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Teachers To School Board: 'Our Members Will Be Heard One Way Or Another'

President of Fairfax County teachers union says bad climate intimidates and bullies teachers, discourages feedback

A teachers' union representing thousands of teachers says its members are afraid to offer input or speak out about classroom or curriculum changes.

But intimidation and bullying of teachers at certain schools from FCPS administrators are not new issues, the union says.

Stephen Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the climate in schools across the county has been deteriorating for a decade, and despite several attempts to create an ongoing dialogue about the issue, it hasn't improved.

"Many teachers in this system are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Whether their fears are founded in reality or simply perceived, the fact they feel that way is not healthy," Greenburg said in a speech to school board members Thursday night, adding "the attitude of 'keep quiet and do your job, unless you want me to find someone else to do it in your place' must end."

The issue also came to light at a school board candidates' forum last Saturday, during which School Board Member Dan Storck said his wife, employed by FCPS, doesn't feel comfortable giving input in her environment, according to Greenburg and parents at the forum.

"This dynamic is real, and it's out there," Greenburg said.

Greenburg said the recent promotion of Phyllis Pajardo to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources is  "a good first step in eliminating this culture of intimidation, one that had been established by her predecessor," and his members have already seen positive changes in how the department handles employee issues. 

"She is fair and consistent so far, and her approach is much appreciated," Greenburg said. "She is the kind of person that can change [this culture]."

The issue plays into a long-standing request from FCFT and the county's other teachers union, Fairfax Education Association, for more communication with the board and a consistent, open, ongoing avenue for dialogue.

In January, Greenburg and FEA President Michael Hairston by administrative and technology demands in their classrooms, saying "morale is at an all-time low."

At that meeting, during which the board approved student achievement goals for math, science and technology,Greenburg told the board that a key piece of data — teacher input — was missing from the goals. The goals did not include any current information about the success or downfalls of instruction and curriculum in the classroom, he said.

Since then, the unions have asked for dedicated monthly meetings with a committee of school board members, similar to how the board meets with other groups and advisory councils.

While Superintendent Jack Dale has since invited the board chair to sit in on his meetings with the unions, Greenburg said, a way for the unions to consistently communicate directly with the board has yet to be established.

Such a meeting could help school board members ask for teacher input, and also allow the unions to bring teacher issues forward — in theory, Greenburg said, addressing the 'climate of intimidation' before it escalated to the atmosphere that exists today.

