Ron Gwiazda is head of the English department at Madison High School in Roxbury, and Nancy O'Malley is an English teacher there. Both of them went to school in the 1960s and began teaching in the 1970s. Gwiazda has been notified of his dismissal, effective next year. O'Malley, who has more seniority, will stay on.
Gwiazda: We have a whole group of specially trained people who are low in seniority, but the backbone of programs, who will probably be kicked out. Many schools have good seed-type programs that seem to be working but are extremely delicate in terms of funding and staffing. Proposition 2 1/2 will kill a lot of them. In the process of moving and cutting teachers, there'll probably be no consideration as to whether it eliminates some program.
O'Malley: I wrote the grant for a reading program. We got an average $350,000 a year covering 13 schools and 6,700 students. It used the "master teacher" concept. Superior teachers were freed of their other duties so they could help other teachers develop their own ideas. We invited the community in. The year that we made the most gains -- the year that we had across-the-board reading gains of 2.3 years on average -- the grant wasn't refunded. We ran into a snag we hadn't expected: we weren't submitted.
Gwizda: The central office [citywide school headquarters] has to have a commitment to pick up that kind of program.
O'Malley: When I heard what had happened I went to the central office to see how the program could be saved for the whole system. We talked to the school committee. Teachers and parents wrote plans showing how the concept could be continued in some form at a relatively low cost. They initiated this. They said, "It worked, let's keep it." But no action was taken to keep the program going. But for all intents and purposes it was dropped.
Gwiazda: At Madison Park High we produced around 1,200 pages of copyrighted curriculum materials for a special reading program.
O'Malley: Last year I'd attent meetings in the central office where there was a lot of discussion about developing language arts curriculums. But teachers in the schools already were developing these curriculums. There was plenty of good stuff from teachers. The problem historically was that the central office did not gather the material and distribute it.
Gwiazda: The best long-term result of desegration was the infusion of money and the freeing up of people who wanted to things out from under a variety of thumbs. In some cases teachers just went bananas innovating and producing new materials, and what they came up with was first rate . . . There was real innovation in the way students were taught and what was used to teach them. These programs were evaluated by professional outsiders who; looked not only at academic improvements but also at changes in attitudes, attendance records, discipline. The gains were proven.
When the central office approved these federal grants in the first place it guaranteed it would continue them with adequate funding and staffing if they were successful. What's tragic to me is to see that all of the things that should have been institutionalized are going to be lost because the city never picked up on its commitment.
O'Malley: In Boston they just take the straight seniority approach in keeping teachers.
Gwiazda: As lot of the really good programs and the energy, the push for change, came from younger teachers. But if you're a teacher, you're working in the kind of bureaucracy that doesn't reward and in many cases doesn't acknowedge extra effort. So your extra efort puts you on the same level as those who did the minimum.
Boston has never weeded out the incompetent people. The problem is that quality control is not something the bureaucracy or the union has ever cared much about. The union, with some legitimacy, wouldn't really trust the city to set upsome kind of merit system. We've had the patronage problem. A large number of people have been pumped into the system, particularly into administrative positions, who don't directly serve students.
The union simply doesn't trust the city to go back and rate teachers on merit and decide who should stay. But the union seems to feel there is no other option but support for the seniority system, so the union is unwilling to help protect these programs and teachers.