At the North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania's seventh-highest-performing district out of 500, students have benefited from a partnership between an unlikely pair: the North Allegheny Teachers' Federation the district's teachers' union and Superintendent Patricia Green's administration.
"Right now we're living in a different generation of labor relations in America," says Green, who has helped perpetuate the partnership that's been in place since before her appointment in 2002. In the era of NCLB, she says, schools have to embrace teachers and look at teachers' unions differently, with less focus on economic factors and even more focus on students' learning. So together the district and federation share provisions and provide a multitude of forums for teachers and administrators to collaborate on issues before they might become divisive. Calling them not teachers but "knowledge workers in a conceptual age," Green says North Allegheny's teachers "are our champions of quality schools."
The collaboration relies heavily on committees that bring teachers and staff together to work out issues that traditionally might cause problems. One committee the Professional Issues Committee meets six times a year to discuss things like special education schedules and caseloads, cafeteria duty, and other topics that might elude more traditional union and administration problem-solving solutions such as contract negotiations.
Led by Green and Federation President Barbara Hutchinson, the collaboration has resulted in high student achievement and a cultivated sense of leadership and empowerment among teachers and staff . With this has come the ability to attract, sustain and expand a high-quality workforce by emphasizing the district's standard of excellence and high expectations.
The successful relationship between the teachers' federation and school department has resulted in North Allegheny's collaboration becoming a model for school systems across the country. They have been invited by conferences to present outlines of this unique partnership.
With teachers and administrators aligned toward academic success and less on issues that normally bog down a school district's labor relations, North Allegheny developed its own SAT prep course that has brought the district's number of students taking the exam to 95.51 percent. "In two years we raised SAT scores by 30 points," says Green. Among other numerical achievements: the district's SAT math scores surpassed the state's by 71 percent, the critical reading scores surpassed the state's by 66 percent, and writing scores soared 63 points higher.
The union-administration partnership has led the district to achievements such as being named an "outperforming school district" four consecutive years by Standard & Poor's. In addition, Newsweek named the senior high school one of the best in the country, and the Pittsburgh Business Times named three of the district's middle schools first, second, and ninth in the state for their academic achievement. "So many folks are extolling what they're seeing in our district," says Green. With teachers spending less time on labor relations and confrontation, they spend more time on their data-driven instructional decision-making, student achievement, and professionalism.
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.