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I worked at Yakima School District full-time (More than 3 years)
Salary and benefits are excellent for someone at the top of the salary schedule like I was. My building administrator was tough, but fair, and focused on improvement for our poorest, most challenged students. A+ (although I've certainly heard from other schools who do not have a lot of love for their principal. a lot of this seems due to the increasing pressures we face for increasing performance of our poverty-stricken students)
I experienced more finger-pointing and blame in this district than I have in others. I dealt with Central Office staff from several departments and some of them had evident dislike for each other. Directives for school programs and instruction seemed to come from different directions and there were mandates that were either in conflict or that seemed educationally indefensible. It doesn't help one's professionalism to be told that one's feedback over the efficacy of programs is not wanted. "Just teach the program" is not helpful advice when the programs are not specifically designed for the needs of students of poverty and linguistically diverse students. The leaders of the teachers union have helped to champion the idea that teachers are not compensated well enough, therefore, we should do no work that we are not compensated for outside our normal teaching day. This was my first experience in 25 years of having teachers walk out of staff meetings at the minute the contract day was up. The union is so strong that there seems to be a power imbalance the district is unwilling to address, so teachers are just hourly employees. This ends up affecting building climate and student learning as teachers don't put in the extra collaboration time necessary to increase our skills to meet the challenge of our diverse learners. If it was easy to reach these learners, we would already be doing it; the new demands of CCSS means we teachers need to lead the way as learners. The students of YSD would benefit from having better union leadership on this issue. Hopefully, the new superintendent in 2015 will be willing to challenge the union so the squeaky wheel teachers still get heard, but do not control the atmosphere of many buildings. It's so much more fun and rewarding to teach in an environment where we truly are helping each other to get better instead of listening to people who complain but will not put in the time to learn how to rise above their complaints. Don't get me wrong, if you need a job and are up for a challenge, this might be as good as many others in the Yakima Valley. But having worked in several districts, I would prefer a smaller district with less bureaucracy where your positive personality and commitment to the mission can have a quicker impact on the students and on your colleagues.
Advice to Management
See the Cons above. Start focusing on what's best for kids, not what's best for the teachers who are most vocal in the union. Honor the experience and leadership of good teachers and require Central Office program managers to be in the schools at least one or two times a week so they can ask questions and field concerns. Adapt off-the-shelf curriculum based on what is learned. No program is truly research-based if it hasn't been tested rigorously with our classrooms and with our particular teachers. Encourage experimentation along with documentation of results, i.e. action research. Challenge the union leadership to work with you on solving the problems of poverty, not just accepting the union's default of solely pointing out their issues with wages and working conditions; help them buy in as a partner in making working conditions better by making buildings friendlier places to work where students are experiencing more success. I'd trade a great collegial environment and ever-increasing student success based on the collaborative learning of my teaching team over a few more dollars here and there. I'd like my union to help me achieve this, not drive a wedge between staff members over political issues that have nothing to do with student learning. Lot's of advice, I know, but from the first meeting (district level) I ever attended in YSD when I could feel the tension in the room like people were afraid to truly express opinions (and thought to myself "Man, this place is disfuncional!",) through all of my experiences to the very end: YSD was not a place of professional safety and therefore not one of educational innovation. People are discouraged, but that can be fixed with strong leadership. Here's hoping the leaders among Central office, union, building administrators, and teachers can face the hard challenges and hard truths and do a better job of working together.