I was moved to write this today, and will likely try to publish it wherever I can. I had to speak up.
“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” (Jeanette Rankin, 1st US Congresswoman, 1880-1973)
For 21 years I worked for the Medford School District teaching and coaching students at South Medford High School. Normally when I would say that to someone, it would have been natural for me to have said “I proudly worked…” for that District. But that is not the case right now.
It has been with great sadness and frustration that I have witnessed the war that the current School Board and District Administration has been waging against its teachers, my colleagues and friends, for the last 6 months. And make no mistake – it has been, and is, a war that they are conducting. The battlegrounds have been behind closed doors in Executive sessions, and in “negotiations” where compromise and fairness was the furthest thing from their agenda. Today the battle lines shifted to the school grounds as “guest teachers” were brought in to conduct makeshift classes for ½ days to 1000’s of Medford students who came hoping for the best, but I’m sure were sorely disappointed.
In a war it is the innocent that are most often the victims. And in a war, truth and honor are many times sacrificed for the sake of “victory” – no matter what the cost.
That seems to be this Administration’s and Board’s intent. For despite all of their reasonable sounding words, their actions reveal themselves. They have been willing to sacrifice the education of Medford’s students – the innocent – and the truth of why they’re doing so – for the sake of a “triumph” over the Medford Education Association.
Over and over again over the last 10 years, Medford’s teachers made significant financial sacrifices during difficult economic times to help the District maintain its image of excellence. I won’t detail all that Medford teachers gave up – it is a matter of public record. I was one of those teachers, and I did not complain because I knew the necessity of doing what we were asked to do then. I, and all of my colleagues, agreed to do more for less, year after year. But we also believed the Board and Administration when they said they would make it up to their teachers when they had the funds to do so – a promise they made in writing.
The Board now has the ability to keep that promise, but refuses to do so. Time and again in its “negotiations” with the MEA this year, it has refused to provide any just compensation for past sacrifices. Instead, it has demanded that teachers accept a contract which would ask them to work longer, doing more with less time to adequately plan, and to do so earning less take home pay than they did 5 years ago - all in the name of providing “a quality education” for our community’s children. Anyone with the smallest sense of honor recognizes the injustice in this. Perhaps that is why our Board Members have stayed silent and hidden over the last few weeks. They know in their hearts that the stand they are taking is indefensible.
Instead, the Board and District have acted like bullies; feigning a sense of outrage when Medford’s teachers cried “Foul!”, and then acting with a “puffed up” false sense of strength. It is they who abruptly ended a collaborative negotiating format months ago – one they had previously praised as being “helpful and enjoyable”. It is they who arbitrarily imposed their contract on teachers in December, leaving them no choice other than to submit meekly or strike. It is they who have called their teachers “quitters” and have brazenly tried to manipulate the media through providing false or inflammatory information.
The District’s actions and message are clear. The appreciation that they have said they have over the years for their most valuable resource – their teachers – has all been nothing but lip service. The proof is unarguable. In 2006, Medford voters narrowly approved $189 million to make their schools bright and shining monuments of academic excellence. Eight years later, the District is perfectly willing to close ½ of these schools and staff the rest with “guest teachers” that they barely know. Dr. Long proudly said today, “We are ready. We have the curriculum and we are prepared to teach.” After hearing reports of what happened at schools today, I doubt that either was true. The District’s own mission statement claims, “We are a high quality teaching and learning organization”. Their actions today revealed themselves as mere lip service in pursuit of this goal.
“He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind.” (Proverbs 11:29)
This dispute will end sometime – it must. And in the end, there will be no “winners” on either side. But it saddens me that one thing will be certain. The District will have lost all credibility and trust with its teachers and many in the community because of its “scorched earth” policies. As the Biblical proverb warns, they will gain nothing of value from the stubborn stand they took, and they will have only themselves to blame for the seeds of division and resentment that they will have sown and the storm that will follow.
I said at the beginning of my letter that I could no longer easily say I was proud of working for the Medford District. That could still change. But there is one thing I am still very proud of – the courage of my colleagues to stand up for what they believe is right, despite the sacrifices they must make to do so. They prove to me, once again, that despite the current emphasis on “proficiency”, “mastery”, “essential skills”, “common core curriculum”, etc., that the most valuable things excellent teachers teach their students are taught through their example. Medford is lucky to have attracted such quality individuals to their community. I pray they’ll be lucky enough to keep them when this is all over.
Retired Social Studies teacher, South Medford High School (1992-2013)