Home » Dyslexia » Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

On Feb 11, 2014, at 3:57 PM, SAINT PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS wrote:

Dear Saint Paul Public Schools Families,

Saint Paul Public Schools and the leadership of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers – the union that represents teaching staff in your child’s school – have been negotiating the terms of our teachers’ next employment contract since May of last year. That contract outlines wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled – on Monday, February 24, 2014 – a vote asking its 3,200 teacher members to decide whether or not to authorize a strike.

We want you to know that if the teachers union votes to strike:

  • Your child’s PreK-12 classes will be canceled at all Saint Paul Public Schools for the duration of the strike. This might be one day, one week, or longer.
  • Before and after-school childcare, Discovery Club, Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education programs will not be held.
  • Your summer plans could be impacted. Classes for K-12 students could extend into summer to make up for lost instructional time. Summer school (S-Term) dates would need to be rescheduled.
  • The district would be unable to provide any food service for your child.
  • If a strike lasts more than a few days, it will likely have an impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) scheduled for April 2014.
  • All teachers, school staff and district staff will be affected. Many staff members, including teachers, will not be paid during the strike.

And…my response:

Dear Ms. Silva,

     This e-mail was very insulting to me.  I have e-mailed you in the past with my concerns about St. Paul Public Schools and I have never received a response from you.  One e-mail was just last week when my child was denied an assessment for special education even though he is behind 1st grade benchmarks, is labeled gifted and talented, has been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I put my formal request in writing.
     I support the teachers in this conflict.  There are NO RESOURCES to help my child learn to read.  NONE.  My child’s 1st grade teacher has a large classroom with a huge range of cognitive and emotional needs.  She is an amazing teacher.  She cares deeply about each student in her classroom and wants to meet all of their individual needs.  To help my dyslexic child learn to read she was handed a curriculum she has never seen before and told to individually teach him.  This is wrong and unfeasible but there is no other option.  How can she teach all the children if so much is demanded of her to teach one.  Other children’s needs are just as important as my child’s, but there just aren’t enough teachers to help.  There are no reading specialists at my child’s school…..and the district denied my written request for a special education assessment, leaving the classroom teacher as the only option.  If his classroom was smaller, much smaller, it may be possible for the classroom teacher to teach him individually with the type of intense intervention he needs.  But, the classroom isn’t small.  Because of your policies, it’s large.  My life, the life of my 1st grader, and the career of his teacher is effected every single day because of this reality…..but I should worry that his Community Ed. class is cancelled?
     Because of your policies my child and his amazing teacher have been set up to fail, but you are telling me my concern should be that he can’t take a standardized test…which would only show me that my child is failing to learn and no one in your district is able to help him.  Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, children are stressed….but I need to worry that his unhealthy breakfast in a plastic bag won’t be available to him.
     I want nothing more than for St. Paul to have strong schools for ALL children.  This is why I’m siding with the teachers.  I am willing to have my life disrupted for however long it takes for the school board and you to sit down with the negotiating team and work out your differences.  During my 12 1/2 years with a child in this district (I started with ECFE in 2001) I have only seen the situation for students and teachers get worse and worse.  I worry on a DAILY BASIS about how my children are going to read and write.  DAILY…and many times at 3:00 AM.  Administration has never been of any help.  I have been shut down time and time again.  My life has been disrupted enormously because of failed policies in your district.  I have homeschooled.  I have changed schools.  I have tutored my children.  I have had heart wrenching meetings.  I have had to look at test results that show them in the bottom percentages of the district.  I have put my oldest children in charter schools.  I constantly worry about their future.  And because teachers want to make the educational environment better for children you send me an e-mail telling me to worry about after school programs.  When are you going to worry about my children not learning how to read and write?  When are you going to worry about their crushed self-esteem?  When are you going to worry about my feeling of helplessness?
     Don’t tell me I need to worry about breakfast, lunch, and vacations.  Thanks, but I can handle those things.  Easily.  Actually, feeding my child is my job.  Figuring out summer vacation is my job.  Teaching my children how to read and write….that is your job.  And, so far with my children you are 0/3 on fulfilling your responsibility of teaching them the basics.
     I want to thank Mary Doran, chair of the school board, for reaching out to me last week to share her personal story.  I appreciated her taking the time to listen, really listen, to my concerns.  I do have hope that things will change in St. Paul Public Schools.  The conversation I had with her was heartwarming and I felt listened to.  This was the first time in many years I felt listened to in St. Paul Public Schools by anyone except a teacher.
     The e-mail that the district sent, however, took away much of that good feeling.  Again, the district is not listening to what parents are saying, just proving talking points.
     I speak for many when I say the parents are sick of the talking points.  It’s time to really listen.  Listen to parents.  Listen to teachers.  Listen to the children.  Don’t assume you know what is best.

