Lake County, Ill.—Recently, teachers in my district received a warning that the district would be undergoing “restructuring” for the 2013-14 school year. When the superintendent visited our school after the winter break, she informed us that scores were still not reaching our goal and that sweeping changes would be necessary.
She needed to submit a “bold and innovative plan” to the state superintendent by Jan. 18 or we could be taken over by the state (i.e., all staff would be fired). We had approximately nine days to pull a plan together, with no information or ability to collaborate with other teachers.
The superintendent herself proposed changing the organization of our schools into “grade level centers.” This would remove children from the schools and teachers they know, and might mean that children from the same family would attend different schools—a parent’s transportation nightmare for drop-off/pick-up.
Then in advance of the Jan. 14 Board of Education meeting, for the first time the union exploded into action. In three days there were four meetings—two in secret. We received buttons, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” which we were instructed to wear for the rest of the year. A special “emergency communications committee” was assembled for a mass action with teachers, assistants, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, and building grounds crews.
At the Board meeting, after three hours they were still on the first point: Open Comment from the community. The most vocal and passionate group were the parents who came to support their children and the teachers. Teachers, kindergarten and elementary, middle school, and high school, got up. The current and former union presidents spoke.
A high school junior talked passionately about the need for healthy school lunches, and presented photos of moldy bread served to students. She had surveyed over 100 students, and quantitative data supported her argument on how to make lunches healthy. After her three minutes were up, the Board President attempted to stop her. The parent in line to speak after her said, “She can have my time,” and the one after that and the one after that said the same.
One parent after another delivered scathing attacks on the superintendent and her upper-level administration. The superintendent said that of five options given to the district by the state, only one was viable. The parents said it seemed like the only option she saw as “viable” was the one that insured she remained as superintendent. One parent asked, “Can you go to the state superintendent and present another possible option to consider: your resignation?” This was met with thunderous applause.
Parents were livid that data on the supposed dire state of district scores had been collected for four years, but had never been shared with them. One parent said, “I love my teachers and how they do their jobs. They care and they work so hard under unbelievable conditions. I don’t agree with how YOU are doing YOUR jobs.”
As I left the Board meeting, I felt the most gratified in my six years as a teacher. The satisfaction of having the truth finally be told touched me to my foundation.
The following morning we heard the news that the adjoining school district had just gone out on strike.