Collaboration and Contract Make a Difference for Students
Marjorie Punter made a shocking discovery two years ago on her first day of school at Belmont: there were no textbooks for her students.
“It was devastating to find out how far behind we were,” said Punter, who teaches 11th and 12th grade literature in the special education program at the Dayton, Ohio high school.
With 42 years of teaching experience, Punter had plenty of knowledge and tricks up her sleeve to get by and help her students learn for a few weeks. But she knew these students needed books.
Punter took the textbook problem to Principal David White, who was new to Belmont at the time. White made phone call after phone call, each time being told Belmont couldn’t get textbooks for the special education students. That’s when the Dayton Education Association (DEA) got involved.
“When I walk into a classroom and there’s no books, no curriculum and it’s basically a babysitting room and those are the kids that need the most and they’re getting the least, then I have a moral obligation to fight for it,” said White. “So that’s where we had to actually go back door through the union to get what we needed.”
“I went to my union and said, ‘Now what do I do?’” said Punter. “They said you’re going to file a grievance and we’re going to get those kids books.”
DEA President David Romick, who at the time was DEA vice-president and a teacher at Belmont, explained to Principal White that the union was going to file a grievance against him for “not providing appropriate supplies and materials.” White welcomed the grievance.
“We took that grievance downtown and the whole district got special ed textbooks as a result,” said Romick. “So that was an example of him actually using the union to his advantage, to the advantage of the kids and everybody at Belmont.”
Because of the Dayton Education Association, and Principal White’s willingness to do whatever it takes for the students, every special education student in Dayton Public Schools now has a textbook for every subject in their curriculum.
As NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign advocates, strong union leadership and collaboration with both school and district leaders is a key element to transforming lower-performing schools. The positive relationship between DEA President David Romick and Principal White is a perfect example of what can be accomplished for students through collective bargaining and union contracts.
“I think there’s a long standing attitude that this needs to remain an us-vs.-them situation,” said Romick referring to the idea that unions and administrators are enemies. “That might have had a time in unionism. But that time has passed. We’re at a point now where things have to change, things have to move forward. We’re here to serve the students. That’s the bottom line and collaboration is the only way to get there.”
While the success through collaboration and collective bargaining in Dayton has proven beneficial for the students, a new law in Ohio is threatening to limit that success. S.B. 5 was passed by the Ohio legislature in March and signed into Gov. John Kasich on April 1. The legislation targets workers, including educators, their unions and collective bargaining rights. There is currently a statewide petition to overturn the law, with the effort being led in part by the Ohio Education Association.
In the meantime, the Dayton Education Association and staff at Belmont High School will continue to build the positive relationships and learning environment they have worked together to create.
“This union wants this building to be the first of the bunch in Dayton that reforms the public school district,” said Punter.
For more information about the transformation underway at Belmont High School, read “Creating a Safe Learning Environment.”