Forging Partnerships Between Unions and Schools

Posted by Pamela Wong

Handshake With all the negative press these days about the problems between public agencies and unions, I was encouraged to learn recently about what has been described as “the first-ever national summit between union leaders and administrators.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the event in Denver. He emphasized the importance of collaboration during these difficult economic times for school districts. “Progress more often requires tough-minded collaboration, rather than tough-minded confrontation,” he said.

The president of the National Education Association seemed to agree. “It’s about collaboration,” said Dennis Van Roekel, “about a belief that if you want to make changes for students, you need to find a way to talk to each other.”

Also giving presentations were some 12 school districts that have successfully carried out “school overhauls” that were agreed to by their teachers, administrators, and school board members.

One of those school districts was Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (MCPS), a winner  of the 2010 Baldrige Award. In an online article published recently on the Web site of the American Association of School Administrators, MCPS superintendent Jerry Weast gave some insight into the district’s partnership with its unions. “We have built a trusting, respectful relationship with our employee associations, and they are at the table as we are building our budgets and making difficult decisions,” he said.

Weast said that the unions are partners in the district’s teacher evaluation system, attend Executive Leadership Team meetings, and participate in helping him develop his initial budget recommendation. He pointed out that the unions have been involved in making tough cuts. They’ve voted to give up cost of living increases for the last three years, for example.

How about union partnerships in your school districts; do you have any examples of collaboration to share?




About Barbara Fischer

NIST Baldrige
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2 Responses to Forging Partnerships Between Unions and Schools

  1. Susan Allred says:

    I’ve worked in two states without teacher unions and one with. A constant across all three is that when decisions are made at the building and classroom level regarding what is in the best interest of student learning founded in research and best practice,driven by quality professional communication and transparency with all stakeholders, student achievement happens. We adults absolutely have to realize that at the end of the day for the survival of the democracy, that is what must happen.

  2. Lew Rhodes says:

    Please guys, both your survival and that of public education may be dependent on your not missing the “rest of the story” behind the selection of the Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2110 Award and their selection as a model for 150 other school systems role at the “first-ever national summit between union leaders and administrators.”
    First, here’s how I see your “survivals” connected, and then why.
    • According to your own blogging, proposed 2012 budget cutbacks are forcing the Baldrige program to rethink alternative strategies for support.
    • At the same time, despite increasing pressures on schools for “systemic change” (… and soon!)
    (1) there’s been a lack of interest by national reform leaders in Baldrige as a tool for re-forming total school systems on-the-go.
    (2) many education professionals who claim their concern is for the “kids” think of it as a “business” practice.
    3) And over the past several years there’s been a continuing decrease in superintendent and Board participation in your annual Quest conference which offers a valuable and unique learning experience where current and past awardees share knowledge applicable across ALL sectors.
    Now, as Pamela’s Blogrige posting notes, the USDE, a major driver at the national level of system change, has seen “one” consequence of effective use of Baldrige and cites this year’s winner as a model for that one aspect – labor/management collaboration.
    Here’s why I believe that “good news” is “bad survival news.”
    For the past 12 years, (as described on my blog site ) I’ve been an embedded learner in the MCPS as they took a “different” approach to applying Baldrige. The “What’s” and “How’s” of what happened are well described in the “online article” you link to in your blog. I strongly recommend it.
    But the “rest-of-the-story” deals with the “why” – how they used it as a catalyst to develop a “common way-of-thinking” about the “work” of learning, the “work” of teaching and who the workers are.
    Interestingly, my developing understanding of the meaning and value of this “difference” was a product of what I thought I “knew” about the process 12 year’s ago. I had been trained as an Examiner in 1996, was on the Executive Working Group of NAB’s BiE IN (Baldrige in Education Initiative), worked with Dr. Deming and led AASA’s Quality Schools Network.
    With “all that knowledge,” at first I had trouble getting out of the “box” which views Baldrige as a way to “improve organizational performance” (which it is). I soon realized, however that what I was seeing was the process being used as a way to “improve organizational thinking” – the critical on-the-ground context required for creating and then sustaining “organizational performance.”
    I also noted how, two years ago, like MCPS, the Iredell-Statesville NC Schools award winner also used the Baldrige process as a catalyst to develop a common way-of-thinking about the work of learning and teaching. One of the products of that way-of-thinking in both districts was a development strategy that focused on structures that affect ALL students, and used the needs of SOME high-risk students as the initial focal point for the district’s every day continual learning/improvement cycles.
    In both cases that strategy created an “aligned collaborative management structure” that could support the sustainable growth in effectiveness of those across the “system” whose work impacts the processes of teaching and student learning. And that may be the reason, I believe, that both districts subsequently received federal “Race-to-the-Top” I-3 grants to nurture it.
    So, that’s some of the background that led me to identifying the linked “survival” needs this posting addresses. My own belief in Baldrige’s “power,” is what motivates me to urge that as you “rethink alternative strategies for support,” and “consider ways to expand partnerships to maintain and grow the program’s reach and high level of service and value while exploring ways of transitioning out of federal funding” you consider how a similar getting-out-of-the box re-thinking approach might uncover funding and support possibilities in today’s “Work Smarter with Less” context.
    These strategies need to create ways
    (1) for those who care about schools and see themselves as “child-focused” (as they should be), but think of Baldrige as a “business” practice, to understand that Montgomery County and Iredell demonstrate how Baldrige’s “power” actually lies in its capacity to make the work of child-focused teaching the school system’s “business.”
    (2) for those in government and foundations who today are putting major thought, effort and funding into more immediate systemic change to develop an understanding of how this “different Baldrige approach” actually relates to their most pressing concerns.
    Over the years I’ve marveled at your capacity to you walk your own talk and demonstrate the process’ values for your own thinking. So, I urge you…please apply it now to your “re-thinking” needs. And also consider how this upcoming QUEST might offer opportunities to develop this “different” understanding of Baldrige as a way-of-thinking for those outside NIST whose “survival” could depend on it.
    Your thinking partner…
    Lew Rhodes

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