Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Q-Comp Update and Flexing Time

Q-Comp – The Status of Our Proposal:  In November, the Minnesota Department of Education responded to our application with a set of clarifications and modifications.  We had a month to respond to them and we will make that deadline by sending in our final changes this week.  This is a common part of the process and the changes they required were minor.  They plan to give us final approval by January.  At that point, we will begin sending out more information about specifics of the proposal for your review. 

You already know the main components of the proposal – participants will create building wide and individual goals, and have three observations (two by a full time peer evaluator and one by a peer of your choice) that work much the same way our current Performance Appraisal System (PAS) works.  If your building reaches its goal, all the participants at the site earn $210.  If you reach your individual goal, you earn a separate $210.  If you successfully complete your observations, you will earn a separate $1728. 

Given this timeline, we plan to get out information via fliers in January, hold member meetings to go over the proposal around the district in February, and take a vote in March (it takes a 75% majority of those voting to pass).  As soon as the state completes their process, we’ll finalize dates for ours.

Flexing Time:  We are getting a good number of responses on last week’s question about your thoughts on flexing your duty day.  The vast majority of the messages have been from people who want some flexibility in the beginning and end times of the duty day as long as it doesn’t end up actually increasing the number of the hours in the week or simply eats up work days.  People are citing most often the reasons for flexing as finding time to meet with colleagues, parent communication, and medical issues.  Wanting to “be treated as a professional” was a common phrase.  What does being treated as a professional in the context of flex time mean to you?  We meet as a Labor Management team to begin discussing this issue just before winter break.  If you’d like to add your ideas before then, email us at

Friday, December 3, 2010

Meet & Confer and Flexing Time

Last Tuesday’s Meet & Confer:  Thank you to all who braved the icy roads on Tuesday to attend Meet & Confer, and to the over 600 of you who had the chance to complete the workload survey.  Our speakers, Beth Popalisky, Ryan MacSwain, LeeAnne Clauer, Tom Kobelinski, Sarah Weil, Marti Biegler, Heather Hjelle, Kari Kaehn, Jay Wilkins, and Sheila Davies did a terrific job laying out some concrete ideas for reducing our workload.  Key ideas were:

      Increases in workload are outpacing reductions in workload
      Autonomy and individuality decreases workload
      Paperwork can be decreased in many areas
      Workload problems at any level increases workload at every level
      Time to work together is better than other kinds of training
      Everyone needs to let something go – district administration, principals, and teachers

Their statements seemed to help our school board members show a willingness to work toward solutions.  Look for an article in our newsletter coming out later this month for a summary of the survey and ideas.

Flexing Time – What Do You Think?:  Our Labor Management Committee - a team of representatives from AHEM, school board, and district administration who meet to work on workplace issues – has been focusing so far this year on finding ways for collaborative teams to meet, especially those who are “singletons” at their sites.  Out of that discussion, we decided we need to discuss how flex time is being used across the district for PLC’s and other reasons.  We are thinking of flex time as when you work outside your duty day in exchange for taking the same amount of time off your duty day down the road.  It seems that how this works around the district varies widely.  We’d like to know what you think – do you flex your time for something at your site?  What have your experiences been with attempts initiated by you or by others to flex your day?  How would you like this to work?  Should we flex our time at all?  Email us at with your thoughts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Meet and Confer, Workload Survey, Q-Comp, Board Statement

Meet and Confer on Workload:  Our next opportunity to share information with our school board will be at our Meet and Confer on Tuesday, November 30th, from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Staff Development Center.  By popular demand, we have chosen the topic of Less with Less: Solutions to Workload Issues.  We invite you to attend and discuss with the school board how we can make our work more manageable.  We have made the case over the years that workload is one of our biggest concerns, and though the message has been heard, the problem remains.  Our next task is to get more concrete on how to solve the problems in light of changing resources and expectations.  We also want to begin a discussion about the challenges facing traveling and itinerant teachers.

