THE Alamosa School Board got a dose of tough love at its meeting Thursday which followed a previous meeting that had school board members airing their own frustrations.
Ortega Middle School Principal Amy Ortega led off the public comment period with a message asking for more leadership and more effort by the school board to be part of the overall team.
“I encourage you to consider your relationship with all of our staff. Is there trust between the board and employees? Is there a shared leadership? Do you treat your staff as professionals, value their work, opinions, and expertise?
“From our superintendent to our classified staff, I wholeheartedly believe that our staff wants the best for our kids and is doing their best every day with what they have and what they know. Can we improve? Of course. We’re open to hard conversations and making changes.”
Ortega Middle School teacher Paula Parker stepped forward with her own thoughts. “At the middle school this year, we have made a promise to be direct and professional in all of our conversations, and I make that promise to you,” she began.
She directed the majority of her comments around the four-day school week that the school board had earlier agreed to develop a plan to implement.
“I am concerned about the control you think you need,” Parker said. “Have you considered what would happen in my classroom if that’s the way I ran things? I guarantee it would be damaging and toxic. The four-day situation is what brings this to light. There’s a disconnect between the school board and the district. The unrealistic start times you’re worried about, the disagreement about the MOU in the last board meeting, it all shows that we’re not a team working toward a common goal.”
Edited transcripts of the comments made by Ortega and Parker are below.
Ortega ended her comments with: “I’m asking the board to be a catalyst for a change in our culture. Be professional and thoughtful about your comments. Let us do our most important work and trust our staff.”
Negotiations with teachers union begin
In action items Thursday, the school board approved an Memorandum of Understanding with the Alamosa Education Association to begin contract negotiations on Friday, Jan. 20, ahead of previous years. A head start on bargaining a new employee contract with a four-day school week in mind will help the school district work through its next-year academic calendar and make its application for a four-day week to the Colorado Department of Education.
Ortega Middle School Principal Amy Ortega comments
to the Alamosa School Board on Thursday, Jan. 19:
“Hello. Thank you. Thanks for recognizing the hard work of our staff. It’s not me by any means, a little bit me, but everyone’s working hard. I’d like to thank the board for the hours you put in and being willing to self-assess with a growth mindset. I’m a proud Mean Moose. I’m an AHS grad and have worked in our district for 22 years as a teacher, coach, sponsor, assistant principal, and principal. The job I’m probably most proud of is being a mom of three young women who have been supported, loved, and educated by the Mean Moose Village. I’ve worked and continue to work alongside amazing professionals. I’m honored to have played a part in the lives and education of so many kids. And yes, we have graduates coming out of this district who go on to be very successful, happy, and productive adults. Our goal is to move more kids to that path.
Go with me on a tangent for a minute. You all are parents and some are grandparents. You’ve lived with infants and toddlers who later became teenagers, thinking for themselves, making choices, finding their independence, and being a little bit rebellious. Maybe I’m the only one with kids who once in a while made poor choices, did things their own way, or became a little defiant. My guess is that’s not the case. You know what I’m talking about. In those moments, we can become angry, forceful, disappointed, and butt heads with our teens. We may have had friends, some of whom didn’t have teenagers, but advise us how to lay down the law and how to parent. We can assume we know what our teens are going through because we were teens once too. But did we deal with the same issues? Did we have the same experiences?
And I ask you if you’ve ever butted heads with a teen and tried to intimidate, scare, lecture, or flat-out, tell them you’re done, did you see the results you were hoping for? In my experience, my daughters and the teens I’ve worked with prefer to be heard, treated with respect and with the assumption that they are smart, capable, have their own experiences and opinions. They want to feel loved and trusted, even when there’s some consequences that need to happen or changes to be made. I don’t think that changes when teens become adults. Earlier this week, you discussed board and staff relations. It was a short discussion and you mentioned district office staff. I encourage you to consider your relationship with all of our staff. Is there trust between the board and employees? Is there a shared leadership? Do you treat your staff as professionals, value their work, opinions, and expertise?
From our superintendent to our classified staff, I wholeheartedly believe that our staff wants the best for our kids and is doing their best every day with what they have and what they know. Can we improve? Of course. We’re open to hard conversations and making changes. We’re not satisfied with being rated turnaround, priority improvement, or anything less than our best. We need your support and teamwork. I realize there’s some division on the board. However, each of you is tasked with working for the best interests of this district. Bickering, stonewalling, and making generalizations based on a rumor or one or two opinions, none of that helps us move forward. Unfortunately, in my experience, our district has slowly accepted a culture of bashing each other in an effort to create change. Even when the intent is good, the approach isn’t. Many times, it’s not professional dialogue, not trying to see each other’s perspective, not respecting what each other brings to the table, and definitely not treating the educators as the experts.
