President’s February Message – PTSA association meeting and ‘Work to Rule’

This was an important week for the PTSA and for Edna Brewer Middle School.  I’d like to give a recap of our PTSA association meeting from Tuesday and let the community know about an opportunity to discuss your opinions with the OUSD board next week.

On Tuesday we had an association meeting in the Panther Playhouse with many of our parents with translation for a welcome group of our Latino parents.   We embrace the participation of all parents from our diverse community. We first reviewed our fundraising efforts for spring 2015. Our largest event of the year is the Brewer Auction which has a New Orleans theme and band – CHELLE! And Friends – this year.  The on-line auction opens in early March and the live event will occur on Saturday March 21.   Please participate in the auction however you can.   Whether or not you bid on the items available, plan to attend the live event and meet more of our parents and teachers in a fun venue. Our auction leads – Christy Getz, Phylis Kramer, Jennifer Cohen and their teams – have been working for months to make this a success for the school community.

On Saturday May 16 we will participate in our second Ride for a Reason biking event to Sacramento.  Anyone can train and make this ride of 45 or 100 miles with a little training. Jen Ryden has been working to coordinate this event which is a fundraiser that brought us $17,000 last year but which is also a public display of support for education and a plea to our state government to fund education more robustly in our state.   California for decades has had a woeful record of financial support for our schools.   We already have a number of students, parents, and teachers signed up to ride.   For more information, to sign up, or to donate to one of our riders, go to the web site ‘rideforareason.dojiggy.com’.

Despite the challenges above, Edna Brewer Middle School continues its arc of improvement and remains one of brightest lights in the Oakland school district. Principal Pasarow mentioned just a few highlights: Edna Brewer has the highest reading competency rate of any middle school in the district and improved more than five points again this year.   We have a significantly lower chronic absenteeism rate and lower suspension rate than our peers.  This is because of our outstanding teachers and staff and counselor and principal and the parent volunteers and the music program and the PTSA fundraising and parent support from home.   People sometimes ask what makes the difference at Edna Brewer.   The answer is that it all makes a difference: every bit of help and support and donated time and money and the Panther Pride store and every volunteer effort makes Edna Brewer Middle School a better place for our students, our children.

Our final and most extensive discussion was around the ‘Work to Rule’ which is the decision by the teachers at a number of the schools in the OUSD to work only the explicit hours listed in their contract.   This is an effort to focus attention and to bring pressure to bear on contract negotiations for both the OUSD  and the teacher union.   At our meeting we had a frank discussion among representative teachers, parents, and our OUSD BoardRepresentative Rosie Torres.   This discussion was intended for sharing information and feelings about this effort and possibly to gather any support that might grow out of that understanding.

I intend this blog in that same vein: to pass on information rather than advocacy of a certain viewpoint.   However, I write as both the PTSA president and as a parent, and I will pass on certain observations and facts from our discussion.  The ‘Work to Rule’ was noted to be a disruptive strategy to focus attention on contract discussions.   Teachers work from 8 am to 3:20 pm and not outside those hours.  Teachers have been without a signed contract for a number of years.   Teachers in OUSD have a lower salary than neighboring communities and larger class sizes.   Teacher turnover each year at Edna Brewer has been up to 25% which is a severe strain and a yearly challenge.

Both teachers and parents expressed feelings about how wrenching this ‘Work to Rule’ effort has been to teachers and to certain families.   Some of our most vulnerable students are most severely affected.   Several parents noted that information printed as ‘facts’ seem political and slanted and not the facts as either side would agree to them.  Teachers are not enjoying this strategy; students are not enjoying this strategy and miss the time spent outside of school hours that enriched everyone’s experience.   The teacher groups are reassessing this strategy weekly.  Teachers chose this strategy as less disruptive than a strike.

As PTSA president I urge everyone in our community to inform themselves as best they can about the issues of the teacher negotiations and the ‘Work to Rule’ strategy and to make a personal decision.   Please share that decision with the teachers at Edna Brewer Middle School and with the OUSD board.   We will all benefit from teachers working with an equitable salary, with a community united around the emotional and educational support of our students, and with an end to strategies around contract negotiations.

To that end, there is an OUSD board meeting this coming Wednesday, February 25 at LaEscuelita Education Center, 1050 2nd Avenue, Oakland at 5:00pm.   All voices in the community are allowed to speak and are welcome at that meeting.  The teacher group is supporting a group walk to the meeting that will begin at 3:20pm at Edna Brewer on Wednesday.   Whatever your opinion about this issues, the community will benefit when your voice is heard.

Mike Rizzo
Edna Brewer PTSA President 2014-15

2/20/15