Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MORE Chapter Leader Kevin Prosen Shares: Intro to Consultation Committee

The head of the school and the school chapter committee shall meet once a month during the school year to consult on matters of school policy and on questions relating to the implementation of this Agreement.”
...... UFT contract Article 19H3

I firmly believe that a key to establishing a voice for the school chapter is related to how the official monthly meetings with the principal are organized by the chapter leader.

MORE has a fabulous chapter leader listserve where CLs from all over the city get answers to questions from other CLs.

Kevin Prosen, a middle school CL and one of the most politically astute young organizers I have met, was elected in the 2012 year cycle and re-elected last spring. I remember how unsure he was when he first took on the job and how quickly he grew into the position. He organized the chapter into a force in the school - a significant feat, given the leeway the principal had over many years. Less than a year after he was elected he was able to get most of the people in his school to sign the middle school petition to help get MORE on the ballot in the 2013 UFT election.

I know about his school for many years -- they had a very difficult principal, who has since retired - I like to think that the work Kevin was doing was a factor. Kevin has done some wonderful work in the chapter, even garnering praise from UFT officials who have seen the outcome of the work he has done. Kevin has been producing materials to help other chapter leaders.

One of the most important duties of the CL is to organize and manage how the chapter relates to the principal. The consultation committee is the key vehicle to accomplish this in its monthly meetings - required in Article 19H in the contract.

When I became CL in 1994, my principal refused to recognize the election or meet with me. It had to be made clear to the staff and people above her that she was refusing to meet with the chapter, not me, by not meeting with the committee. She, who rarely backed down, backed down and over the next 3 years we had a monthly meeting no matter how much she tried to get out of it. And a monthly meeting not just between her and I but an open meeting to which I invited any UFT member to attend as an audience, in addition to a regular committee - and I tried to include reps from all grades, divisions in the school, and the non-teaching personnel - a secretary, para, social worker, etc.

Oh, and I never allowed a meeting to take place in her office - her turf - but in the teacher room or some other classroom. And - I, not she, ran the meeting, as is the right of the CL.

Here is a letter Kevin sent to the consultation committee in his school.
Intro to Consultation Committee

Welcome to consultation! This committee is the voice of the UFT staff on the job.  Consultation is a position of leadership within the UFT at the school level, giving voice to the concerns of our members, resolving problems, and helping the membership communicate with the chapter leader.

Consultation members keep up with any issues that arise throughout the year that affect the whole school or a whole department.  Members with individual issues can take it up with the chapter leader directly.

The minutes are the written record of the meeting and the principal's response.  We take minutes on a rotating basis.  The easiest way to do it is to type them in real-time.  Forward them to chapter leader when you're done to review.  Minutes are posted on the UFT bulletin board, emailed to the staff, and shared with the Principal and the District Rep.

Consultation happens at every level of the DOE.  Just like we gather the concerns of our members, look for patterns, and then address them as systemic issues, the same happens between the District Representative and the Superintendent, and the President of the union and the Chancellor.  Issues we are unable to resolve at the school level are often referred to District consultation.

Here's some things that will help us be more effective

-Take it seriously.  Please make an effort to be at every meeting.  If you can't make it, please let me know in advance.  Finish the minutes quickly and professionally so we can get them out to the staff.

-Phrase issues as questions when possible.  We are trying to get explicit statements of school policy from the principal. 

-Bring documentation. The issues we try to address are often complex, and without having it “in writing,” they are much harder to deal with.  If member come to you with an issue, please ask them to provide any documentation they may have.

--Bring solutions.  It's the people who do the work every day who have the best ideas about how to fix problems that arise.  If a member brings a concern, ask them if they have a suggestion for how they would like to see it solved.

-Maintain order.  The committee can only be effective if the meetings are respectful and orderly.  Please wait to be acknowledged by the chair to speak, and stay relevant to the agenda item at hand.

-Come to the pre-meetings.  We will always meet on the Tuesday before our official meeting to determine what issues to raise and what solutions we might want to propose.  The pre-meetings are important- they are where our union strategy is created in terms of how we react to issues in the school.

-Leave individual issues out.  Consultation is the voice of the entire chapter, not any one person.


1 comment:

  1. Think of the contract as lip service to a good faith running of a school and has little to do with the real-politik of the structure. That's because principals have been given more than a decade of training and support by the DOE to counteract the balance spelled out in the contract.

    Principals can count on a legal team and district level support to uphold their decisions, and they have the means to keep staff in fear of their jobs. The newer ones have been trained by secretive Leadership Academy and often have way too few years in the classroom. Apart from the corruption to the contract that are taught and supported by this fairly sinister back-structure, not a small number of principals run the school on bribes. They can offer benefits in the form of scheduling, subjects to be taught, extra paid work, easy observations, S ratings and other bargaining chips to staff who go along with their ideas and who play nice. It's hard for a CL to get colleagues to work together when a principal is good at this and has been at it for a long time. Teachers will carve out what works for them personally and will not fight for all parts of the contract - or put themselves out for others who might not have such a good deal.

    And there's always, always the chance that when a principal doesn't feel the need to follow a CL's request to adhere to the contract, they know they can make it extremely uncomfortable for the CL. These days, that goes all the way down to a U-rating and loss of license.

    Good luck with this. If it lasts, you lucked out with your principal.



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