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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Quality not factor as teachers’ fate decided

Robert Archer Special to The Spokesman-Review

“Our main goal is to get as many people as possible back to work.” Those were the words 193 Spokane teachers, including this author, heard over and over from the Spokane Public Schools representative as we sat in the Lewis and Clark auditorium on the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week. Of course the irony was that we had been called there by our district because of the distinct possibility of our receiving layoff notices next week.

As I sat there listening, wholly stunned by where our district now found itself, I knew something was rubbing me wrong; I just wasn’t quite sure what, especially since those words seemed both optimistic and sincere.

I thought back to an incident that had occurred the week before. During my son’s soccer practice, a parent of one of my students came up to me with questions obviously prepared. She was distressed because she had heard a rumor that a certain teacher was being transferred next year from Shadle Park High School, the school her daughter was already attending and her younger sons would be attending soon.

I told her that because of declining enrollment numbers in the district, that because of unfunded mandates from the state, that because of the overall economic crisis in the nation and our state, what she had heard was true. Numerous teachers, although they would still thankfully have jobs, were being involuntarily transferred to other schools in the district.

I then was taken aback because I saw her make her mind up right in front of me. She told me that such a move would be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for her family. Because Shadle Park would be losing what she considered one of its best teachers (and because this had happened too many times before), she would not be sending her sons to Shadle Park; in fact, she would be pulling them from our public schools altogether in order to attend private schools, because private schools could keep their quality faculty intact from year to year.

And then it hit me. This concerned mother of four (and Spokane taxpayer, don’t forget) was making such a huge decision for her children not based on a single teacher, but on a single quality teacher.

And that was the one word I was looking for in the assistant superintendent’s speech to the 193 educators in Lewis and Clark’s auditorium. Yet, she never once said anything about getting as many quality teachers as possible back to work; she just wanted the numbers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming her, for she was simply following the prescribed rules that had been placed in front of her. In fact, later she went on to describe the mandated process by which the district would recall many of those teachers who will receive pink slips next week.

Once the enrollment numbers settle, teachers must be recalled in this order: The teachers with the highest full-time-equivalency certificated experience in our district and state will be placed in positions first; then, if more positions are still open and there are several teachers who have equal full-time-equivalency certificated experience, the district will give jobs to those who have obtained the most number of credits and/or clock hours beyond their degrees; and finally, if there are still jobs available and there are teachers who are equal in the aforementioned two categories, they will resort to (get this) drawing lots for those jobs.

And then it hit me again.

This is how our district decides (or has to decide – I’m not sure which) who teaches our children – all 30,000 of them. It could literally come down to drawing lots.

The district will not ask for the principals’ input; the district will not ask for parental input; the district will not even ask for student input. (Maybe they can’t – again, I’m not sure.) The district will never once consider the quality, the efficacy, the worth of the individual placed indiscriminately into the classroom. Nope. Not once.

So, here’s to Teacher Appreciation Week, although somehow that moniker loses its luster when all we’re appreciating in Spokane are the numbers.

Robert Archer is a teacher at Shadle Park High School in Spokane.
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