistic way that teacher was going to have them proficient at the end of the year- not with 20 to 30 other kids to teach at the same time. And, at any school there are not so great teachers- but there are kids who will ace the AP or IB exam in that subject anyway.

Questioner said...

From the PG, the contract was approved:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09294/1007429-100.stm

The article repeats the idea that the superintendent would be kept off the job market- even though the contract binds only the district. If anything, having a secure contract can make it easier to look for a job.

sick of the whining said...

So then what in the world do you expect of a superintendent or a school board member? If the teacher is not responsible....then how is the board or administration responsible? I guess its every kid for him or herself. Learn what you can , when you can, however you can. If you dont want to learn, thats OK too.

But lets throw oodles of money away on teacher contracts and administrators in the revolving door of district management, holding no one accountable.

Anonymous said...

Who said teachers weren't responsible? They seem to be responsible for everyone and everything. Kid has no family, sleeps different places most nights, has no supervision or support -- that's not an excuse for a teacher!

You missed the point --let's hold upper level administrators AS responsible as teachers and principals.

If the gap with the state doesn't close -- no raises at the BOE.

Questioner said...

So what do we expect of a superintendent or board member...

Well, first do no harm. Think carefully about whether "merit pay" for teachers can really be distributed without favoritism and in a way that builds cooperation rather than resentment. Do not set aside ridiculous amounts of class time for testing. If sticking strictly to a script is required then do not blame teachers if the script produces poor results.

Next, provide the supports necessary so teachers can teach- such as social workers to help ensure students come to work ready to learn, and the structures to help involve and engage parents.

Anonymous said...

"Whining" sounds like someone who would never walk a mile in the shoes of a teacher and would rather stereotype them to make points. What's next, the thought that teachers have "three months of summer off for vacation", "only work six hours a day" and "teach because they can't do"??? We've heard all the blather before and it plays right into the hands of administration that is increasingly like-minded.
The comments within his/her thinking are so out of touch that it truly numbs the mind. Teachers get paid well and have great benefits? In comparison to whom? You? Perhaps I should apologize for going to school for 6 years and having paid my dues? Still, even a child would understand that when people NOT in the classroom are making fabulous salaries--to sit in offices and enact policy that does not address the needs of urban students but instead appeases what whining calls "changing times" that are largely mythical--well, something is seriously wrong. I am sure that whining sees the value in such a scenario. The point is made to stay in touch with our union. Perhaps he/she has not been reading here. Our union is part of the problem. It's gone. It has capitulated and been emasculated in public fashion. Most of us ARE in touch with local and national issues, more so than you are, and we would like to think that while micro-managing teachers with a heaping plate of canned curricula might win your approval as being "changing with the times", in runs contrary to helping kids reach their potentials. We'd like to think our union would say something. Sadly, they have not.
Lastly, the board members you name must be friends. Again, it appears that you enjoy the idea of handing a blank check to an individual who is employed by taxpayers. Apparently, you miss the idea about responsibility to the taxpaying public.
We're sick, too, friend. Sick of individuals who simply can't walk a mile in the shoes of individuals in the trenches and instead seek to pass judgment and salute change that has emanated in a college office somewhere and been hailed as "progressive" by fellow ivory tower thinkers.
Amazing. Where do people like you come from?

parentone said...

At Open House this year I said thank you to a teacher my kid had last year mentioning how much progress she made while in this teacher's class. Sadly, surprise does not adequately describe the look on her face.

We parents need to make an effort to spread our thanks yous around more.

Questioner said...

Here is a more complete PG article:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09295/1007498-53.stm

Per the article, the annual salary will reach $285,000 in the final year of the contract if annual bonuses are awarded. In addition benefits are increased:

"The new contract also increases his annual number of paid personal and vacation days from 40 to 46; increases the district's annual contribution to his retirement account from $40,000 to $45,000; and gives him $5,000 to move additional belongings from New Mexico."

Anonymous said...

"Sick of the whining" sounds like a BOE administration "plant" on this blog.

Questioner said...

We're happy to have comments from any source- this blog is to promote the discussion of ideas and various points of view regardless of where they come from.

Questioner said...

Turning back to "Sick's" point,

"Well, if kids are coming out of school unable to read and add...something has to change. Obviously there are too many weak teachers fumbling through the day and failing the kids in the process."

