Thursday, February 28, 2013

Public Education Day on Capitol Hill

March 11 at 6:00 p.m. - Public Education Day on Capitol Hill

This rally is to ask legislators to increase the WPU by 2%. Bring your family, friends, and neighbors. 

Sign the online petition asking legislators to increase the WPU by 2%.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Excellent Letter

The following letter is from JEA member Leslie Thompson.  She gave me permission to share it with you.  She has articulately expressed what many of us as classroom teachers are feeling. 

February 23, 2013

Dear Superintendent Johnson, Representative McCay, and Governor Herbert:
For several reasons, this has been the most challenging year of my teaching career. One reason is that I'm teaching a new curriculum, but my students will still be tested on the old one. Another reason involves our district’s recent implementation of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and constant demand for statistics and results when there hasn't been enough time to gather either. A fellow teacher and I have dedicated a surplus of 80 hours outside of our contract time to develop and begin implementing the required common assessments. In addition to preparing a new curriculum for three different courses, writing a new assessment, participating in committees and clubs, and losing class time to PLCs (which I believe in, but they need time to actually work before I can assess their success), assemblies, testing, and completing requisite test-prep packets (by this I mean students filling out bubble sheets about whether or not they want to mow lawns when they grow up), I'm expected to do my day job – help kids improve and hone their reading analysis, writing and thinking skills. And I'm doing it for less money than I was a few years ago.

I'm not asking for a raise. I'm asking for an improvement in the way we see education and the role of teachers. We frequently hear that teachers are the constant and most effective factor in improving student skills – but a truer statement is that teachers are the most effective of the controllable factors within a school system. Since schools can't control parents or poverty, which are greater factors in student success, we focus on just telling teachers to do more with less. The constant barrage of teacher bashing and trying to fire "bad teachers" is ruining the profession for the majority of us who are good. And I promise you, I'm good at my job. You may ask my students, the parents of my students, or the administrators who talk to those students and work with me directly. Better yet, instead of asking my students about my teaching, ask them about the world – ask them about what they've learned and how they think. Read some of their essays or watch some of their presentations. I know that actually asking the people who matter what they think takes too much time. So, fine. Look at my test scores. They're good. Pick a test, any test: SRI? CRT? ACT? Department common assessment? My kids take them all and I'm not worried about their scores – but those scores are byproducts of ten years of other great teachers, good parents, healthy kids, and the fact that I lucked out and teach honors and AP classes. You are welcome to look at my test scores, but they paint a small portion of the picture of who my students are and how effective I am at my job.

There is money in saying that education is bad. Large companies and corporations make money when teachers are blamed – they can develop programs and sell textbooks and tax payers pay them to fix me. So we'll continue to say our education system is broken because corporate profits are more important than our kids. But if we're really worried about student success, and we really want to find models of success to emulate and implement, let's do that. The answer isn't charter schools or school vouchers. We like to compare our kids to kids in more academically successful countries – and it's not charter schools that make those countries’ students successful. Nope, it's a combination of low poverty rates and teachers who are well trained, well compensated, and well respected. It's not programs or textbooks or private schools. It is good curriculum with minimal testing. It is training teachers and giving them the time and respect to do what they do well and improving the living conditions of children so they can actually have the energy to be successful. That's it. It's simple – not easy, but simple.

Right now, you are the people who have the most control over the students I care about. Please care about the students more than politics. Please actually read the research about what makes schools better – research by people and organizations without a vested financial interest in your believing one way or another; research by people who care about kids more than pocketbooks. Of course I would love a raise; but what I'd love even more is the respect I deserve and the support to actually work with my students to help them be better citizens – fewer tests, more actual time in class with each student, and an environment that encourages them to value academics and be creative, critical, innovative, and interested.

I know that we live in a conservative climate and that the current desire to test kids and get rid of "bad teachers" through merit pay and other de-centives permeates the rhetoric. I don't believe it opposes the conservative values of our culture to localize the control of education to the school level, eliminate bureaucracy, and stop paying large corporations to tell us how to do our jobs. A good education is a fundamental right for all children and is necessary for our great country to be successful. Privatizing education and pitting teachers against each other will not accomplish the goal of encouraging all children to think critically while preparing them for a diverse workforce and participation in their communities. There are better ways that have the benefit of being both simpler and more just for all kids.

This article and this one outline some of the ideas I've shared here. I think they’re worth considering, even if you think the ideas are too "liberal." In my perfect society, we'd care more about the value of an idea than whether it came from a liberal or a conservative person. But maybe teaching our kids to think this way – to question and analyze and consider multiple perspectives – is the reason we want them to take bubble tests and forget to think. If teachers actually got to help kids be critical thinkers, we might get a generation who questioned their leaders and thought for themselves. But I'd like to believe that we all really do want to do the right thing and are just struggling to define what that right thing is. These articles should help with that definition.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Leslie Thompson, M.Ed.
Riverton High School
English Department

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Special Education Task Force

I attended the Special Education Task Force meeting yesterday.  I am not certified in special education, so there is a lot I do not understand.  So much of it is paperwork compliance.  Beth Usui said that having accurate IEP's and progress notes helps when she has to defend what is happening for a particular student.