28 thoughts on “Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

  1. The email sent by the MS Silva is nothing more than a threat to the teachers in the St Paul public schools. It is a blatant attempt to turn the parents and community against the teachers and their union. It is obvious that the folks representing the Board at the bargaining table are obsessed with control issues. They don’t want to have language in the contract concerning class size and related issues because it would give up their control over such things.

  2. Very nice reply to that sad excuse for an announcement. You articulated your feelings very eloquently. Thanks! One of the reasons I left teaching in SPPS was for the ridiculous policies they began implementing a few years ago. Effective teaching is impossible in the atmosphere SPPS has created. Just my two cents!

  3. THANK YOU soo much for posting this! While I understood the need for the school board to speak up, I too felt aggravated & almost threatened by the e-mail. I also read the attached documentation outlining the school boards position & reasoning on the various issues and frankly, I felt that the points they made were weak as water. Is there a petition or anything started for this that we can sign in support of our children & teachers? I heard there was a FB page started, however, I wonder how many parents really know what is going on? Honestly, before the e-mail sent by the school board my knowledge of the facts was rather limited but the way it read & made me feel motivated me to dig deeper.

  4. Chrissy
    Thank you for your reply – well said and heart felt. As a teacher in the SPPS school district, I can not begin to express how betrayed I felt when I read the email that was sent to families (I also have children in the SPPS district.) I really hope that families and the general public understand that the teachers may choose to strike because we believe that the children of St. Paul DESERVE a better education opportunity than the one being offered right now! Children deserve to be in classes with a decent students to teacher ratio. Children deserve to have school nurses at EVERY school. Children deserve to have the necessary support staff in EVERY classroom throughout the district. If the district REALLY wants to close the achievement gap, we must provide Early Childhood Education to everyone! Kindergarten classes MUST be accessible to ALL children…Teachers are fighting for the needs of every child in every school! Preparing for our future, teaching all children.

  5. I was absolutely floored and flabbergasted when I received the district email. I thought it was a shameless attempt to bias parents against teachers and was full to fear-mongering tactics. It breaks my heart that many SPPS students depend on school so they can receive 2 meals a day and a warm place to be; however, as you stated, we are currently setting our children up for failure and change must occur! I support our teachers right to strike. I support their fight for smaller class sizes, less teaching to standardized tests and many of their other positions.

  6. Thank you, Chrissy. Your articulate response captured so many of my own reactions. Their letter demonstrates just how disconnected the district is from families, parents, teachers and the points where the learning happens. I have started crafting my own letters but now feel emboldened to be more REAL with my words. You are so correct- this has real impacts for our kids/ development and future success- as students and adults. The gloves are coming off. It’s worth the inconveniences that are at play.