We really have to consider that there has been a gap between PPS and state scores for a long time- probably since standardized testing began. Over the past 4 years that gap has not decreased at all. Should we conclude that teachers in the city of Pittsburgh are just not as good as teachers in the rest of the state? Or should we look to other causes for the gap- such as, a higher portion of children coming to school in Pittsburgh ever day not ready to learn and a higher portion of children not receiving support and encouragement for learning in their homes? Teachers may be able to compensate for some of the gap- and in fact, city teachers may already be compensating for a gap that would otherwise be greater than it is.

parentone said...

Bravo Questioner.

Making Learning Fun Again said...

Prediction: Colfax will not remain an ALA for long.

Anonymous said...

No bravo's here, Questioner. This statement, "Should we conclude that teachers in the city of Pittsburgh are just not as good as teachers in the rest of the state?", makes it clear that you wish to ride the fence on the overall issue of superintendent and administrator pay being boosted thanks to what teachers are doing. And your comment would make it appear that whatever they are doing still is not good enough, certainly a feeling that would be echoed by top PPS brass and board members/hairdressers.
That's disappointing.
I thank the Pure Reform group for its commitment but at this stage will refrain from stopping by. To me at least, teachers have no friends here.

amymoore said...

Are you kidding, anon 546? Don't you see the point that Questioner was trying to make? It's not the teachers that are the cause of the lower city scores, it is the starting point of the kids and the lack of support they receive.

I started my teaching career in inner city Phila in a school that is currently ranked 4th from the bottom of the state (based on test scores). While I was in graduate school, I taught in a school that was at the top of the state, with high test scores and most kids achieving above grade level. Had I by some miracle, become a better teacher? Those kids in the second school practically taught themselves; I monitored their self-learning.

Questioner said...

Thank you AM! The question about whether we should conclude that the steady gap in state/ PPS scores is due to a gap in teaching performance was just an analytic stop along the way. No offense intended!

amymoore said...

I commented before I had completely reread Questioner's comments. Q had already strongly made the point that the teachers are not the cause of the problem of inner city children's low performance.

There are some teachers that do more harm than good. I had a few in my own education, years ago, and my kid had a few (very few) in his 13 years in PPS. What worries me, is that Mr. Roosevelt's plans to weed out the "bad" teachers will not get rid of the ones that are harmful, but his plan will weed out the ones that do not follow him blindly.

At times I feel like I am in a movie about the birth of a tolitarian (sorry about the spelling) regime. With the mass media so solidly behind MR, the people are being appeased with the Pittsburgh Promise while the thinking individuals quietly leave the PPS.

amymoore said...

totalitarian

It is much to early in the morning for me to see the tiny letters in this box.

Anonymous said...

It's true, in a lot of ways it is beginning to look like a totalitarian regime. You almost have to believe he is looking to those regimes for ideas.

Anonymous said...

Gotta go with that theme. Especially in terms of the propaganda -- it's all about what's *said* not about what's done. Rigor! High expectations! Everyone off to college! But the reality is more and more multiple choice "PSSA type" tests which is not really a "rigorous" lesson plan for anyone.

Even if that's not the intention, it is absolutely the effect.

Anonymous said...

Making Learning Fun, you could be right but I predict Colfax will remain an ALA and be held up as example of great success for all to see.

sick of the whining said...

What? I am a BOE plant because I disagree with some posters? Thats actually funny because I have been a gadfly to the board for a long time. My kids are gone from the PPS now, so I really dont care as much any more. I would like to see the progress made under Roosevelt continue, tho. Sadly, I predict more student population decline in the future.

Questioner said...

Can you explain what progress you mean? In particular, what progress in the PPS (as opposed to something like the Pittsburgh Promise which may in the future affect PPS indirectly).

sick of the whining said...

Apparently no defense of the Superintendent or the Board is possible on this forum, so I will stop trying. I read this blog simply to find out what people are saying about the District. I think Roosevelt is a very capable administrator, and the Board is working well with him and also with each other since he came to Pittsburgh.

I understand that people fear change. Many, many parents were comfortable with their child's school or sequence of schools. They camped out to get in to magnets, managed to get all their kids tested for giftedness, and were very smug about how settled things were. Sadly, too many other schools did not share the prestige of a few, and the district as a whole suffered. Now the apple cart is being rearranged and everyone is unsettled. Perhaps it will result in a better district overall, perhaps not.

Questioner said...

