On same team
Educators want the best for kids
Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key has requested a waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) process for the 22 schools rated “D” or “F” in the Little Rock School District. TFDA mandates a more thorough process to dismiss certified staff, including teachers, counselors, and principals.
Commissioner Key has argued that the district, which has been controlled by the state since 2015 due to low test scores, needs greater flexibility to make staff changes. All Arkansas districts have this option and several large districts have this waiver in place.
The Little Rock School District has a distinguished history of educating courageous students to be positive change-makers in our society. Despite numerous talented educators and staff—and I’ve met too many to count— committed to continuing this legacy, it continues to struggle to educate and serve Little Rock students adequately. Regardless of how we measure school quality, educators know in their hearts when a school is teeming with success or struggling to meet a basic promise to students. A struggling school is a challenging school in which to serve each day, and poor leadership only makes the situation worse.
However, it is clear in my experience of working with our LRSD Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA) members and others, that they care deeply for their students and want the very best for them. Kids are why they step in that school building each day.
For more than three decades, over $37 million per year of Arkansas taxpayer money, above and beyond what has been allocated to other districts, was provided to LRSD for improvement efforts. We must acknowledge neither additional money nor Little Rock Education Association union priorities have unleashed systemic success in LRSD. In fact, the union’s continued promotion of its political agenda further complicates the conversation, cultivating an adversarial environment at a time when educators and students need support and solutions.
Leadership capacity and the professionalism of the parties involved in the process determine the effectiveness of TFDA. Competent administrators have the desire, skills, and expertise to support and provide resources to grow educators and make appropriate employment decisions, which is essentially the TFDA process. The truth is the steps in the process can help protect a teacher from wrongful dismissal and protect a school district from making a poor decision, but it depends on the leadership and how those representing educators and administration through the process conduct themselves.
If TFDA remains in place, it is not a guarantee the school district will only make wise termination decisions. If it is waived, it is not a certainty the school district will make only poor termination decisions. Commissioner Key is on record stating a TFDA waiver will be a “scalpel,” not a “chainsaw,” rejecting union predictions of mass firings. Either way, there are other LRSD processes and protections remaining to protect against discrimination, hostile work environments, harassment, and more.
Istrongly recommend school leaders follow TFDA to provide support and resources for educators to grow and learn—we are on the same team, working together for student achievement.
For example, provide effective resources and support, clear and timely notices of disciplinary or investigatory actions, and objective hearings when requested if taking action against a certified staffer. Not because of any entitlement or law, but because dismissal decisions are complex and those added steps can protect a school district from missing systemic issues and losing talented staff —including the colleagues of the dismissed who may voluntarily leave as a result of an unjustifiable decision.
ASTA is the authentic voice for educators. We have heard from several of our LRSD members who are concerned with how teachers are supported or evaluated, as well as how or why poor-performing administrators and colleagues are retained or even promoted. Because of our LRSD ASTA members, our input is valued and we are in regular communication with district leadership and Commissioner Key as they strive to make decisions they feel are best for students. ASTA will continue to be a professional and authentic voice for its membership in a manner that is student-oriented while elevating the profession we love and to which have dedicated ourselves.
The Arkansas State Teachers Association is a state chapter of the Association of American Educators (AAE), the largest national, non-union, professional educator organization, advancing the profession by offering a modern approach to educator empowerment and advocacy—promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda. ASTA-AAE is committed to a teaching profession that is student-oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling. AAE serves members in all 50 states and welcomes professionals from all education entities. Visit aaeteachers.org and astapro.org for further information.