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Beyond the paycheck: Indiana educators play major decision-making role--and 85 percent of new teachers stay. (Learning).

The Fort Wayne, Indiana, school district had some major planning on its agenda last year:

* Design professional development for the system's 1,800 teachers;

* Choose one schedule for all six high schools;

* Work out strategies to keep the city's 54 schools free of the dreaded "academic probation" label that is part of Indiana's school accountability system.

Many school systems face issues like these. But very few tackle them the way Fort Wayne has. Each decision was effectively made by a committee that included frontline educators, members of the Fort Wayne Education Association (FWEA).

About a quarter of Fort Wayne's teachers serve on one of the system's many decision-making committees. "This is where real, meaningful change takes place," says FWEA President Steve Brace.

Administrators in this mid-sized, working class city also sit on these committees, and in some cases, so do parents and the occasional student. But teachers usually play the leading role.

Based on a survey of educators, the in-service committee chose programs that best met staff needs.

The high school schedule committee narrowed the schedule choices to two, and then all high school teachers voted. Now, with all schools on the same schedule, there's less confusion when students transfer.

The state accountability committees, one in each building, came up with test score targets and strategies for meeting them.

"We all brought different things to the table, including the student member who had many useful ideas," says Kathy Malott, a Portage Middle School teacher who worked on the project in her school.

As a result of all this committee work, teachers laud the improved decision-making process and there's a great deal more buy-in from the educators who must carry them out. "When you have ownership, you take more pride and responsibility in what you're doing," says Brace.

The committees also serve to connect the staff. "I teach art and art history," says Malott, "but now I'm more attuned to what other teachers are doing so I can gear my work to fit. If we didn't have this collaboration, teachers would go back to being more isolated."

Now in Fort Wayne, new teachers don't leave. Eighty-five percent of the teachers hired in the last five years still work in the district. Brace gives a lot of credit for the high retention rate to the district's mentoring program, also run by a joint committee.

School districts across America vary wildly in the ways they make decisions. In some, the superintendent rules supreme, while those who actually work with the children have little say.

Fort Wayne is at the other end of the spectrum. Cooperation between union and management has given teachers a seat--in fact, many seats--at the decision-making table. The FWEA contract specifically provides for these joint committees.

The teachers on the committees are volunteers, sometimes nominated by their principal, but they must be approved by the union president. Eighty percent of Fort Wayne teachers are FWEA members.

Relations between the Fort Wayne school administration and the union aren't always sweet. This spring, negotiations are starting for a new contract, and Brace expects tough bargaining over salaries and other economic issues.

But where educators and administrators share the same goal--namely, giving Fort Wayne's 32,000 public school children the best possible education--the union and administration cooperate smoothly and effectively, and Brace doesn't expect that to change.

Last year, the administration and the union won an NEA-Saturn/UAW Labor/Management Partnership to Mentor New Teachers award for their mentoring program, one of six awards given nationwide for mentoring programs developed together by unions and school administrators.

For more: Contact Steve Brace, Stevefwea@aol.com, or Kathy Malott, Kathy.Malott@fwcs. k12.in.us. To apply for an NEASaturn/UAW Award for exemplary mentoring programs, go to www15.inetba.com/saturnuaw/ filecabinet/Satfile/PAapplication. htm. The application deadline is March 14.
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Author:Jehlen, Alain
Publication:NEA Today
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:637
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