  7. as long as she is been in this position superintendent silver has consistently abuse their power and allowed principles to abuse there’s they have gotten rid of teachers on chopped up in proving plans and a blade of teachers while they continue to increase the number of people in higher in ministration in the school district this has got to stop

  8. As long as she has been in this position Supt. Silva has continue to poorly manage this district abusing her power and allowing principals to abuse theirs. She has removed several teachers on phony improvement plans when the real reason for their removal was that they made too much money. She has hired administrators who have been fired from other districts for stealing. Many teachers are in fear of being retaliated against if they speak up these tactics have to end Silva must go

  9. Thank you for your powerful message. I retired from SPPS last year, my main concern is the teachers left to wrestle with the unbearable politics that damage their morale as they suffer through day after day with a silent scream inside because their voices have been drowned out in the top down administration of mandatest, testing, scripted lesson plans and be quiet or else you are a traitor to the district. This is a very toxic environment for children and teachers. If I wasn’t retired in Oregon I would be at the Board meeting loud and clear. Thank you for your caring heart.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective, Juliana. Please, if you’re so inclined, let your opinions be known to the district anyway. You are affected, if only as a concerned friend of the many colleagues who remain, but you are also an informed voice. Thank you for considering taking action.

  10. Wow! KB, your words certainly were harsh and, in my opinion, uncalled for. The assumptions you make about Chrissy’s “lack” of research and effort to assist her dyslexic child(ren) are unfair. Your further assumptions about her parenting choices concerning TV, cable, etc are mean-spirited. I think your opinions could have been shared in a more supportive manner. If you are so frustrated with the blog, I recommend refraining from reading it and posting harsh criticisms.

    • Thanks for sticking up for me.

      I have decided to take down the negative comment about my personal life. People are entitled to their opinion, however, it takes away from helping the school district. The focus should be on supporting the teachers at this time.

      I am telling MY story. Only mine. If you have a story to tell, I encourage you to do it.

  11. …..the letter from the schools is negotiation away from the negotiation process…it is unfair as a labor practice, despite the fact that it may be a common tactic and often used tactic…..perhaps in a non-adversarial process where teachers themselves ran the schools, budgeted as forced to and made decisions that favored the students, all outcomes would be different…unfortunately the teachers union leaders as well as the School district “managers” would never let this happen as it would cut many of their personnel out of lucrative jobs which seem to exist for no reason beneficial to students…

  12. Chrissy, thank you for your articulate and heart felt blog. As a parent of 3 adult children, I hurt for the struggles you have had. I wish you well in continuing your journey of advocacy for your children! I worked for SPPS in ECSE for 33 years and was always so impressed by the strength of the parents of the children I worked with. During my employment, I was always surrounded by passionate dedicated staff who worked tirelessly to serve our families. I appreciate all of the parent’s support of the teachers! I believe the parents voice is critical to a quality education. Strong schools are built on a foundation of great teachers, a supportive administration and parents that are strong advocates for their children. Thanks to all who have taken the time to express their opinion and support SPPS! St. Paul is an amazing community!

  13. I retired from SPPS district after 37 years of teaching in elementary education. I was privileged to teach in music and KNOW I made a difference. ALL teachers make a difference. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the district does with it’s resources?
    I was on the staff at Parkway School for most of my career and we-all of us-WERE closing the achievement gap. HOW? we had excellent teachers who were able to teach in classrooms of 18 to 22 students.They were given the materials they needed, support of the principal, and much needed support staff(i.e. full time school nurse, counselor, social worker, reading specialist, computer, music, physical education, librarian, educational assistants and teacher aides). A united staff that works together works well with children.
    So what happened to Parkway? Well, after we were successful in seeing the learning gap close…we were closed!!!! Or as we were told…”re-purposed”. The staff was dismembered, the children were sent to several different schools and the building was given to a different program. Bottom line…not Parkway. CLOSED

    As I have talked with friends who are still teaching, I hear the frustration, sadness and hopelessness in their voices. What happened to REALLY teaching? Scripted lessons? Creative units of exploration? School nurses? Librarians? Parental involvement? Critical thinking? What’s with each day you move along in math. What happens if a student hasn’t grasped the concept? Math specialists? Now that there are more special education students in the classroom, what sort of help are they receiving? The amount as recommended by state and federal guidelines? Second language students get ONE year off from taking standardized tests? Could any of us master a new language in one year and take a standardized test in the new language in ONE year? These are just a few of the many concerns of teachers.

