Despite serving a population in which 92 percent of its 20,000 students are minorities and 22 percent are English-language learners, the district has had remarkable success since labor and management began working together more closely. ABC’s score on California’s Academic Performance Index has increased every year since the partnership began more than a decade ago, and the district’s average scores in reading and math far exceed the state average.
(For more information about ABC Unified’s unique labor-management partnership, see “How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration.”)
ABC Unified was one of 12 presenting districts whose members shared their secrets to successful labor-management collaboration during the conference.
Besides establishing a set of guiding principles and meeting frequently to solve problems, other strategies for success discussed at the conference included establishing trust by making communication more transparent, and sharing in the decision-making process together—something that Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast (a 2008 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner) called “distributed leadership.”
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In building a more collaborative labor-management relationship in his own district, “we found out we didn’t even speak a common language,” Weast said. Union and district leaders had to establish this common language before they could move forward.
Both Weast and Rico recommended that union and district leaders attend joint training on labor-management collaboration. “During training, you develop this common language” and get to know where each side is coming from, Rico said. She added: “Successful partnerships take time, and they evolve over time.”
AFT offers this training for its member districts, and districts also can request help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an agency within the U.S. government that handles arbitration and mediation of labor disputes and contract negotiations.
“I’m one of the few government employees who can say truthfully, ‘We’re here from the government, and we’re here to help you,’” quipped George Cohen, the agency’s director. He added that his agency’s services are provided to school systems free of charge.
Potentially divisive school reform issues, such as how to measure teacher quality and respond to ineffective teachers, can challenge even the best labor-management partnerships—and a key to overcoming these challenges is giving teachers a voice in these difficult decisions, participants said.
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