Seattle teachers held signs outside Eckstein Middle School Wednesday to fight for a number of issues still unresolved a week before school is slated to begin. At the rally, teachers shouted "We want to go to work!"
A spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools, Teresa Whipple, echoed the same sentiment of wanting school to start on time, and the district respecting and valuing teachers. But the contract is still not finished. The Seattle Education Association president said that some of their priorities are in resolving unpaid extra hours elementary school teachers would work, and revising the teacher evaluation system that they say will soon be outdated. "There's a lot of work to be done," Knapp said. "But it can be done." He said that teachers simply need a fair contract.
Whipple said that some of the issues will be resolved, but that they also don't have unlimited resources to meet all demands. She said that the district will offer to restore one paid hour of professional development time per week, which the previous contract proposal removed for elementary school teachers. Meanwhile, elementary school teachers might still face an extra half hour each day for prep time, without receiving more pay.
Whipple said that the district is willing to delay the start of longer hours until the following year. "It's not like we're taking away. We're just restoring it to what it used to be," she said, explaining that the hours were shortened several years ago. She said that previously, teachers could also take professional development days during the academic calendar, but that the state was unwilling to issue a waiver to count the days in the same way this year. She said they therefore had to create a way for professional development time to be added into each school day.
That's just one of the many issues. Teachers also objected to the teacher evaluation system. Teresa Alsett, an eighth grade teacher, said, "Holding all teachers to high standards, but the same standards as the rest of the state. Not different standards for some teachers like the district is wanting to do."
Seattle Public Schools currently has a more stringent evaluation for teachers than the rest of the state and is therefore the only district in the state to comply with No Child Left Behind, according to Whipple. She said that compliance earns the district millions of dollars in federal grants and has boosted academic achievement. But Jonathan Knapp, the president of the teachers' union, said that No Child Left Behind may soon change anyway, and the testing requirements would be outdated.
Still, these issues are coming up late in the summer, surprising some parents. "Maybe this is just gamesmanship on everyone's part," said Melissa Westbrook, who blogs for Seattle Schools Community Forum. Westbrook doesn't believe there will be a strike. "Honestly in mind, I cannot believe either side has the stomach to do this. So I think parents should go out and buy those pencils and notebooks and backpacks," she said.