Why I’m Voting Against the Priority Schools “MOU”

Tonight I had the extreme pleasure of standing in solidarity with the Christina Education Association, Superintendent, and School Board in resolving to put together a task force of ALL stakeholders with the purpose of creating an alternate memorandum of understanding to be submitted in place of the currently-proposed MOU the state Department of Education has put forth.

I would like to thank state legislators John Kowalko, Paul Baumbach, Bryan Townsend, and Kim Williams (as well as anyone I might have missed!) for coming out in support of the district. I’d also like to thank others who spoke on behalf of our schools, including Kevin Ohlandt, Nancy Willing, Mike Kempski, Najma Landis, and many other teachers and parents, as well as Mike Matthews, Frederika Jenner, Julie Harrington, and many community members who filled the auditorium at the Sarah Pyle Academy for tonight’s 3+ hour session, including over 2 hours of public comment.

Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Freeman Williams and Christina School Board members David Resler, Fred Polaski, Elizabeth Paige, Harrie Ellen Minnehan, George Evans, Shirley Sutton-Saffer, and John Young, who had the courage to make the wise decision to invite a dedicated group of CSD stakeholders to craft a more appropriate set of MOUs that will truly address the issues and needs of our identified priority schools, as well as other schools in our district.

This is the text of my speech; there are some areas where I went “off script”, so I’ve attempted to recreate the unwritten parts as best I can remember them!

“Good Evening School Board Members, Dr. Williams, and Guests;

My name is Jackie Kook, and I am an educator in the Christina School District, where I am in my 14th year of teaching agriscience. I am also a parent of two current and two future students in the Red Clay School District. Futhermore, I am serving as the vice president of the Christina Education Association.

On all three counts I have serious concerns about the State’s intended implementation of a priority schools plan.

I’m going to go “off script” here and say that the money we have left behind or on the table is nothing compared to the $59,650,400 that has been taken away by budgetary cuts since 2010. (ed. note: this was in direct response to concerns raised during state board of education member comments about Christina not using funds available to them, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, from what I could tell)

I read the state-drafted MOUs in their entirety, with a highlighter and a pencil in hand. There is much with which to be concerned.

On page 1, in the description of the Planning Statement of Principles, the proposed MOU states “Schools need time, structure and support to develop powerful, coherent improvement plans.” My note was “we’re given no time or support!” but it is important to also point out that we are being given no true autonomy, which number 2 explicitly states is necessary.

The final line on page 1 is nothing if not a threat: “if an MOU is not agreed to within 120 days, the LEA’s options are then limited to closure, reopening as a charter, or contracting with a private management organization to operate the School.” When has the State Department of Education EVER agreed to a Christina-proposed MOU? Do you believe this time will be different? This is a power play. Nothing more.

Page 2: “strategy must be based on solid evidence” and include “other elements determined by the Secretary that evidence shows supports great teaching and leading and dramatically improving student achievement.” I have ZERO faith in the current Secretary of Education’s ability to provide solid evidence of any of these things, especially given his track record of making decisions that directly contradict such evidence.

If Mark Murphy and JP Morgan can do it better, I say let them. But they can’t. And we all know that. (ed. note: this was in direct response to a pro-MOU Brandywine District community member who said local businesses should partner with these schools to help them improve)

Why is the only codicil specifically referenced several times in this proposed MOU the segment on “Human Capital”? In fact, the section that addresses requiring the District to comply with “human capital provisions” is in bold font and says that “a satisfactory plan must include” implementation of these provisions. In my mind, that means we will never reach an agreement, because I will NEVER authorize my union or district leaders to sign away our hard-won collective bargaining rights or strip my members of their rights to due process and job security.

Also, I did an informal Facebook poll and found that 100% of commenters objected to being referred to by employers as “human capital”. They find it degrading and dehumanizing. Frankly, I believe that’s the entire point. It’s a heck of a lot easier to say “make staff reapply for their jobs” than to say “Jackie Kook’s family’s livelihood should be at stake due to a wrong-headed, heavy-handed decision that makes no sense and has absolutely no backing in evidence for improving student achievement. Which, by the way, is determined by a metric that has also been proven ineffective.”

But I digress.

The final point from the MOU that I would like to address is all the extra money and resources that the District is required to allocate to these priority schools, including what appear to be provisions for generous compensation packages for school leaders and staff upon successful completion of the exit plan. Aren’t we projecting a significant financial shortfall in the coming school year? What will we need to cut to fund this ridiculous expectation that is proven ineffective BY RESEARCH?

Evidence: Secretary Murphy keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

Thank you for your time.”

*There’s plenty more excellent public comments to hear, coming soon on CSD Board audio!

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2 Responses to Why I’m Voting Against the Priority Schools “MOU”

  1. You were awesome tonight! All the teachers were. It was well worth the drive up from Dover!

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