I mean, parents, board members, spectators at events. We’ve all been there, right? So we know what’s best. I see it in parents who come in angry who are not interested in hearing the perspective of the educators, who post on social media, send an email, or sign up for public comment, but don’t attend accountability committee meetings. I see it at athletic events, adults yelling at our own kids and coaches, yet unwilling to have a meeting or remember those are our kids. Sometimes I see it in staff members complaining or gossiping, not working together for productive change. I see it at board meetings with negative comments and assumptions made in a time and place when it’s a one-sided conversation and school staff are expected to listen and just take it.
Correct me if I’m wrong, none of you have worked in K-12 education with a population of amazing and diverse students, many who face challenges and are still loved by our staff, still reach their potential, and still can compete with students from across the nation when they graduate. I’m asking the board to be a catalyst for a change in our culture. Be professional and thoughtful about your comments. Let us do our most important work and trust our staff. Thank you.”
Ortega Middle School teacher Paula Parker’s comments
to the Alamosa School Board:
“Hi. Although our themes are going to be the same, I can assure you that we come from the same building, but we’ve both spent time on our own letters figuring things out. I’m Paula Parker. I’m a teacher at the middle school. I’ve been here for 15 years. I have 27 years in education. My Mean Moose pride runs deep. I’m a member of this community as an educator, a parent, and a member of the union. I’ve served on many committees, whether it’s in a professional capacity or as a parent. My desire has always been to better our district, better our profession, and help our community. That is this intention … That’s the intention I bring as I address you tonight. At the middle school this year, we have made a promise to be direct and professional in all of our conversations, and I make that promise to you. A famous author said, “teamwork begins with building trust, and the only way to do that is to overcome our need and desire to be untouchable.”
At the last board meeting, a comment was made by Dr. Phillips from BOCES. She said, “it’s necessary to have board members that support us and appreciate our work. We need board members who are not playing gotcha, trying to find things to share with the public that’s demeaning.” I couldn’t have said it better. The only thing I would’ve said is it applies to the entire board with the way you treat us and the way you treat each other. Your communication with each other and the community members and the staff hasn’t been professional. It may be direct, but not in the right way. Your responsibility is to work alongside the superintendent and the assistant superintendent to lead our district in spite of personal differences. We are not getting that from you. We have watched you argue relentlessly with trivial trivial opinions. We have watched you demand unreasonable tasks from our staff members, specifically our superintendent, even though she’s stated time and time again, we don’t have the time. We’re running out of time.
I am concerned about the control you think you need. Have you considered what would happen in my classroom if that’s the way I ran things? I guarantee it would be damaging and toxic. The four-day situation is what brings this to light. There’s a disconnect between the school board and the district. The unrealistic start times you’re worried about, the disagreement about the MOU in the last board meeting, it all shows that we’re not a team working towards a common goal. Every other district in the Valley has made this adaptation, right? We have schools around the state who have done the same thing. I have a handful of calendars right here. None of them start before August 15th, all of them end May 25th, and nobody goes to school before 7:40 in the morning. We’re not starting from scratch. This is about an evolution in education that we need to adapt in order to compete. And the uninformed statements that are made in this meeting, all they do is create anxiety and fear throughout the community, and that is just the opposite of building trust and respect.
Personally, I feel like it’s been a little bit sabotaged. When you pass the idea of moving forward with the four-day week with contingencies, those contingencies projected that you have no faith in us, you don’t trust the process or the people in that process. Do you really think a group of educators would go forward with a four-day week plan without the best interest of students and education in mind? We’re not trying to make our jobs easy. We’re not taking the easy way out. I guarantee we’re not going to try to get an extra sick day out of it or avoid our PLC work on Friday. We are educated people who are the experts in education, and it would really be appreciated if you would start respecting that expertise. The last statement was made by Mr. Honeycutt and he said, “I’m asking for a little understanding and some cooperation.”
He mentioned allowing people to do their day-to-day job. This one hit me personal, and I’m probably speaking as a parent at this point. Do you know that many of us have had paychecks that have been inaccurate for over a year? My personal paycheck has not been right eight out of 12 months. I’ve been paid double, I haven’t been paid enough, my deductions are a mess, my taxes are out of control, and I’m still waiting on a stipend that should have been cut in September. I’ve spoken about this, but they don’t have any time to do it. They can’t figure out the mess because of the demands you’re placing on people. Your demands have affected the day-to-day operations in this district, and something has changed.
I believe we have a superintendent who can and should be allowed to do her job. We need to allow her the capacity to deal with issues that truly need her attention, both of them, and not to mention the day-to-day stuff that comes up in a district our size. But I don’t see the trust. I don’t see the respect being built. Restructuring the board? I don’t think it’s the answer, but I’m just me. Listening to the people who you represent, working together as a team, and respecting each other’s role, that’s where trust and respect builds. Be kind, be thoughtful, and be reasonable. You can be direct and be all of those things. Respecting the process, respecting the system, and respecting the people in it, that’s what we need.”