For Edmund Millard, the teachers' strike, with all its upsets and problems, is worth it.
He feels the school board is fighting for him, the principal of Backus Junior High School in Northeast Washington.
"As long as I am the principal and I am taking responsibility for everything that happens in this school," said Millard, a big, long-legged man, "I need to be able to exercise certain judgments and make certain decisions. That is what I was hired to do and I think that is what the board is trying to insure in the negotiations. They want me to be free to do my job.
"If the [School Advisory Committee, a group of union teachers who discuss school policy with principals] is going to have the authority, then they should have the responsibility. But if I am going to be responsible to the superintendent for this school and the education here, then I better be in charge."
The school board's proposals to the Washington Teachers' Union were created with principals like Millard in mind.
Board members have said they want teachers to teach, and work hard at teaching, leaving to the principals full authority to run schools. The members feel that when school fails to educate students, one person -- the principal -- will be to blame.
Millard is that person, the principal, at Backus, a school he call his "house."
Millard was at the Sheraton Park Hotel yesterday to attend a conference of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and stood outside a teachers' union rally in the hotel ballroom for a short time watching teachers go in.
"I don't think any of them expected it to go on this long," he said. "Most of them thought they would be out for a few days to show that the union was strong... now it's really out of their hands. The emotionalism has really got them now. That's why [union President William Simons] gets them down to a rally every day. He's got to whip them up...."
Millard's only fear is that the strike could create bad feelings between the 50 percent of teachers still walking the picket line on South Dakota Avenue NE, near Hamilton Street, in front of the school, and the 50 percent of teachers who are in their classrooms.
"My concern right now," he said, "is maintaining the harmonious learning and teaching atmosphere that existed in this house before the strike. That's my primary concern. My second concern is for the safety and welfare of those students. Now, if anything jeopardizes those two factors, then I could say I was concerned about the strike. I haven't seen anything jeopardize those two factors.
"I would have strong feelings if anything happened to jeopardize the atmosphere in my house that existed before [the strike]," said Millard, a student of Japanese culture who keeps his wristwatch set 14 hours ahead on Tokyo time.
Millard sees the possibility of a divided house as a necessary gamble in a school board fight to improve the school system by making teachers accountable to principals for what happens in their classrooms. The corollary is that principals like Millard would be accountable to the superintendent for what happens in their schools and the superintendent would be accountable to the board, which would be the school system's one policymaking body.
The school board, under pressure from the public and political figures for the poor quality of public schools in the city, has pointed to the teachers' union as the problem. The board cites a series of contracts in which the teachers' union has gained some power over school policies.
"We don't need a Superintendent Simons," school board President Minnie S. Woodson said in a reference to teachers' union President William Simons. "We have a Superintendent [Vincent] Reed and we have a school board."
But to teachers, especially those who are active union members, the "I'm-in-charge-here" type administrators, like Reed and the principals who emulate him, are "little dictators," in the words of one union representative' "They run around telling you what to do and most of them haven't been in a classroom five minutes in five years. They're all concerned with moving up in their careers and getting the big money'"
School board members complain that they are unable to evaluate the superintendent or principals like Millard, because the old teachers' contract created schools that were run by committees and burdened with neverending complaints from teachers about administrators. The board has proposed limiting complaints against administrators to violations of the contract only.
Millard is concerned about the old teachers' contract and "grey areas" in the contract that he said keep him from having full control of his school.
First thing in the morning every school day, Millard said, he is reminded of the contract as he opens the school doors to students.
"The contract says that teachers are supposed to sign in at 8:45," he said. "What does that mean? Does that mean they should be signed in by 8:45 and at their post to receive students when school opens at 8:45? Or does it mean that teachers should be in my office at the sign-in sheet at 8:45 when the students start coming in. If the teachers are in the office, then the students are unsupervised and running in the halls."
Millard said board proposals to remove policies on student grading and discipline from the teachers' contract is sensible: "The final decision [in both areas] has to come from an administrator," he said. "Parents have the right to challenge a teacher's grade or ask what a child did wrong. And if the teachers can't give them the answer, then they are going to go to the administrator, the principal, to get the answers. The administrator has to be able to see both sides and make an objective decision."
Millard, a principal for nine years and a teacher for 13 years, said he worked for bad administrators as a teacher and wouldn't mistreat teachers because that would make him a "hypocrite." But he also said that he could never strike.
"When you are dealing with a school strike," he said, "you are dealing with a different commodity than when you deal with an industrial labor strike. We're not dealing with cars. We're dealing in the human commodity, children. In other industries you could double production to make up after the strike.But with children, you don't know if you can ever recoup. A teacher should realize that there are other ways to settle a strike, like talking. And you may not get all you want and I may not get all that I want, but we'll compromise."