Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Professional, Caring, Exceptional

I spent time today with our newest group of members preparing to become Nationally Board Certified Teachers. They have come together for a program we borrowed from our sister organization in Washington State, WEA, called Jump Start.

This is a time for members interested in growing their professional expertise by taking an in-depth look at their practice. The national teacher standards form the basis of an identifiable skillset and candidates proceed through a comprehensive review of their own work using these ideals as a lens. The group is facilitated by three NBCTs who are committed to helping and supporting others in their work to become the very best teachers they can be. Throughout the year, the group is encouraged to serve as a support system and sounding board for those working their way through this extremely rigorous process. Many teachers I know who are NBCTs have stated that this is the best professional development they have ever experienced. I think this is because the process is personal and individual to each teacher. Taking a real look at our practice as educators is invaluable!

So, why are we investing this effort and resources into candidates for NBCT? Times are changing and we must keep pace. Those coming into the profession recently cite professional development as their greatest interest in how being a member of the union can help them. Yes, the fundamental needs of the union, bargaining contracts and rights concern, are still important. Those newest in the teaching ranks want more professional offerings from us and we are working hard to meet the need. This is why our Fall Event conference is now squarely centered on professional development offerings for all categories of members. Local associations can still request bargaining and rights training through their UniServ Directors, but our statewide focus has changed to meet the needs of members.

I wish the very best for those beginning the process of becoming recognized as National Board Certified Teachers!


Monday, April 30, 2012

My Sister-In-Law

My sister-in-law, Anna, was in Anchorage over the weekend to support my nephew as a member of his school's Native Youth Olympics (NYO) team. We had a wonderful chance to watch the athletes in action and catch up on a number of topics.

Anna is a teacher and has been for 28 years. Her work is phenomenal and she is the backbone of her school program. She fills in when the principal has to be gone, provides support for those new to her school, advises students and staff members needing help with everything from where to find gradudation decorations in the attic to which companies to order supplies from that are reliable, and is a trusted member of the community. When she supports an idea, the people of her village know they can trust her and the idea because she carefully weighs it out before lending her name to it.

Stability in a school makes a world of difference for our children. They and their families know what to expect because there is a clear plan for education. The expectations are identifiable and constant. Those in policy and decision making roles for our schools and our children must take notice and rely upon the expertise of those who are most experienced and knowledgable about what will work.

We know endless testing and needless citation of state or national mandated goals and objectives in lesson plans will not improve our success rates. What will work? Teacher autonomy! Countries considered the most highly successful in educating their children do the least amount of testing! Hello??? Anybody listening???

I love my sister-in-law because she is a wonderful and accomplished person as well as fantastic teacher. Please, somebody listen to her!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Planning Year-Round

Right now, two terrific planners are hard at work. What are they doing? They are putting together plans for training next fall. They are preparing for an offering of a Planning Your Financial Future class that will be offered in Anchorage. This is an outstanding course with positive ratings every time it has been offered! Teresa Muench from NEA Member Benefits and our own NEA-Alaska staff member Barb Young work hard to make these courses available to locals upon request. The information shared is fantastic for every member regardless of where they are in their careers. Local Presidents make the request to NEA-Alaska to start the ball rolling. The courses are extremely popular and sometimes take as much as a year to schedule because of the need for highly trained professionals to present the information. In this time of shrinking budgets, projected reductions and less than desirable investment income, it is crucial to take advantage of an opportunity to benefit from this valuable information.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Real Heroes

We don't always think of heroes in the same way I've been thinking of them this week. To me, real heroes are those who often work behind the scenes. They aren't flashy and out in front of a crowd to have real impact. My hero this week is Jess Kiehl. Jesse is on the staff of Senator Dennis Egan in the Alaska State Legislature. Jesse has worked tirelessly on behalf of our state's public employees to help those coming into service since July of 2006 have a decent retirement to look forward to after years of work. It is Jesse's work to craft the compromise bill which would ultimately pass the State Senate in a 14 to 6 vote. The bill is far from being enacted into law due to opposition in the House, but the hours and hours of effort to create the legislation is nothing short of heroic and historic! Thank you to Jesse and Senator Egan. Thanks also to the fourteen courageous and steadfast Senators who voted to move this bill forward. We applaud your efforts and vow to fight on until this issue is resolved favorably for Alaskans!

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Support Public Schools, Surprised?

Dear Legislators:

I support Alaska's PUBLIC schools. I doubt this is a surprise to you, but some members of the public might be disturbed to find the president of the state's public school employee union listed on a pro-voucher website. I was shocked and appalled to find this!

Here's how I found out about this. I was interested to read a newspaper article on HJR 16 and it's advancement in our state house. This is an attempt to change the state's constitution to allow public funds to be used for private and religious schools. In the story there was reference to some group called Alaskans for Choice in Education, obviously a pro-voucher entity. The group is advocating the State of Alaska use public funds for private and religious schools. This is a clear violation of the state constitution and they know the only way to get around it is to change the constitution. Aren't these the same folks who profess we should adhere strictly to the constitution? Oh well, back to the story.

I went to the website of this fringe group to see what they were all about. On their site, I found a set of tabs along the top of the page. One tab said "legislators". I thought I might find a list of legislators who support their cause, or a plea for members of the public to contact legislators and ask them to support this ill-conceived idea. In fact, what I found was not either of these!