Workload Survey: To prepare for Meet & Confer, we need your help to better understand our options in reducing workload.  We’ve developed a 10 question survey to get your ideas for paring down our work.  Answer as many of the questions as you’d like, we just ask that you give us feedback by this coming Friday, November 19th.  We’ll share the results with the school board, administration and all of you.  Visit to tell us what you think.

Q-Comp:  The Minnesota Department of Education sent us a response to our proposal and we met with their representatives to discuss their questions this week.  They had a number of clarifications, but no substantial concerns with the plan’s structure itself.  However, as has happened in all but 2 of the 109 proposals in the history of the program, to answer their questions we will need to submit significant additional information.  As a result, our Representative Assembly (AHEM’s highest governing body made up of representatives from each site) decided to postpone our vote until after we get final approval from the MDE, which will take until the end of the year.  Most likely, we are now looking at a vote in February or March.

Statement to the School Board: On Monday, October 25th, I addressed the school board at the direction of our Representative Assembly on the recent concerns around school climate for our gay and lesbian students.  I urged the board to listen to our students’ concerns and give us the tools to ensure all of our students and staff members feel safe and valued at school.  I based my remarks on recent research done by the Great Lakes Center, a regional research arm of the National Education Center called Safe at School (the report can be found at as a starting point for concrete steps we can take to improve our school climate.  My entire statement can be found at

Friday, October 29, 2010

Voting Information, Q-Comp Timelines, Union Halloween Candy

Voting Information:  One of the reasons educators have the influence we do on public policy is that we have one of the highest voting rates of any group out there.  Continue that proud tradition by voting this Tuesday.  To check where you vote, find out how same day voter registration works, or answer any other questions you may have about voting, visit the Secretary of State’s voting page at  Be sure to wear you “I voted” sticker to school to model to your students the importance of voting.

Q-Comp Update:  The Minnesota Department of Education has finished its review of our proposal and will be giving us their feedback next week.  After we answer any final questions they have, the full proposal will be ready for a more specific review by all of you.  We will begin member meetings around the district beginning the week of November 8th to give members a chance to get more detailed information and ask questions.  Our goal is to be ready to vote on the proposal by mid December.

Chocolaty Ways to Support Good Jobs:  If you buy Halloween candy, justify eating one of the bags before the little ghouls and goblins hit your door by choosing union made candy this year.  The following candy manufacturers have treats made in the U.S. by workers with fair wages and safe working conditions:  Tootsie Roll, NECCO, Just Born Products (know for Peeps, Mike & Ikes, Hot Tamales), Sweethearts brand Conversation Hearts, Jelly Belly, Pearson’s Candies, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., Hershey, and Nestle Products.  Note:  Some of these companies outsource some of their production.  Imported food, including candy, must carry a country of origin label—so check for that to be sure your chocolate binge is benefitting the economy.  For a full list of products, visit

Monday, October 25, 2010

Statement to the School Board on School Climate for LGBT Students and Staff

Here is the statement AHEM president Julie Blaha gave at tonight's school board meeting at the direction of the Representative Assembly:

Chair Heidemann, Superintendent Carlson, Members of the Board:

My name is Julie Blaha and I am the president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota.  AHEM is our local teachers’ union representing over 2700 educators in the Anoka Hennepin School District.  I am here on behalf of our Representative Assembly, which is our governing body made up of representatives from each of our sites across the district.  They’ve directed me to discuss school climate issues relating to LGBT students and staff.

We have worked hard over the past few years to develop effective ways of addressing academic concerns in our district.  Just as we would take a systematic, student centered, researched approach to solving problems of achievement in our district, we should take a similar approach to our school climate. I would like to focus my remarks as kind of an assessment of our actions to date to create a better school climate for LGBT students and staff, and provide ideas for going forward. 

Let’s begin with an assessment of where we are right now.

Our suicide rate for students has increased, and a disproportionate number of those tragedies have involved LGBT students.  Over the past year, several students have come forward and described facing intolerable conditions at school because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. 

