Davis teachers are getting a mixed bag of opportunities to share decision-making power with school administrators and in some cases are being intimidated and consciously excluded, Davis Education Association leaders say.
"There are schools in this district where it is working very well and there are others where there is just not the right mix. Where the administration is part of it. Where the administrator is open and willing to participate with teachers the mechanism is working well. There are also people intimidated in the system by the administrators," Kathie Bone, association president, said of a district program to involve teachers in school policy decisions.In the program, Davis District teachers, by contract, are allowed to raise policy issues in a school-level Joint Staff Study Committee. In some schools, committees have helped change discipline policies, curriculum, scheduling and teachers' job descriptions. In other schools with principals who practice authoritarian-style leadership, the program is non-existent. Even at the schools where the program is working, some teachers don't know how far they can go without having administrators tinkering with proposed changes or killing them altogether, Bone said.
In many school districts across the nation teachers are participating in quality circles and school committees that, in some cases, govern all aspects of an individual school including spending. Several programs like Teamwork Approach to Better Schools sponsored by the National Education Association in Orange County, Fla., have effectively improved grades, and student behavior, increased communication and reduced teacher isolation.
Stephen H. Sirkin, Davis Education Association executive director, and Bone want to see the district's program expanded, but agree the best place to start is training teachers how to use the current system more effectively. Training sessions that will address such issues are being planned, Bone said.
Allowing greater teacher involvement in what have been traditionally "administrative" decisions is not always easy.
"You are talking about tearing apart systems that this country has operated with for 100 or 150 years. That doesn't happen overnight in industry and certainly doesn't happen overnight in the school system," Sirkin said.
Currently Davis teachers just react to things in the school, but are not involved in setting an agenda. Such agenda-setting at the school level is the best kind of educational reform, Bone said.
"The only way they will get real reform is to get `buy in' from the bottom and have teachers look at what is happening around them in the classroom. These are people who are involved with the process and know what works and doesn't work," Bone said. "Some (administrators) are uncomfortable with other people setting agendas and doing those kind of things."
The association's efforts to broaden teacher participation has been met with caution by the Davis School Board, Bone said.
"I don't think they totally understand," Bone said. "I think it is more allowing us to try rather than buying into the system."
While Bone and Sirkin believe greater power sharing would help boost teacher morale, their plans may remain in the background while teachers deal with more immediate concerns like overcrowded classrooms and low salaries.
"Part of what we are looking at now is that teachers are so overwhelmed just trying to do what they have to do there is not a huge outcry. They do not have the time for the quality input a lot of these programs require," Sirkin said.
"This system has kept itself above water strictly because of the commitment of the teachers. The teachers where I came from (Maryland) would have closed the school system down long ago rather than accept the kinds of conditions that teachers in the state have accepted. "