Op-Ed: Talks Represent Tremendous Opportunity

| Cincinnati Enquirer | Mary Ronan

Superintendents have been known to describe teachers' union negotiations as a necessary evil that is best approached with a mixture of contentiousness and dread.

But as I look ahead to our district's upcoming contract talks with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, nothing could be further from my mind.

I believe these talks represent a tremendous opportunity for our teachers, our students and our community. If we focus on our shared interest – dramatically accelerating achievement – we have the potential to use the bargaining table to develop creative strategies to advance teaching and learning in bold, even transformational ways.

In our work to improve academic results, teachers matter most of all. I believe every child in Cincinnati Public Schools deserves an outstanding teacher. All of the adults in our district – starting with me – should be held accountable for ensuring this occurs.

Although it is premature to be too specific about desired bargaining outcomes, I believe the time is ripe for frank conversations and innovative thinking about how we can collaborate to improve teaching, close the achievement gap and turn around schools.

Just tinkering around the edges won't take us far enough, fast enough. If we are to make dramatic gains, we must move beyond status quo strategies. We must openly ask and answer fundamental questions:

How can we identify, recognize, reward and retain excellent teachers in CPS?

How can we attract our best teachers to the schools that need them most?

How can we redefine the traditional school day and year so that students have more time to learn and teachers have more time to grow as professionals?

How can we design a teacher evaluation system that provides needed supports and fair accountability for performance while being efficient to administer and cost-effective?

These are not questions that typically have been easy for public school systems to answer – and they certainly cannot be well answered without listening to the voices of our teachers and principals.

That is why I am so enthusiastic about our partnership with the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit organization that takes a collaborative approach to ensuring that students with the greatest academic needs receive excellent teachers.

With the support of the CFT and the Cincinnati Association of Administrators and Supervisors (representing CPS administrators), the New Teacher Project is conducting a third-party survey of our teachers, principals and assistant principals about what strategies will increase teacher and school effectiveness, and what processes may be impeding progress. The results of these surveys will provide important data for our upcoming contact talks.

These are times of historic opportunity for the nation's urban schools. Under the leadership of President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and with bipartisan support in Congress, unprecedented federal resources are available for school systems that "think outside the box" to increase and reward teaching excellence and turn around low-achieving schools.

I believe Cincinnati Public Schools can be one of those districts – and I believe that our teachers and principals are committed to making it happen. We owe this to our community, because a great city deserves a great school system.

Mary Ronan is superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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