A defense would be great but please be specific. Upsetting the apple cart is not in itself progress. How have conditions improved at Oliver, Peabody, or Westinghouse? Has anything changed at Allderdice, Brashear or Carrick or feeder schools like Sterrett?

sick of the whining said...

Hopefully someone from those schools will comment. My kids are out of school, so I know nothing about actual conditions inside any of the schools.

amymoore said...

Whining, please correct me if I am wrong: You have no children currently in the school, so are you basing your opinion of Mr. Roosevelt on what you read in the PG or do you have a more reliable source? The mass media love the man but I doubt that many of them would actually enroll their kids in the PPS. My opinion has been formed from first-hand meetings with the man or from talking with teacher, kids, and parents currently in the system. I know that much of what the Schenley parents say is discounted because we are angry about losing the building. The loss of the building was just a small part of our discontent. Kaplan curriculum, Spampinato, K-8, 6-12, forming more segregated schools, not addressing the real problems of the high schools (believe it or not the Pittsburgh Promise is not the solution to the drop-out problem), bragging about the rise in test scores that continue to lag the state. I have watched while good experienced teachers transfer out of schools. Think back to your own education. What do you remember best: the standardized curriculum or the inspiring teacher that made your education real? Putting teachers into a straitjacket will not solve our inner city education woes.

Anonymous said...

Management issues:

Lack of upward mobility of teachers and administrative staff at the Board

Competency of the administrators and the school principals

Misappropriation of monies on contracting projects

Hiring practices (nepotism and cronism)

Poor teacher and staff morale

Waste, fraud and mismanagement

Lack of motivational curriculums that promotes/encourages learning

Disparities in pay scales

Excessive hiring of outside consultants with high paid salaries. No room for internal advancement

Teachers are not included in the decision making process of the curriculum

Observer said...

To be sure, I believe that teachers tend to approach curriculum changes and administrative proclamations quite differently. There are some who had great autonomy for myriad years and as such, have forgotten that they are not calling the shots. Gone are the days when teachers essentially were their own curriculum writers, to boot. Simply put, I think that any teacher who bucks what is coming to them as course materials and policy does so at great peril. Perhaps the biggest "change" this type of teacher needs to embrace is the fact that this is not 1975. Oversight now rules the day.
There are some who believe that curriculum and administrative decisions are out of touch with what students need. While they may not decide to ignore curriculum and/or decisions completely, they pick and choose what they will use and what path they will follow. I don't see a great deal of difference where these two types of teachers are concerned. If it's true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the good intentions a teacher may employ by ignoring various pieces of curricula may bring disciplinary measures and again, to me, the lesson needs to be that times have changed.
I tend to think that many teachers--if not most--have cozied up to the third avenue. You see, I cannot forget that I have a boss. I cannot forget that my boss is paid for his or her decisions. I may not agree with his or her determinations, but it's not my call. I may think my boss truly is in an ivory tower somewhere but again, that's not my call. Decisions made at the administrative level which later trickle down to me are pretty clear. I know where the gray area is, and I know what the overall expectations are. I'd think it's incumbent upon me to do as I am instructed.
I'm not a big fan of intimidation, whether it comes in the form of learning walks, RISE evaluations or repeated observations done to ensure that the curriculum is being followed. But I understand why such things are being done.
Lastly, I will agree that the disparity between administrative pay and teacher pay is something that needs to be bridged. While I can understand where district is administration is coming from in many cases irregardless of my personal beliefs, I'd hope administration can do the same where teaching staff is concerned.

Observer said...

I should note that I have done a great deal of soul searching on the teacher effectiveness issue since my initial posting here on October 21st. I've try to prioritize what's important to me as a teacher, how I conduct my affairs, and the overall state of classroom education in PPS. I guess I kind of surprised myself.

Questioner said...

So Observer do you feel that the curriculum changes are improving teacher effectiveness? Or improving the worst teachers but making the best teachers less effective? Or what? Are curriculum changes making teachers less enthusiastic and if so, will less enthusiastic teachers result in less enthusiastic learners? Or can teachers find a way to incorporate the required curriculum but still personalize their classes?

Observer said...