Last January, in response these issues as well as changes in LGBT materials for our SEED classes, questions around the Day of Silence, and media coverage of an incident with a student, you may remember we asked for clear guidance and staff development around our sexual orientation curriculum policy and school climate issues in regards to LGBT students.

Though some staff received training on dealing with suicide, we hadn’t seen specific information by March, so we put out one of our pieces on creating safe spaces for GLBT students and staff to each of our members. 

Over the summer, school policy videos were created for students that contained segments on bullying language that addressed anti-gay slurs and a short PowerPoint presentation was created for secondary staff at middle and high schools.  Some staff members have also received a grid with hypothetical situations intended to clarify the neutrality statement in our sexual orientation curriculum policy.  At back to school workshops, teachers were told if they did not stop bullying behaviors they would be disciplined.  Some staff have also received copies of district press materials responding to media reports. 

To date, only those who have taken optional training like SEED classes or the Gary Howard training on cultural competency have had actual discussion about these topics.

In the media, we have seen statements ranging from things to the effect of “this is not something we are going to deal with” to “staff won’t be disciplined for supporting gay students”.  Statements to our members from district leadership have ranged from “if you don’t respond to bullying you will face disciplinary action” to last week’s message that we accept all of our students as normal and valued.

In short, we have taken some steps to improve our school climates, but they have not been all in the same direction.  There are a number of conflicting messages floating around.  We have had one way communication, but little actual discussion and virtually no assessment of whether our steps have made any progress forward.

Our next steps need to be creating a more focused, coherent plan to improve our school climate for LGBT students and staff.  Just as we would do if math test scores were low, let’s follow our processes of understanding the problem, making a plan, taking action, and assessing the results of those actions.

To help those first two steps along, I’ve provided a report from the Great Lakes Research Center released on September 30th titled Safe at School.  The report was commissioned by the regional research arm of the National Education Association of which our union is a member.  The report created by the National Education Policy Center out of the University of Colorado and the Williams Institute out of the UCLA.  The report lays out school level actions and public policy initiatives to improve the school environment for LGBT students. For anyone watching at home, the report can be found at

Of the steps outlined in the report, I’d like to highlight the recommendations on staff development.  Beginning on page 12, two key points are particularly relevant for us:

·         Develop and implement professional development for all school personnel (locally determined and agreed upon by faculty and staff), focusing on the challenges facing LGBT youth and seeking to generate collaborative, problem-solving approaches to address those challenges.

·         Structure professional development incrementally, beginning with only a modicum of content but providing opportunities to build on the initial steps.

Reading from the report:

Research has shown that professional development is best seen as a form of collaborative dialogue among educators as well as a vehicle for keeping abreast of new developments in their respective fields. Mandatory, top-down programs, where alleged experts are brought in on a one-time basis to lecture faculty and staff, are substantially less effective than brainstorming regarding new strategies and follow-up meetings to share results.

Such collaboration is inevitably enhanced by the participation of out LGBT educators and other openly LGBT members of the community, perhaps including out students from the older grades. Steps can be incremental in nature; even minor movement forward can matter greatly. Professional development can start off with items as simple and basic as an information sheet or an e-mail, expand to include guest speakers, film clips, and brainstorming regarding possible strategies, and even continue with a dialogue regarding changes in classroom pedagogy and curricular content.

Where there is confusion, there will be inconsistent or ineffective responses.  Where there is lack of communication, there will be hesitancy or avoidance.  An effective, clear staff development program for all of our staff will help clear up the confusion, and give teachers the tools to not only respond to bullying, but create a positive school climate to help prevent bullying in the first place.

I urge you to read the report, listen to your students, and bring us together to make a plan.

I also have a comment to students who are watching.  For all of you who have come forward to alert us to the problems we have in our school climates, thank you.  Your teachers want you to know that we hear you.  To all of our students who are suffering because of bullying or an unsupportive school environment, your teachers want you to know that we will work to make it better.

Members of the school board and all the staff here, if we address these issues openly, collaboratively, and proactively, we will make it better.  Let’s get to work.

Thank you.