Michele Menapace October 21, 2011 at 12:50 PM
The leadership of Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform urges voters to learn about candidates before they enter the voting booth. Citizens who want more significant reforms to the FCPS student discipline process--one that is based on restorative justice rather than meting out punishment, a process that ensures both safety & security while remaining centered on what's best for our students--should consider our endorsed candidates: At Large: Steve Stuban, Sheree Brown-Kaplan, Lolita Mancheno Smoak Braddock District: Megan McLaughlin Dranesville District: Louise Epstein Hunter Mill District: Pat Hynes and Nancy Linton Mt. Vernon District: Dan Storck Springfield District: Elizabeth Schultz Sully District: Sheila Ratnam In uncontested Mason District, we also recognize the efforts of incumbent Sandra Evans for her ongoing commitment to discipline reform. All FZTR-endorsed candidates are also supported by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. For more information about FZTR and our candidate endorsements, see www.fairfaxzerotolerancereform.org. Michele Menapace Communications Director Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR)
John Wittman October 21, 2011 at 01:00 PM
I agree with Mr. Greenburg's request for dedicated monthly meetings with a committee of the school board. I would expand this group to include the Superintendent and his people as well as other employee groups. My written response to both FCFT and FEA at the time of their candidate endorsement reviews included this as my “campaign promise” to establish a “labor-management-board” council to address both strategic and day-to-day issues. Teachers and all other employees must be heard by school leadership, and a dedicated meeting is an excellent start. John Wittman School Board Candidate for the Springfield District
Will Radle October 21, 2011 at 01:48 PM
If I am elected Fairfax County Chairman, teachers will have a new powerful advocate who listens and will not allow intimidation of anyone. We need to unite around our highest values and invest in our highest priorities. I am proud and thankful Democratic and Republican senators and delegates helped put me on the November 8 ballot for Fairfax County Chairman. I am honored the Independent Green Party trusts me to address their concerns. Thank you for letting me share. Vote on November 8. A. Will Radle, Jr. (I) Independent Candidate for Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors FairfaxAdvocates@gmail.com 571-358-9711
Heather in Fairfax October 21, 2011 at 06:00 PM
FCPS--the principals, the superintendent's office, and the school board--definitely needs to do a better job of getting teacher input about what works, what doesn't, what would make everyone's lives better in the school, etc. That being said: (1) Employees feel intimidated about criticizing their boss's policies in practically EVERY workplace. This problem isn't unique to the school system, but the good news is that plenty of people have thought about ways to work around this problem. (2) The unions shouldn't presume they speak for all the teachers. Many FCPS teachers are not a member of any union, since Virginia is a right-to-work state. Any good HR consultant can provide workable ways for teachers to provide anonymous feedback directly to their supervisors, without being filtered by union officials who may have their own agendas to serve.
Linda Bartlett October 21, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Every school board candidate endorsed by the Fairfax County Republican Committee is running on a platform of increased assets in the classroom and increased responsiveness by the system to students and parents. To make that program successful there would automatically need to be a coordination with the teacher and therefore require each teacher's input. My guess is Stephen Greenburg on behalf of his members has no endorsed every Democrat running for the school board- in effect continuing the culture of no oversight, ineffectual policies, and ignoring the concern of teachers, parent and students. Every voter in Fairfax understands the county school board is a mess, and to change that challengers must be elected, instead of continuing to do the same thing over and over-ie elect Democrats- and hope for a different outcome. Voting for any Democrat endorsed candidate is a vote for the status quo and that is not good for the students, their parents, and now Mr Greenburg tells us, not good for the teachers either.
Heather Barber October 21, 2011 at 09:18 PM
While the School Board is now a body of elected representatives, it used to be one of appointed representatives. The issues involved with educating children should not have anything to do with partisan politics, and I don't believe that is currently the case. When it comes to the School Board, I am not sure why we are even asking for a party affiliation from candidates - it's inane and should be discontinued. Even more inane is the implication that Democrat-endorsed incumbents have caused all of the school system's problems, but perhaps the most inane of all is that voters should abandon all Democrat-endorsed candidates. Turning education into party politics issue is unwise, to say the least. Listen to what candidates have to say and make your choice -elephants and donkeys should be left out of the discussion.
Heather Barber October 21, 2011 at 09:26 PM
And, for the record, all three of the FCFT endorsed at-large-candidates are independent...and Stephen Greenburg does not do the endorsing on behalf of his members - the members do the endorsing themselves, collectively.
Linda Bartlett October 21, 2011 at 09:35 PM
One need only look at the results of the Democrat group think that has dominated the school board for more than 2 decades to decide not to vote for any more of that. Democrat Tina Hone had the right ideas and the right intentions, but found the work place hostile and had a hand in recruiting many of the challenging candidates running this year. If she sees Republican endorsed as the answer who am I to argue. What's needed is a new philosophy, a new mind-set, new blood, and a determination to reform. If you want to blame someone for partisanship, blame the current board members who have abused their authority, provided no oversight, think every problem can be solved by throwing more money at it (gee, where are we hearing that time and again?), and have substantively ceded all fiscal responsibility to the superintendent. I suppose you'd rather have the inexperienced 25 year old whose issue is the $100 fee for playing football. For myself, I'm looking for more substance than that.
