California Educator

October 09

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autocratic, top-down style of Superintendent Deborah Sims. Their efforts paid off when the embatt led superintendent resigned in May. Members call it a bittersweet victory. Sims was appointed superin- tendent of the Antioch Unified School District in 2006, replac- ing a longtime administrator who had a positive relationship with AEA members. From the start, it was clear the new super- intendent wasn’t interested in working with teachers or hear- ing their viewpoint. “We had a Curriculum Coun- cil that consisted of teachers, ad- ministrators, a school board mem- ber and the superintendent,” re- calls Dylan Howell, a member of the bargaining team who teaches at Antioch High School. “Any time there was consideration of a new textbook or a new course, the members would debate and vote on it. That was the first thing she got rid of. Before she came here, there were a number of processes in place where decisions were made collectively. Once she came, they were eliminated.” Part of the problem, says How- ell, is that former superintendent Sims was a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, found- ed by billionaire Eli Broad, who is a strong believer in the idea that schools should be run as a busi- ness. The Broad Foundation has invested millions in recruiting and training superintendents and school board members. It has also financed anti-union candidates in California school board races and spent millions on privatized char- ter schools. “She expected that when she Antioch educators organize, superintendent resigns F or three years, members of the Antioch Education Asso- ciation organized against the said ‘Jump,’ teachers would say ‘How high?’” says Howell. “In- stead, teachers ask why they should jump and how they can jump better. When people didn’t jump, she would get livid.” portation and counseling for our special students.” Discipline was not enforced at school sites, say teachers, and safety problems increased. So the AEA conducted a school site cording to 75 percent of elemen- tary school, 79 percent of middle school and 98 percent of high school teachers. The situation worsened when She demeaned and intimidated a number of employees in the dis- trict office, says Howell, resulting in a large and unnecessary turn- over. And she made decisions that adversely affected students with- out consulting with teachers. Denise James, a special educa- tion teacher in the district and a member of the AEA Executive Board, takes it a step further by criticizing Sims for both ignoring and overruling the advice of pro- fessional teachers. “Under state and federal law,” says James, “the pro- fessionals on an IEP team are to develop an indi- vidualized educa- tion program de- signed to address a student’s spe- cific challenges. Once Sims arrived on the scene, the professionals on an IEP team had their hands tied when told by the district they could no longer include such ser- vices as one-on-one aides, trans- top: Antioch Education Association members gather together during a protest. “Early on, we began to realize that this had to be dealt with in a powerful way. So we organized.” AEA President Gary Hack safety survey that reported the following: Teachers say their stu- dents have told them they feel unsafe at school, according to 58 percent of elementary school, 76 percent of mid- dle school and 95 percent of high s chool teachers sur- veyed. Teachers see discrepan- cies in “zero tol- erance” policies, according to 73 percent of ele- mentary school teachers, 87 per- cent of middle school and 95 percent of high school teachers surveyed. Sixty-four percent of high school teachers and 51 per- cent of middle school teachers said they had considered leaving the district due to lax discipline. Consequences for student be- havior are not consistent, ac- Superintendent Sims refused to bring any portion of the increase the district received from the state in 2007-08 to the bargain- ing table and took away funds that were already on the bargain- ing table. Sims also imposed new requirements for sick leave that were in violation of the contract and proposed reducing the lunch period. After 19 bargaining ses- sions, six mediation sessions and 17 months of bargaining, she re- portedly told teachers she had presented her “best and last” of- fer. Members believe it was just another tactic to continue stall- ing the process indefinitely. Enough was finally enough. “Early on, we began to realize that this had to be dealt with in a powerful way,” says AEA President Gary Hack. “So we organized.” Hundreds of teachers showed up to protest Sims’ dictatorial tac- tics at school board meetings, 97 percent of AEA members cast a vote of no confidence in her, and 98.5 percent voted no on her “last and best” offer. Then Antioch’s parents joined their teachers to protest against Sims before the board. In May, she resigned. “It was an amazing victory for us,” says Sandy Wilbanks, chair of the AEA organizing team. “We worked tirelessly to educate and organize our fellow teachers to fight for their rights — and also the rights of the students. Even with what is happening in the economy, it’s up to teachers to pro- tect education, protect children and be the keepers of education.” sherry posnick-Goodwin september 2009 | 31 octo Photo courtesy of Antioch Education Association

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