    Principals are YOUR top administrators that are to make a stronger faculty, support teachers, parents and students. Yet, there is a feeling of divide and concur among these groups. Not everyone is on the same page. What’s being done to improve these conditions?
    Improvement plans? Some cases would be appropriate, I’m sure but 5 or 6 in one school?
    And what help is given to those teachers that are singled out to improve? I digress…

    A thought…there are several schools not in use.
    1. open them
    2. decrease busing
    3. maintain classrooms of 22 or less.
    4. make sure teachers have the resources that are needed to be successful.
    5. make guidelines for discipline and STICK to them.
    6. make a small increase in salary…reason? Teachers will be so happy to be supported with these 5 improvements, they will feel like they have received a 30% raise.

    Ms Silva, Do you want a productive district? Do you want to see children succeed? Will you work to get the parents and teachers behind you? Do you want a united district?
    Union busting is NOT the answer. Working together as a united force FOR the students of Saint Paul WILL work. There is money, use it wisely.
    Margaret (Penny) Heubach, a proud retired teacher of SPPS

    • Thank you for sharing yoru informed opinion, Margaret. You have wisdom that clearly comes with experience and perspective. I hope you will considering taking action of some type. You add the dialog in ways us parents cannot. Thanks again~

  14. As a teacher in SPPS, I almost burst into tears when I read your letter, because this is exactly how I feel as well. I try my hardest everyday to have enough time, patience, love, attention, etc. to reach all of my students, but with a large class and several students who have more-than-typical needs, I know that I fail students in my everyday. Not by my choice, but because of the policies created by those in positions of authority. That is really hard. It is hard to want to go to work everyday and know that you will fail.

    • I’m so sorry you feel this way and that you are going through this. I am a former teacher and I can’t imagine teaching my child’s first grade classroom and meeting all the needs…especially when presented with a pacing schedule. There are many parents who stand with the teachers. We all want change. In fact….we NEED change. The current situation is unsustainable.

      I thank you for all your work and appreciate your thoughts. My hope is that we can work together for change.

  15. I like the negative comments. Open forum. As an active teacher not in St. Paul, I offer my support. For too long teachers have been dumped on by standard tests, misguided allocation of national resources, reneged promises, and unjust criticism. Most teachers are in it for the love of learning. Time for society to re-prioritize… and start putting money where there children are, and not entertainment, corporations, and prisons.

  16. Your letter sums it up perfectly. As teachers, our hands are tied. We are constantly reminded of the achievement gap and that it is the fault of the SPPS teachers. I teach with very strong,
    intelligent and hard-working teachers. We care more than anyone will know. But, we cannot
    do what is right by our students. Valeria Silva is a micro-manager and a bully. Teachers and
    other SPPS employees are afraid of her and other administrators. It is a sad climate in SPPS. Teachers are so frustrated by the lack of support. We know the classes are too large.
    We know we don’t have the resource staff to help our students be successful. We know
    we need counselors, nurses and social workers to help our kids be successful. Pre-K
    for all is a no-brainer. Every 4 year old in St. Paul deserves a head-start. Studies show that
    the impact of attending a Pre-K program is huge. Where is that extra 6 million dollars for full
    day kindergarten going? If the general public knew about all the paid positions that do not
    work directly with students, they would be appalled. Eliminating these fluff positions could
    pay for everything teachers want and need to help our students. Perhaps the biggest
    disappointment is that Valeria has the school board fooled. The joke is on you St. Paul
    Public Schools school board.

  17. The ironies here are legion. How is it that we incur all the rhetoric about closing the achievement gap (or, frankly, moving forward in any proactive and constructive way) when the entire administrative tone is punitive, threatening, demeaning, harassing, foreboding and generally models an irresponsible level of sabre-rattling that can have no positive outcome whatsoever? How do we improve instruction and close an achievement gap, in other words, when the elements of classroom-environment improvement such as reducing class-size are disallowed….this to name only one of the dissonances present?

