All employees contribute to a student’s success, including support staff such as nurses, counselors, janitors, and office personnel.

• All negotiations support conditions that sustain successful teaching and learning.

• We won’t let each other fail.

• We will work hard to understand the core of each other’s job.

• We will respect each other, be honest with each other, and maintain confidentiality.

• We will not “sugar coat” difficult issues, but we will disagree without being disagreeable.

• We will reflect on each other’s comments, suggestions, and concerns, seeking clarification until we understand.

• We will both “own the contract.”

• We will aim to solve problems rather than win arguments.

• We will laugh at ourselves and with each other.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

Editorial: Public school employees under attack

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

ABC Unified has fostered a sense of “we’re all in this together” among its labor and management teams, and the results are hard to argue with: Despite a student population in which 92 percent are minorities and 22 percent are English-language learners, the district’s average scores in reading and math far exceed the state average. In fact, ABC Unified has exceeded the student achievement goals set by the state of California and continues to improve every year.

Rico said it has taken “hard work” to keep the labor-management partnership going—but “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

It has helped that both sides recognize the value each other brings to the enterprise and want each other to be successful.

“Only a strong superintendent and school board can succeed,” Rico said, “so we want to support each other.” Says Smuts: “I am a better superintendent because I have a strong union president.”

Shared decision-making also is key—district and union leaders worked together for three years to come up with a teacher evaluation system that both sides considered fair—as is sharing in the inevitable sacrifices that must be made. For example, the district’s union bears some of the cost of training in labor-management relations (with help from AFT Innovation Grants), and to help staff members agree to a recent furlough, administrators accepted a 2-percent pay cut for themselves.