The new Saint Paul teacher contract: What’s in it?

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After an intense negotiations process, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers and the Saint Paul Public Schools have reached agreement on a wide range of proposals. The union will vote to ratify the contract on Tuesday, March 4. Here’s a look at some of what wound up in the new contract. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and it emphasizes some of the proposals that came from the union’s work with the community. (Full disclosure: I was part of the process, taking notes and conducting follow-up research for community discussion groups.)

Class Size

The new contract tightens the rules on class size, especially for schools serving more students from under-resourced backgrounds. The previous language held elementary schools to an average class size for the attendance zone, allowing some classes to grow too large so long as enough others were kept low within the attendance zone. The new language requires each grade level in an elementary building to have an average in the approved range. The schools with the highest shares of students from under-resourced backgrounds will also have smaller average class sizes. Previously, in secondary schools, the average was determined by the subject area classes. New language in secondary schools will be an average per teacher and in the 2015-2016 school year will include all subject areas (with the exception of musical ensembles), not just core subject areas.

Family Engagement

The union’s highly regarded Parent Teacher Home Visit Project was strengthened by the agreement, which should increase the amount of high-quality engagement. The contract also takes a first step towards addressing community concerns about conferences by creating pilot Academic Parent-Teacher teams, which should create more flexibility around family-teacher communication. Parents will also serve on committees evaluating each school’s safety concerns and class size exception needs.

Testing

One of the major disruptions from testing is the amount of time spent not only administering tests, but also preparing for them. As a result of the new agreement, the district will reduce the amount of time spend on these activities by 25%. Tests will be reviewed for cultural relevance, and the district and union will work together to lobby policymakers “to reduce mandates for unnecessary testing and to eliminate the misuses of standardized tests.”

Support for New Teachers and Teacher-Led Redesign

The agreement bolsters the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program that works with new teachers (as well as more experienced teachers seeking to improve). It also shields new teachers from teaching off of mobile carts, a change which should help new teachers better focus on their development in that important first year. Additionally, while in no way limited to new teachers, the agreement also defines the process for teacher-initiated school redesign.

While many of these are not conventionally part of the teacher contract, the union advocated for them after engaging in extensive community outreach to identify common areas of concern. In an upcoming post, I’ll look at a couple topics of community concern that the board will act on but that did not end up in the contract.