To her fans, Deborah Lynch, a slim, intense woman of 49, represents a new take on teacher unionism, someone as passionate about professional improvement and curriculum as pay and benefits. “Debbie is a terrific example of the teacher-union leader of the future,” says Adam Urbanski, long-time president of the Rochester Teachers Association and the grand old man of union progressives. “Chicago is in for a pleasant surprise.”
The CPS starting salary ranks fifth among the 117 districts serving elementary students. The top CPS salary ranks 55th and is more than $2,000 above the average, a Catalyst analysis found. There are some 9,500 teaching positions in the districts with higher top pay, which is only about half the total number of elementary teachers in Chicago.
During his first weeks on the job, Duncan dismantled the central Office of Intervention, eliminating a dozen or so administrative jobs and shifting the money to schools. He also gave intervention schools another financial boost when he decided to continue picking up the tab for each school’s staff of four subject-area specialists.
Duncan wiped out the Intervention office, removing Intervention Officer JoAnn Roberts, her staff of about 10, and the team leaders at each of the five schools undergoing intervention, Bowen, Collins, DuSable, Orr and South Shore. Each school retains the four curriculum specialists from the intervention teams, who will now report to their principals.
In early August, CEO Arne Duncan promoted Barbara Eason-Watkins, principal of McCosh Elementary School in Woodlawn, to serve as chief education officer.
In her 13 years at McCosh, Watkins presided over improvements that raised test scores substantially and brought her personal recognition.
We have 26,000 teachers. There’s a tremendous range of skills, and some will teach throughout their careers—that’s their passion. But [some] teachers would make outstanding principals. We need to be nurturing them, we need to be training them, we need to be creating an environment where they can gain the skills and be supported to ascend to that position of leadership.
Indeed, the majority of 8th-graders in this year’s citywide Summer Bridge program fell into this category. Even so, they were put in the same classes as students who did not score high enough on the tests. As a result, they received instruction in skills they already had mastered.
“The idea is to … give them some direction,” Dunaway explained.
Those concerns include lowering class sizes, raising salaries, improving professional development, lessening the emphasis on testing, and ending intervention, the board’s most recent remediation program, imposed on five high schools last year. Teachers, school reform activists and other educators contacted by Catalyst expressed support for Lynch on most of these issues, with the exception of smaller class size. None was against smaller classes, but some believe it’s an impractical goal in a space- and cash-strapped system. Here’s a look at what teachers and others say they would like to see from the new leadership at the CTU:
The transfer of power from the Reece to the Lynch regime was chilly. “You could not call what happened a transition,” says one member of the prior order. “We were here until June 30, and they came in on July 1. It was not a friendly exchange of the baton.” Lynch says she had one brief transition meeting with Reece, who continues as president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “It was civil,” says Lynch of their huddle. “We [the CTU] are his biggest local, so it had to be civil.”
The present reality:
“You’re in an overcrowded school, with a large class size and unfilled vacancies, so you never get a preparation period. You feel stressed-out, and nobody cares about your concerns—with no time to talk with your colleagues, with no say over what happens in the building, except how to use the annual $100 you get from the Board of Education for supplies. You hold no decision-making power. You have a system that says your test scores better go up, or they’ll put you on intervention. In those circumstances, it’s rough being a teacher.
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(a 13% raise for new teachers)