The Labor Management Collaboration Conference in Denver was the Department of Education at its best, connecting people, ideas and resources and setting a vision for change.
The 150 participating districts, each represented by a union president, superintendent, and a board leader, met Secretary Duncan’s challenge for school districts to find new ways to do business together in ways that honor the end goal of the educational enterprise: excellent student learning.
During the event, I was part of a team of 13 past and present Teaching Ambassador Fellows performing qualitative research on the presenting districts, all of which had achieved distinction for their pioneering efforts in labor/management collaboration. Our job was to find strategies that would enable these successful collaborations to be available to districts just beginning the journey.
The district I studied is in Plattsburgh, NY, a small rural city on the Vermont border, just 25 miles from Canada. During the Plattsburgh presentation, Superintendent Jake Short challenged participants to “find a reason to do business differently, and then do it.” In Plattsburgh, where union and management work together to solve each other’s problems, trust, integrity and shared responsibility are keys to a relationship in which the true purpose of education, student achievement, is always at the forefront.
As the president of a Vermont NEA local affiliate (and a veteran of multiple traditional adversarial negotiations), I found the Plattsburgh approach both refreshing and timely. Short, union president Rod Sherman, and board vice-chair Tracy Rotz, were unbelievably generous with their time as I probed to discover the dispositions, skills, knowledge, and language fueling their success in order to share it with others.
The conference was transformative, setting a bold vision and connecting people, ideas and resources, to make it possible. Tracy Rotz noted that at the event everyone came together for a common purpose: to benefit students.
Steve Owens is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.