2006-01-26 / Letters to the Editor

Focus on teachers needed at schools

“In light of diminishing student population . . . the school department needs another administrator”?

I raise this hypothetical question in light of a difference of opinion I recently had with (Jamestown School) Superintendent Sipala.

Disclosure affords you this: I represent the interests’ and educational goals of the Jamestown Teachers Association, I work for the National Education Association Rhode Island and have negotiated the last two agreements with the school department and will commence discussions for a successor accord this spring.

The dispute I referred to revolves around the recent reductions in full-time educators within the school department. Obviously, my position is that the School Committee, through collective bargaining, has agreed to maintain certain levels of staffing, including class size and mutually agreed upon educational programs.

At the culmination of the disagreement, Ms. Sipala presented two documents, which she stated had been offered to the Jamestown Town Council to substantiate the decrease in student enrollment and the correlating reduction in educators between 2001 and 2006.

It is evident that Ms. Sipala produced these documents to persuade a third party, and previously the Town Council, that a reduction in students had dictated a reduction in the educational staff.

But now I question the motivation of the superintendent to add administrators, in light of, as she states, “…rising costs due to salaries, benefits, and governmental mandates. Most professionals have experienced more duties and requirements over the last decade, none more than the educators I represent.

Ms. Sipala realizes, as most parents are aware, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act has added innumerable supplementary responsibilities to all educators, from the education support professionals, whom were required to standardize their skills or be terminated, to the classroom teacher’s obligation to display their independently confirmed “highly qualified” status in their area of instruction. Both groups are further compelled to pursue ongoing education in order to remain eligible educators.

I do not question any superintendents’ workload, and I have and continue to respect the opinions of Superintendent Pini, whom I had a professional connection with over the last eight years. However, I feel that Ms. Sipala’s motives to increase administrators are not educationally based. It appears to me that the superintendent may be following the current fashionable fix of applying certain business principles or strategic logic to the education system.

In my opinion, the administration of a school department is to support the delivery of education to the students. To bolster the number of administrators does nothing to advance the educational mission of the schools in your town.

I would therefore ask that the School Committee focus on the retention and support of the highly successful programs and superior education that the teachers and staff have worked so hard to attain in Jamestown.

Pete Gingras, assistant executive director,

National Education Association Rhode Island

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