I'm not at all sure that the curriculum is making teachers more effective. Since I truly believe that teaching effectively incorporates the idea of building rapport and empathy with students, I have some issues with the idea of freeze-dried curricula. That said, I never had enough time to figure out who was effective and who wasn't. I have always been too focused on my own classes to worry about others but in going by what the kids have said over the past couple of years, I can say that there are still individuals who can't seem to emote the information.
Your questions about teachers comes down to professionalism. The best teachers I know still make it a habit to be positive on a daily basis. They still believe there's enough wriggle room within the curriculum to personalize things. They've learned that being enthusiastic is the way to success and that such a stance tends to inspire the kids, too.
I don't have all of the answers but true teachers make lemonade when given lemons.

Anonymous said...

And wouldn't it be great if we were giving them more than lemons?

parentone said...

I have always felt more informed by reading the discussions on this blog but recently Observer has provided such fair insights that I will be taking another look at my opinions. Our personal circumstances as parents of students create our opinions. I think Observoer and most others would agree that our best teachers are NOT less effective DESPITE the curricular and procedural changes of the past few years. I also believe that incentive pay might be a good strategy for some, just like buying my son Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon cards for doing well in elementary worked for a while, but it won't work for all teachers.

I can think of at least two or three teachers my senior has had who would sooner be rewarded with control over materials they use to teach, than get a bonus. This is called integrity. I hope it is recognized and rewarded.

Observer said...

Thanks for the comments, parent. I am only wary of incentive pay because I am unsure as to who makes the call and as to what criteria is being used. I'm not sure if the process is subjective, objective or somewhere in between.
And that said, there is no doubt in my mind that incentive pay will be incorporated into our next contract. You will excuse me for saying that it does not give me any solace to know that our union has a hand in the proceedings.
It took me a while to come to grips with curricula change and the ideas behind grading policies. I think what has given me pause is the idea that for too long, many of us believed we were our own bosses. That was a misconception that was fed by past practice but at the end of the day, our profession is like any other. We have bosses and with them come expectations. I just don't see the Jeanie being forced back into the bottle where concessions are concerned, whether they be contractual or by way of curriculum and policies. From this point on, it's either grow or pay.

Someone above said change is good and to be sure, I've always embraced change. For the record, I'm not a big fan of the changes we've seen with the MR administration as I don't think they enhance the learning of the students. But I can live with it. After all, it's not my call.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes we forget that the superintendent is supposed to have a boss, too- us!

Observer said...

I agree, but the stark reality of this time period in Pittsburgh is rather simple: Roosevelt has the media in his pocket. There are absolutely no questions being asked. There's no need to worry about accountability. Additionally, there is little dissent among school board members. Usually, there are just two members who voice concerns. In a similar way, there is little dissent among taxpayers. Apathy rules the day. Taxpayers here "No tax increase" and "Free college education", and it's all they need.
I guess I have given up hope on administrators remembering who their boss is.

Anonymous said...

If Board members show little or no dissent they are praised for "getting along," unlike that board that made the foundations withhold their contributions. They wouldn't want to risk being the cause of lost money.

amymoore said...

Mr. Roosevelt and the Board should read the article in today's (10/28) PG about the PA Teacher of the Year and also the obituary of the English teacher who inspired his students. Both teachers were able to reach students and inspire them in subjects that the students did not particularly like or excel. I did not see any testimony to the excellent job these teachers did in following the curriculum. Teachers that can inspire reluctant learners are what we need in inner city schools, actually all schools, but especially schools where the students do not have the strong support systems that the wealthier schools have.

Anonymous said...

Based on past experience, you have to wonder if the superintendent will take the credit when things go well but blame the teachers when things go poorly.

parentone said...

Tweaking is a good thing. We have seen the academic coaching model change each year since the current board model was rolled out. Tweaking is also what is often done to avoid anyone saying out loud "we made a mistake and we will start over." As a parent I would be happy to hear a mistake declared once in a while and it would go a long way in building confidence in the changes our kids live with.

Anonymous said...

I looked at MR's election loss in MA back in the 90's. He lost something like 70-30 % to a Republican. This is a heavy Liberal Democratic state! pretty much sums up his expertise. Middle school teaches aren't the only ones being targeted. Try elementary also. Some of the curriculum is a joke

Anonymous said...

Clearly the approach is that we need "new schools," "new principals," and yes "new teachers." Even "new students" when existing HS students cannot come into a "new program."

But "new" will not solve everything. Milliones was all new-a new program in a newly redone building with a new principal and new teachers from outside the system- and yet there have been plenty of issues there.