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Kids should be key in school contract talks

Jill Michal is president and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey Cynthia Figueroa is president and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos

Jill Michal

is president and CEO of United Way

of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

Cynthia Figueroa

is president and CEO of Congreso de Latinos Unidos

Darren A. Spielman

is president and CEO of the Philadelphia Education Fund

As Philadelphia's students have returned to the classroom, they've been preoccupied with thoughts of class schedules, reuniting with classmates, and achieving their educational goals. Unfortunately, given the current situation, their parents may be thinking: Will there be sufficient resources, teachers, and support staff to ensure my child's educational advancement and safety?

The negotiations between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) have drawn attention away from what matters most - the students. As members of the Coalition for Effective Teaching (CET), we are advocating an agreement between the union and the district that includes terms to improve conditions for teachers and promote stronger student learning gains.

CET's recommendations include changes to both the teachers' contract and management practices in order to support high-quality teaching in every classroom.

Our primary objectives include:

Implementation of site-based hiring led in each school by a small committee that includes teachers, community residents, parents, and the principal. Let them determine who joins their team based on individual school needs, the record of the candidates, and the degree to which candidates will advance the positive norms of the school - irrespective of seniority.

Retention of class-size limits as reflected in current contract language, with carefully defined stipulations that permit larger classes for blended learning.

Paying "teacher leaders" so that those who help other teachers or respond to specific learning needs are rewarded for instructional leadership based on their expertise. Restrict higher-education pay bumps to teachers who receive advanced degrees in areas demonstrated by robust research to have a positive effect on student learning.

According to the Shared Prosperity Philadelphia plan, 39 percent of the city's children live below the federal poverty level, and research shows that children from low-income communities start first grade up to two years behind their peers from moderate- to upper-income households. It is the shared responsibility of the city, the district, and the teachers' union to address these proposed changes to help ensure that every child is prepared to do well in school, to stay on track to graduate high school, and to be ready for college and a career.

Here's the bottom line: The district and the PFT must resolve these issues quickly and fairly so that we can get back to focusing on how to continuously enhance the quality of our schools, as well as the career development of our teachers. The future of our region is tied directly to the success of our largest school districts - and our kids are counting on us. There are far more important things to be focused on now that school is back in session.