Resource teachers who are backlogged on testing for new referrals or reevaluations can schedule assistance through Beth. 

Jordan District is higher on the number of students in settings outside the regular school setting (cluster/support classes, alternative schools) due to the number of group homes and foster care placements within district boundaries.  DCFS and DSPD like the programs Jordan has to offer these students, but it does place a greater burden on the special services staff.  Beth is encouraging these agencies to place students in programs in the district where their parent/guardian reside, if an appropriate program exists.

Beth talked about using the "Other Health Impairment" classification too much.

Beth said she has addressed in newsletters the need for all special education teachers who are absent to have a substitute in place.  There has been a problem at a few schools where pull-out groups are just canceled when the resource teacher is gone.  This should not be happening, because then the IEP is not being followed.

There are three pieces to consider if a child needs special education services:  classification, that classification is adversely affecting academic performance, and the child needs specialized instruction.

I learned a lot at this meeting!

Thursday, February 14, 2013


There has been ongoing concern about the no fill rates on substitutes.  In January, 92% of sub jobs were filled.  That means in a large middle or high school, if 10 teachers are out on professional development, it is likely that one of those teacher's classes will not be covered.  This January there was 252 MORE sub jobs than last January.  Some of this is due to professional development, and some to the flu. 

Some suggestions to help ensure you have a substitute when needed:
  • If you will be out for PD, personal day, sick day for doctor appointment, alternative day, or bereavement day, and you know in advance, enter the absence in Aesop as soon as you know
  • If you are ill in the morning, don't wait for the sub office to open so you can call, enter the absence in Aesop immediately
  • If you don't know how to use Aesop, ask someone on your team/department/secretary to set up a bookmark and walk you through how to use the system 
  • Keep your Aesop information at home and at school

Legislative Town Hall

I attended a Legislative Town Hall meeting last night at South Jordan City Hall.  Senator Osmond, Representatives Cunningham, Ivory, and McCay were in attendance.  Only about 40 contituents were there.  My notes may be a little jumbled, because the discussion changed direction based on questions from those in attendance.  There is another Legislative Town Hall being sponsored by PTA and Jordan District on Tuesday, February 19 from 7:00-8:30 at Elk Ridge Middle School.  The same legislators and others are expected to be in attendance.

Rep. Cunningham reviewed constituent survey results.  Raising sales tax on food to previous levels, 82% against.  How to spend $20 million surplus if state has it in order of preference:  public education, rainy day fund, higher education, general fund.  Affordable Care Act question, most people answered they did not have enough information; however 48% said to opt in and 52% said to stay out.  Federal lands issue dealing with the 67% of Utah lands controlled by federal government .  Again, most people did not have enough information.  Adding a master liquor license for restaurants.   71% said to change.  Utah is not the worst state as far as liquor laws go.  Most residents are satisfied with South Jordan.  A few concerns include not have enough bus routes to get people to TRAX and FrontRunner, synchronize traffic signals, clear sidewalks of snow on 2200 W. and 2700 W. On gun control, the majority want to defend second amendment rights, but want more done on mental health issues and background checks.

Senator Osmond said that he is concerned about RDAs and CDAs impact on local school district funding.

Representative Ivory said for public education, Utah is lowest per pupil funding, teachers are burdened with federal and state mandates, and there are societal issues impacting students.

Senator Osmond said they are looking at Olene Walker reading fund (K-3 Literacy money) to see if the money could be used more effectively.  Percent of state budget spent on public education is the 8th highest in the nation.  We need incremental funding of retirement and social security to be above the line.

Susan Pulsipher from the Jordan School Board shared information from the Utah Taxpayers Association.  Jordan District is 41 of 41 districts in per student amount in general fund. Total spending per student for Jordan is at 39 of 41 districts.

A Jordan teacher asked about stopping state retirement all together. 

One former University of Utah professor suggested looking at professor salaries at the U. He said 200 people making over $200,000 a year.

Representative Ivory talked about federal lands.  He said we can't tax land to educate kids, can't grow economy, feds are not keeping promise to release lands gradually, can't mine, can't access land, no harvesting timber.  New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona are running similar bills.  Eastern states running resolutions to support this.  Arguments against taking over federal lands include a quick claim to federal government at statehood that when feds dispose of land, it must come to states for public education.  Some people believe the state can't manage the land as well.  Some people say the lands belong to everyone.  Still other say taking the federal lands under state control is unconstitutional.  He said Al Quida is plotting to use wildfire to attack, because we just let the trees grow in forested areas.  Group is called "Inspire".

40% of Utah government dollars spent are from federal government.  Printing money devalues the dollar.