    The grandstanding by an insular and insecure administration shown here is off the chart in its level of insult to the citizens and taxpayers of St. Paul. Some of the threats are inanely redundant; others are at more of the “I have a phone and a pen” level; still others foretell that admin. may exercise a right to say “I told you so.” The tone (of this communique / e-mail) emanating from district administration and its obvious characteristic of teacher distrust is unnecessary and unprofessional, resembles the full antithesis of accountable talk, and yet closes with statements of pride in students and system. It is a cynical and manipulative manifesto which seems to have been recklessly broadcast, with one hand outstretched and seeming to plead in theatrical outreach and communion with the parent community while with the other pointing an accusing finger at instructional staff who have technically taught without contract for what is now going on eight months.

    All this heat, from an administration that does not want the liability and the stigma of a walkout associated to or with them. Perhaps they need to stop in to one or more of the secondary IB classes on the classics and have taught to them the Greek point of wisdom that “character is fate.”

    It needn’t be this way.

    Well-said points, Penny. [You know who I am, since my subbing for you in ’79 was my foot in the door to SPPS(!), but I must, alas, go moderately alias due to my part-time post-retirement work in the district.]

    Backatcha, Mike: I took early retirement two years ago, making the decision while it was still mine to make; this after thirty-three years in SPPS. Many happy memories of students and things accomplished…..back when it was a good deal more appreciated. Thanks for your notes there.

    Christy, many thanks for the blog. I’m following!!

  18. Thank you Ms. Snider for your support. I have been a teacher in SPPS for 17 years. My life revolves around my students. In fact, just yesterday I spent my Saturday at Mon National Day so I could watch one of my students dance in his cultural celebration. The SPPS parent email was very disturbing to me. A large group of my students and parents are new to this country and are working hard to provide basic needs for their children. They trust me every day to deliver the best possible education and they depend on some of the child’s basic needs to be met at school such as breakfast and lunch. To send such an email breaks my heart because it sends the message that I don’t care about what happens to my students, who I view as my children too. It weighs heavily on me to think that my students not only will be missing out on learning but may not have everything they need if I have to fight even harder for them. I have always been fighting for them. I want every student who walks into my classroom to feel proud, confident, and smart. I work 70+ hours a week creating lessons to individually meet as many needs as possible. This is not a sustainable endeavor, so asking for more support for our students is not unreasonable. Asking that our children have a nurse available when they are sick, a counselor when they need to talk, and enough staff so that every child can get the attention that they need are not unreasonable requests either. SPPS needs to look at the amount of administrators and staff with teaching licenses that no longer work directly with students. Those numerous positions alone would allocate money and/or people back to the best interests of our children. So again thank you for your response and your support. Plain and simple our children deserve the very best.

    • Brenda, I am certain your hard work IS appreciated by students and families! They are fortunate to have you as a teacher. Working 70 hours a week and maintaining your passion for your children and love for teaching is not sustainable. The teachers have my full support. The administration must start making decisions that are best for the students, which in my opinion will keep excellent teachers like you in the district. Smaller class sizes are a must as are more counselors and nurses. I also believe St. Paul needs greater support in the classroom for children with special needs. With the strong voice of teachers and parents, perhaps the administration will rethink its position. Best of luck to you. You do make a difference in the lives of your children!

  19. I’m curious to hear what kind of response you got to your very well written letter. Even though the negotiations are over, I’d like to hear how the Supt. is responding to your comment of a lack of resources for teachers to help students with dyslexia. I agree that there needs to be more support and resources for teachers teaching students with varying reading needs especially for students with dyslexia.

    • I’ve heard nothing. After many, many attempts both publicly and privately, no district official has responded to my questions and inquiries concerning a lack of resources for children with dyslexia/reading difficulties.

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