Mike Kane October 22, 2011 at 01:22 AM
Easy now. The whole solution to this problem is vouchers. Unions themselves promote inefficiencies in both the labor market, and when it comes to education. Morale is at all time low because teachers do not have merit pay. No matter how hard you work you don't receive more money. How well you teach isn't tied into your salary. There's no incentive to work harder.
Heather Barber October 22, 2011 at 02:23 AM
I disagree, Mike. Morale is at an all time low because teachers are not respected. What most people don't understand is that the people who choose to teach are very unique - it takes a certain kind a person to want to teach, knowing all the negatives in the equation...and every fellow teacher I have ever met has that "certain something" about them that non-teachers do not. The vast majority of us will stay in the classroom forever - regardless of the salary we are paid. The vast majority of us do not need recognition or merit pay - we just want to be heard, as we really are the ones who know the most when it comes to the needs of students. If money were an incentive, we wouldn't be teaching in the first place. Do you really think we would be better teachers if we were paid more money?? Please explain because that sounds like a magic wand that poofs us into good teachers....we are ALREADY excellent teachers. The only thing that higher salaries will do is, perhaps, draw more talented people to the profession - which is a great thing - but thost of us who are already waist deep in it are there to stay.
Heather Barber October 22, 2011 at 02:23 AM
cont'd... Don't get me wrong - it's not that we care nothing about our salaries...paying us more would mean treating us like the highly educated and highly qualified (not to mention extremely dedicated) professionals that we are. Raising the starting salary might draw more talented people to the profession - but merit pay will do nothing but create resentment among teachers and an even greater mistrust of those in the position to evaluate. We're used to collaborating and supporting one another - not competing for bonuses, etc. The merit pay debate is simply another example of "regular" people thinking they know how to fix the problem - I haven't heard one teacher say he/she is in favor of merit pay...and there are a lot of complex reasons why it won't work. But why would anyone listen to US?
Will Radle October 22, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Thank you for being a teacher. Can you share your perspective on why 42 percent of FCPS teachers leave in first 5 years? Teacher take home pay has decreased every year the incubment has been chairman. I am trying to understand, at least anecdotally, what role the reductions in take home pay has had in nearly half of our new teachers leaving. Thanks, A. Will Radle, Jr. (I) Independent Candidate for Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors FairfaxAdvocates@gmail.com YouTube.com/WillRadle1
Mike Kane October 24, 2011 at 03:07 PM
My girlfriend is a FCPS teacher with a masters degree. My mother works as a special needs assistant in FCPS. That is my experience
Nancy Linton October 25, 2011 at 04:18 AM
I agree with both teachers unions that their input is vital. I have talked with so many teachers who tell me they fear they will lose their jobs if they speak up. I have been saying throughout my campaign that I will create a task force of teachers to regularly advise the School Board. Teachers are tired of this top down approach in which administrators making 2 to 4 times as much as they do dictate how they should teach and evaluate their students. Two different P. E. teachers told me FCPS wants them to take their students into the computer lab to give them e-cart tests about sports and health when they could be outside learning a sport and exercising to get healthy. I decided to run for school board in high school while seeing my dad, a public school teacher miss meals to help pay for me to go to private school with financial aid. Teachers must be paid well, respected as professionals, and drive this school system. Improving teacher morale is one of my highest priorities. The way to do this is for the school board stopping Dr. Dale from promoting this spirit of intimidation and inviting teachers to the table. Nancy Linton, School Board Candidate Hunter Mill District
Will Radle October 25, 2011 at 01:28 PM
As a candidate for Fairfax County Chairman, I want to thank you Nancy for your commitment. Together we will actively listen and take responsible action. A. Will Radle, Jr. Independent Candidate for Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors FairfaxAdvocates@gmail.com YouTube.com/WillRadle1 571-358-9711
Chris Antoniou October 25, 2011 at 04:25 PM
Nancy's comments are spot on. One addition: both teachers and parents should have a direct, non-voting representative -- in addition to the twelve elected, voting members -- on the school board. Our two teachers' associations/unions (FEA and FCFT) should have a representative, as should the PTAs (through the FCCPTAs). Those two individuals would not only provide additional substantive input on behalf of our teachers and parents, respectively, but, also, would increase the extent to which our entire community feels a sense of involvement in and, ownership of, our schools. My brother-in-law, Steve Stuban -- a candidate for an at-large seat on the board -- supports this initiative. It makes sense to at least trial it for a year to see if it yields the foregoing benefits.
Cassie November 09, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Great Idea Chris. Too bad Steve did not win. Hopefully the new school board will consider this initiative.

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