2013-02-21 / Front Page

Union responds to inquiries regarding superintendent

Panel asked for specifics before drafting response
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

After almost a month of waiting, the School Committee has received the information it requested from the teachers union detailing the rank and file’s issues with Superintendent Marcia Lukon, said Cathy Kaiser.

The Jamestown Teachers Association called for Lukon’s resignation at a meeting on Jan. 17, but nothing has been discussed since, either publicly or in a closed-door session, said Kaiser, chairwoman of the School Committee. According to Kaiser, the board received the union response on Feb. 13 and will discuss the next steps in a closed-door session Thursday.

Specifically, she anticipates the committee members will settle on the format and process they will follow to address the union’s complaint, but likely will not delve into “specific issues” until later.

Cynthia Cherney, the union co-president, said she would not comment on the union complaint except to say the additional information has been sent to Lukon and to all the board members.

“I understand the interest,” Cherney wrote in an email message. “However, until the JTA and School Committee meet to address the issues in person, I will reserve comment on the situation.”

John Walsh, assistant executive director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island, also declined comment on the noconfidence vote.

“The School Committee and the JTA are working together to address the concerns voiced by the teachers,” he said. “Dialogue between the [School Committee] and JTA about Jamestown schools, students and staff is best conducted face to face.”

Cherney stood up at the beginning of the School Committee meeting Jan. 17 and read a twopage letter calling for Lukon’s resignation. In the letter, which depicted Lukon as a “detached leader” who had been vindictive toward those who voiced concerns, the union said the superintendent ignored objections when she decided to fast track the state’s model for teacher evaluation.

The letter went on to make several other complaints, but the union did not provide details. Kai- ser asked for specifics and emailed the union a request for clarifications with the school board’s questions regarding the two-page letter.

In the request, Kaiser says that the most recent date referenced in the union letter was Jan. 19, 2012. “In the year that has elapsed since then,” wrote Kaiser, “what communications has JTA had with Dr. Lukon or with any other administrators to attempt to resolve its concerns?”

The School Committee also wanted:

• Evidence showing that Lukon has been “far removed”;

• To know what the union meant when it said that “personalization” had been lost in the district;

• Evidence showing Lukon’s “unwillingness to work with Jamestown teachers”;

• To know what suggestions made by the union regarding the teacher-evaluation model were “rejected” by Lukon;

• Examples of “deceptive budget practices”;

• To know why the union considers Lukon’s district-wide testing practices “misleading”;

• Support for the statement that the staff operates “in fear of repercussions.”

“Were any options about how to proceed other than publicly calling for the superintendent’s resignation considered and rejected by the members?” the School Committee wondered. “Was the decision to voice JTA’s concerns to the School Committee by reading this letter at a public meeting made by a vote of the full membership?”

Asked for an update on Feb. 12, Kaiser said the process “is stalled until they provide their supporting details and we are able to review the information.” The School Committee needed to review the complaint, she said, to assess which areas will require a closed meeting, which require public discussion, and which might benefit from being discussed in a forum with a facilitator.

Now that the union responses have been received, Kaiser expects the School Committee will let the public know the plan by the end of the month.

“I anticipate that at our Feb. 28 business meeting we will be ready to state our plans and format for addressing the union’s concerns,” she said.

Kaiser said the school board had been in a “holding pattern” while it waited for the union, and that Lukon had also been unable to prepare her written response to the charges.

Lukon said previously she would not comment on the accusations against her until the School Committee has received both her written response and the clarifications from the union.

“I did not receive the clarifications from the union until Feb. 13,” Lukon said Monday. “I am currently preparing my written response to the union’s original letter and its clarifications as the School Committee asked me to do when the union read its letter at the School Committee meeting.”

Lukon said that the union didn’t give her a copy of the letter and she wasn’t told of its contents before the Jan. 17 meeting.

Lukon listened to the union letter but did not comment during the meeting. Later she said she would work with the teachers to resolve their differences and improve communications.

Lukon said previously she was disappointed about the union’s action but was sympathetic to the objections to the evaluation model for teachers brought forth by the state Department of Education.

Unions have called for the state to slow down the evaluations. Among the issues, the unions have said, the evaluators are not yet trained and there appears to be different criteria from district to district.

“I truly understand the teachers’ frustration with the number and pace of the changes that we are being required to make,” Lukon said. “The administrators and I share that frustration. The pace is much faster than is comfortable for not only the teachers, but for administrators as well. However, that pace is being dictated by RIDE, not by me.”

Lukon volunteered to pilot the evaluation model because the state had promised to give the district extra help in preparing teachers and staff for the new requirements, Kaiser said.

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