I found a list of all state legislators and the names of all who had contributed to those politicians! Hmm. I immediately became alarmed because I believe this is a thinly veiled attempt to make someone looking at the information believe the contributors and legislators support them. I DO NOT! In fact, I am horrified that this type of behavior is legally acceptable. I plan to look into it. Yes, the information is public record and can be found on the State website. It just doesn't seem ok for a group, any group or individual for that matter, to be allowed to repost this information and make it seem like those who have made contributions actually support the cause of those reposting.

I can't rest until the issue is resolved satisfactorily. This isn't right!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Beating Back Bad Banter

These days, catch phrases are popular and attempt to convince us that the rhetoric they spread is actually the truth. For example, I recently did an interview on a morning television show with Dan Fagan. He has built a reputation for being controversial and conservative. He treated me pretty well in the studio and had a co-host named Elizabeth there. During one part of the conversation, he brought up teacher salaries. He asked what they were and tried to confirm the amount was for nine months of work. I said no, it's for 12 months of work. I pointed out that teachers are responsible for their own professional growth and often requires summer to complete. After I had already corrected his statement, he followed up with another stab at saying teachers have a three month vacation each year. I corrected him a second time. I have concluded that we MUST take issue every time misstatements are made. It is the only way we will combat those who are willing to believe what others say, whether the facts are real or not.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Ultimate Giveaway?" Gimme a Break!

OK. I've tried to be as respectful as possible with our Governor. It's our highest statewide elected office and I do respect the office. I do not, however, respect those who are in the position and use it to DISRESPECT our public school districts, staff and students. The current Governor made statements in the last week showing he does not believe in the fundamental REQUIREMENT that the state provide what is needed in Alaska's public schools. I've actually replayed his statements a number of times to be sure I heard correctly. He called funding of our schools the "Ultimate Giveaway!" Unbelievable that someone in his position could be that inaccurate and uncaring for the children of our state. "Giveaway?" The term itself implies that money is being given with no oversight and no planning on how it should be used. This is not true and is an insult to school board members and administrators who work long and hard to be sure district budgets are responsibly proposed and implemented!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hugh Neff, Cat in the Hat, Wins the 2012 Yukon Quest!

Each year, NEA-Alaska sponsors Read Across Alaska. This is our part of the NEA Read Across America effort to promote literacy and reading. Since 2008, we have sponsored musher Hugh Neff and his wonderful team in races across our state. Everywhere Hugh goes, he promotes positive messages of the importance of a good education, reading, healthy living and literacy. He is a fantastic spokesman and has an excitement for life that is infectious to all he meets. I have met with him numerous times and am always impressed with his positive outlook. It is a pleasure to support such a great role model as he works to be successful with his team of superb athletes.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bold Leadership, Bold Action

I couldn't be more proud of the decisions made at the 56th Delegate Assembly by our elected delegates! There were some big issues and excellent debate throughout the weekend.  Delegates approved changes in our PACE Guidelines and new Vision Statement for the organization. Also approved were renewal of the four priority one items from last year. We have work to do and our lobbying effort will again concentrate on school funding, rural housing, return to retirement with dignity, and ESP retirement credit for unused sick leave. Important to our entire membership, we will focus our energy in achieving these goals. This DA was exciting, entertaining, purposeful and we even adjourned in record time! On a personal note, my sincere thanks to all who had so many kind things to say about my work as state president. It has been a true pleasure to work with so many fantastic members! There is still much more work to be done, and if you think my plan is to take it easy from now until July, guess again! I will continue to push for improving what we do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's Delegate Assembly Time!

Each year we bring elected delegates from across Alaska together to set direction for the coming twelve months. It is a huge logistical undertaking and an important one to our membership. Governance leaders and our staff set the course of NEA-Alaska based upon decisions made during Delegate Assembly. Facing cuts in positions and tough bargaining in a number of school districts, we must face the realities of our own budget. This is the time to double check our expectations with the facts. While we haven't had the same circumstances as many other state organizations, any reduction in membership means a reduction in our resources. Every New Business Item (NBI) should be aligned with our mission and vision. For many years, we took up issues that were not consistent with the role we play in decision-making as related directly to public education and school employees. These were sometimes things we thought were nice and wanted to support because they felt good. We cannot afford to focus on anything that is not specific to the mission and vision we have created. I hope delegates will keep this in mind as we meet and deliberate.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, Renewed Commitment

Happy New Year! We have much to be thankful for in this new year. We have a renewed commitment to our professions and excellence in all we do. This is our 2012! It is our year to take control of our work by demonstrating our expertise and professional judgement in moving ourselves forward. The work we do in Alaska's public school districts is critical to the future of the state because we are preparing tomorrow's leaders. Specifically, we model hard work, dedication, excellence and care for our students. We take up the slack when our families or communities cannot do the job, regardless of the reasons. We teach all who enter our classrooms, gyms, cafeterias and hallways. We provide undeniable support to be sure the systems within our districts are working properly.The new Mission and Vision statements of NEA-Alaska reflect our work as an organization and powerful voice for the future. Delegates to our annual meeting later this month will take a stand on these items. It is my sincere intent that delegates take the time to think carefully about these statements. We have worked long and hard to develop them in a way that truly states who we are and where we are going.

To each of our members I wish the very best for the coming year. May it be productive, satisfying and positive!