“If we all adopt the solution-driven approach that the teachers in Meriden have taken on — in collaboration with their school officials — we can reclaim the promise of public education,” said Weingarten. “And not just public education as it once was, or as some claim it should be for just some students. I’m talking about public education as it must be for all students today and for future generations,” she said.
Weingarten’s comments refer to the positive difference a collaborative relationship with public school administrators makes in adopting new teaching methods, standardized curricula, educator assessments, and emerging technologies. Teachers and education support personnel in Meriden have demonstrated a viable alternative to the top-down tactics of some “reformers” who show little regard for the contributions of classroom educators.
“What makes adopting new methods and adapting to change work is relationships,” said Lincoln Middle School literacy coach Erin Benham, a veteran educator with 34 years of classroom experience. “A strong labor-management partnership between our union and district officials has been key to the success of the grant to expand learning time. We have had a voice in the process the whole way, and are a big part of planning the next steps,” said Benham, who also serves as president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1478.
Benham’s comments refer to a consistent working partnership that has been maintained for more than three years between the union’s elected leadership and the district’s superintendent and top level staff. The parties in 2012 created a joint committee of teachers and administrators to write the application for the Innovation Fund grant that enabled the extended learning time initiative’s development.
“There are valuable lessons to be learned here in Meriden,” said Melodie Peters, a former state senator and president of AFT Connecticut. “These professional educators have demonstrated what can be accomplished by stepping outside the box. They reached out to their union for resources to help implement new, innovative ways to improve classroom learning. The so-called ‘reformers’ out there should take notice at what is happening in this community’s schools,” she said.
Peters’ comments refer to an AFT Innovation Fund grant awarded to the local union to redesign schedules in order to increase opportunities for students to learn and teachers to collaborate. Since the “expanded learning time” program began two years ago at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School student attendance and performance have both shown marked improvement and progress. The program was expanded this year to John Berry Elementary School with a unique flex time initiative developed by teachers in order to meet their students’ educational and enrichment needs.
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AFT Connecticut represents more than 29,000 professionals across the state, including approximately 975 teachers, paraeducators, and classroom support personnel in Meriden Public Schools. Follow the labor federation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
The federation and its affiliated unions are part of the 1.5 million-strong AFT, which represents nurses and healthcare workers; pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; and early childhood educators. Follow Randi Weingarten on Twitter at @rweingarten.