Students need stability and our teachers deserve contract

Teachers Paul Wagenhoffer, center, and Kimberly Mintze protest on North Broad Street, as teachers called out of work as part of a citywide action to protest four years without a teachers' contract, in Philadelphia,

THE SYSTEMATIC dismantling of public education in the city of Philadelphia is happening right in front of our eyes, and no one is choosing to stand up and fight for what is right. Our elected officials are allowing both the city and state to starve the school system of necessary resources.

On April 20, the School Reform Commission met to present the newest version of the budget, after an additional $65 million dollars was allocated for the School District. Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, labor leaders and elected representatives expected that a substantial portion of these funds would be used to finalize a contract with the teachers union. This was not the case.

Not a single penny was set aside to resolve the five-year stalemate between the School District of Philadelphia and the teachers union.

The rank-and-file members of the teachers union ask that the School District and the city make it a priority to create a fair and equitable contract that serves the children of Philadelphia and their families. Our children cannot wait any longer for our city officials to invest in them and their future.

For over 1,300 days, teachers have worked without a contract, which means that for over 1,300 days the children have gone without a legal document that protects them and provides for a safe and appropriate learning environment. The teachers contract covers items like class size limits, potable water and school counselors. All items that directly impact a child's learning and well being.

Teachers have the awesome responsibility of educating the future of our society and it is our responsibility to ensure that all of our students know they are important and worthy of a quality education. So when Lee Whack, a district spokesman, is quoted as saying "Dedicating all of the city money to a PFT contract would leave no money for educational investments for children," in an Inquirer article from April 4, what does he consider an educational investment? And more importantly, what does the school district consider to be an educational investment for children? Because the greatest educational investment a school district can make is recruiting and retaining exceptionally qualified, dedicated, highly credentialed teachers.

"Teacher quality has been consistently identified as the most important school-based factor in student achievement." (McCaffrey, Lockwood, Koretz, & Hamilton, 2003; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2000; Rowan, Correnti & Miller, 2002; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997).

Teachers are the most important tool and have the greatest impact on a child's success. A teacher of this caliber is more valuable than any other factor on which the school district spends its money on.

I am not simply a teacher, I am an urban educator, a problem solver, a boo-boo fixer, a warm hug, and most importantly - STABILITY. I am a part of the community I serve and have forged strong relationships with many families. I love what I do and want to continue doing it, but that is becoming increasingly more difficult for me and many School District of Philadelphia educators.

My school is located in an impoverished section of the city and many of our 600 children come to school facing unimaginable challenges. Many are hungry, some are homeless, others are in the foster-care system, and some have a parent or loved one who are or have been incarcerated. Very often the only stability many of our children have is knowing that at school they will see the same teacher every day. Sadly, this is no longer a reality in many school buildings. Teachers are being forced to leave because they can no longer afford to stay. I would be devastated to have to walk away from a job that I love, with a community that I am invested in, and students that make my job worthwhile. But the educators of Philadelphia are being given no other choice. Without a contract, schools will become a revolving door of educators and children will suffer the consequences of teacher attrition.

If the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are ever going to create a contract that serves the children of our great city, the time is now!

Nicole LePore Jackson is a kindergarten teacher at Bayard Taylor Elementary. She has been a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for eight years.