Western Growth Coalition has started Financial Ready Utah website and Facebook. Assess risk of losing 40% of funding from Feds.  Fiscal sustainability plans at local level.  Government must fund sick people, poor people, education, transportation, and public safety.

One attendee said that as a federal taxpayer, she expects some of her federal taxes to come back to the state.  She cited studies about not being legal on federal lands challenge. She doesn't want to spend money for this to be fought in court.

Representative Cunningham is concerned about lack of participation by public.

Representative Ivory said the rules committee is holding all gun bills in right now.  Will send out all of them in one package. Question about why a citizen would want an assault rifle. He said that an assault rifle and a deer hunting rifle have the same power and use the same ammunition, but have a different exterior.  Percentage of gun owners in Utah is 48%. We are one of the highest in nation for number of gun owners.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Educator Day on the Hill

The main message UEA wanted us to share with legislators is to fully fund growth and increase the WPU by 3%.  The State Office is recommending 2%, and the governor is recommending 1.5%.  Ginny, Dena, and I were able to talk to the majority of representatives for the Jordan District area.  Most of the representatives listened respectfully, so it was a good experience. 

If you haven't been to the legislature as a citizen lobbyist for education, I encourage you to attend.  See this post for future dates and send me your information if you would like to go.

Meeting with Dr. Johnson

I had my monthly meeting with Superintendent Johnson on Thursday.  I asked about principal transfers.  She said she expects some, and they will happen after the Teacher Transfer Fairs. 

We talked about the four common practices of successful elementary schools in Jordan District:  well-functioning PLC's, Balanced Literacy, Math and Reading Benchmarks, and Interventions.  If your principal is really pushing these items, it is because s/he is being told to do them from the district level.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In Memory of Bien Flores

West Jordan Middle School teacher and JEA member Bien Flores passed away from cancer.  You can read his obituary here.  Bien was a great teacher and will be missed!

This link will take you to a piece on Fox 13 News about Bien.

I had the honor of taking a Death Benefit check ho Bien's wife yesterday.  She wanted all teachers who will donate to know that she is "thankful from the bottom of my heart". 

View the Thank You e-card from Bien's wife to JEA and all of his education friends.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Council of Local Presidents

UEA will be working on providing information about SB 64: Education Employment Reform to members.  Are you aware of the new teacher and leader standards?  Do you know what changes will be coming to evaluations in 2014-2015?  These are the questions we will be providing answers to over the next few months.

Vote in the UEA Elections!  Go to myUEA to see information about each candidate.  Vote here!  You need your member number, which was sent to you in an email and is on your membership card.  Click "Select Election".  Click "I want to Vote".  Vote for President, Vice President, Delegate-at-Large (Tina Susuico teaches in Jordan at Majestic), and Successor Delegate-at-Large.  Click "Vote".  Click "Confirm".  Click "Logout".

NEA Directors appreciate stories from classrooms that support issues they are addressing.  I will share those issues and ask for stories through Facebook and Twitter when I learn about them.

Some bills to watch (see the UEA tracking sheet):
HB49:  Voted and Board Levy Programs Amendment - would provide one time money of $8.3 million that should have been distributed and has not.
HB55:  Amendments Related to Education Funding - freezes property tax rates so they don't go down when property values go up to keep districts revenue neutral, so there would be new revenue.
HB59:  School Board Elections Provisions - would have direct elections for state school board members instead of being selected by a committee.
HB63:  Severance Tax Amendments - credits taxes on natural resources like oil and natural gas to a permanent state trust fund.
HB64:  Felon's Right to Hold Office - prohibits convicted sex offenders from running for state or local school boards.
HB76:  Concealed Weapon Carry Amendments - changes rules on concealed weapons.
HB255:  Classified School Employee Amendments - increases number of hours required to receive state retirement for classified employees from 20+ hours to 30+ hours.
HB264:  Property Tax Notice Amendments - requires disclosure of amount of property taxes going to charter schools on property tax notice.
HB267:  State Board of Education Elections - returns to old way of selecting state school board candidates, which is local districts submitting names of candidates.
HB269:  Training of School Nurses - looks at scope of duty for approving activities for students with head injuries.
HB271:  Funding for Public Education - 25% of future growth in profits from alcohol sales to be set aside for teacher salary, benefits, and professional development.
HJR3:  Property Tax Exemption for Public Schools - exempts charter schools from paying property taxes or the company holding the lease from passing property taxes on to charter schools.
SB1:  Public Education Base Budget - base budget is same as this year.  Still expect to add money for growth.  May have to amend after sequestration in D.C. is complete.
SB110:  School-based Budgeting Amendments - "backpack" bill where money follows a student.
SB133:  School Performance Report Amendments - this would require a report of performance by teacher.
SB134:  Utah Performance Assessment Systems for Students (U-PASS) Amendments - eliminates UBSCT, and adds EXPLORE, PLAN, and ACT tests.  Changes U-PASS to U-CAS.
SJR5:  Joint Resolution on State Superintendent of Public Instruction - requires governor's approval of state superintendent appointment.