Conference focuses on labor and management collaboration

The New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaboration Conference drew leaders and members from NJEA, the American Federation of Teachers-New Jersey (AFT-NJ), the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), and the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), as well as the national parent organizations of these statewide organizations, including the National Education Association.

NJEA President Marie Blistan, NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty attended.

“I’m optimistic about the work that we are doing here to better our profession and to improve our public schools,” Blistan said. “But the bottom line is—and always has been and always will be—the effect this work has on our students.”

The effect of collaboration on students

Saul Rubinstein, a professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, coordinates and facilitates the New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaborative. With John McCarthy of Cornell University, he has conducted research that reveals the positive impact of greater collaboration.

“We see a very clear relationship between what happens between the adults in the building—the collaboration among teachers and between teachers and administrators—and the impact on student learning,” Rubinstein said.

Rubinstein reported that in districts with the highest levels of collaboration, 12.5 percent more students perform at or above English/language arts standards compared to districts with the lowest levels of collaboration. For mathematics, they measured an increase of 4.5 percent.

Rubinstein and McCarthy also found that differences in teacher turnover between high-poverty and low poverty schools were erased when collaboration reached high levels.

History of the collaborative

NJEA Assistant Executive Director Steve Swetsky traced the history of the labor-management initiative, noting that in 2013 an informal group of representatives from NJEA, AFT-NJ, NJSBA, NJPSA, NJASA and Rutgers University grew from an NJSBA task force on student achievement. Rubinstein made a presentation for that group.

“When they heard the data that connected labor-management relations and collaboration in schools to student achievement, it was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” Swetsky said. “They started to consider whether collaborative practices could be supported at the state level.”

As the group sought potential districts in which to put labor-management collaboration practices to the test, Swetsky stressed that such partnerships could not be forced—all parties must voluntarily choose to participate.

By 2015, eight districts were identified for the first cohort: Bergen County Special Services, Bordentown, Delran, Haledon, Manchester, Metuchen, Montgomery, and North Brunswick. These districts identified local teams and chose projects for collaboration. Through Rutgers, the statewide organizations offered training and semiannual gatherings for support. Clearview Regional, Lower Cape May Regional, Milltown, New Brunswick, Ocean City, Pompton Lakes, Teaneck Community Charter School, and Wanaque comprise a second cohort.

The conference continued with panel discussions from several school districts and local associations. NJEA members on the panels included Metuchen High School teacher Evan Robbins, Montgomery Township EA (MTEA) President Scott Mason, MTEA Vice Presidents Karen Kevorkian and Jennifer Jones, Delran EA President Amy Yodis, and New Brunswick EA President Nancy Coppola.

“With this system, teachers and ESP realize they have a voice,” Mason said. “The collective bargaining process has improved because of the transparency we have throughout the year.”

“The superintendent calls me now to talk about things,” Coppola noted. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for our members and students. We know our members want this.”

“The principal and I work together, attend conferences together, and focus on resolving any issues. When you reduce stress for teachers, it reduces stress for students,” Jones said.

“It’s a process and it takes a long time to build the relationship,” Kevorkian said. “My principal and I made a promise that we would not let each other fail. If we succeed, our students succeed.”

Conference draws governor and NEA attention

The conference also drew the attention of Gov. Phil Murphy and NEA Vice President Becky Pringle who addressed the conference.

“Schools work best when educators, administrators and school boards all work together,” Murphy said. “After all, each part of the school leadership and labor teams have the same objective: to elevate learning and ensure that every child leaves prepared for success in the world.”

Pringle noted the importance of including all educators, including educational support professionals.

“We must build a system where all can succeed because they share the responsibility for each other’s success,” Pringle said. “This aspirational vision of shared responsibility to promote opportunity and equity for all our students must be broadly owned by teachers, support professionals, administrators, school boards, parents and community organizations.

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