A Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow Reflects on Accomplishments of the Denver Labor Management Collaboration Conference

Steve Owens, a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

Steve Owens, a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

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
Steve Owens is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Plainfield, Vermont.

1 Comment

  1. I attended the Conference – Board President from Watkins Glen, NY – and agree with everything Steve Owens said in his statement. Our District left with a real “Action Plan” and a renewed sense of hope and anticipation for success in these uncertain and highly unstable economic times. If only our own State governments and Departments of Education would foster that same sense of collaboration with us…

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