Thursday, April 26, 2001

Teacher concerns outlined

Union's new leader aims for role in district's reforms

        Susan Taylor was elected to lead the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers in a landslide victory a week ago.

        As Ms. Taylor, a 22-year veteran who teaches at Hughes Center, prepares to take the helm of the 3,100-member union May 9, she talked with reporter Andrea Tortora about her plans.


        She wants better communication with CFT members. And to sustain the momentum of the vote, she promises equal emphasis on protecting teacher rights and improving student achievement.

        “We've got to get back to the grass roots. Union business can't be rooted in other places,” Ms. Taylor said. “Sometimes it takes face to face talking. That's going to be the thing to build trust.”

        What do you want to accomplish as CFT president?

        My first goal is to establish trust among the members. I think there is a lot of uncertainty among the members. We need a unity within our membership. They need to be more satisfied with CFT, to see it as a union that works for their interests. We have gone over purposes and goals that unify us to rebuild our sense of unity and trust that are now missing.

        That needs to be solidified before we can have any meaningful discussions on reforms and the reform agenda.

        We are teachers first and we have to focus in on those issues too.

        What can we do as a professional organization to improve student scores while also protecting the rights teachers have? We also have to work to ensure that the reforms really do improve student achievement.

        What changes do you want to make to the pay-for-performance system?

        It has to be streamlined. There are a number of ways we can explore trying to make it a system more doable for teachers so teachers don't feel it is as burdensome as it has been this year.

        It's a priority for the executive council. We still haven't developed an exact plan. We have a small group looking at it, and that group will report back.

        The process would be easier if more teachers knew how to use (word processing) technology. Some of them are paying people to type up their reflections. We have teachers who are not proficient in word processing skills and so the past year for them has been a nightmare.

        How should union leadership work with district leadership?

        That's the hardest question. First the school district administration needs to accept that we are now the people they need to have discussions with. We're not there yet.

        We've got to figure out how we can build trust between our leadership and their leadership. We've got to be treated as an equal partner.

        How do you think proposed state funding changes will affect teachers?

        It has the potential to be devastating. You see it every day in this district. Teachers struggle and struggle to get kids to meet the standards and to get kids to do well on the tests.

        We're recognized as one of the highest achieving urban schools in the state of Ohio. The union, in conjunction with all the other people, worked so hard to get the (November) levy passed. And then to get slapped in the face and kicked in the butt. Where is the justice?

        It may mean we do need to take a more active role on the state level as a union.

        What differences will teachers see in the union when you take over as president?

        When we hear there are glitches and problems people have, we will work to make improvements that have to be made.

        Things will be based on practice, pragmatism and day-to-day operations to make improvements and less on theoretical discourse. Not to say we aren't capable of theoretical discourse, but we want to take theory and break it down into actions teachers can take to make the theory real in the classroom.


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