The ABC Unified School District (USD) has come face to face with America’s future. In this district of contrasts, no ethnic group can claim a majority. It boasts Whitney High School, whose standardized test scores are higher than any other school in California. But ABC is also challenged with educating large numbers of limited English immigrant students. These children come from what is commonly called a low socio-economic background. To advance these students’ educational needs, District superintendent, Dr. Ron Barnes, and ABC Federation of Teachers (ABDFT) president, Laura Rico, began addressing the situation in an unorthodox way.
Students, who are facing a variety of hurdles on their way to academic success, often need innovative approaches. In a labor-management partnership, the Union and District stepped outside their contract and developed a program showing their commitment to excellence for all of ABC’s students. The result is the Southside Schools Reading Partnership – “a partnership around a dream,” says Dr. Barnes. To make the dream a reality for one-third of the students, the partnership is reaching beyond its certificate staff. It also involves parents and community members who have a common goal – to ensure academic success for students from the six participating schools.
There are no mandates requiring teachers to teach an extra hour a day. There is nothing compelling the District to fund training programs for teachers. No one is forcing ABCFT to help with money to make the program successful. The Union President advised that the overriding goal of all children in ABC is acquiring the skills that will make them productive citizens, and this is what motivates labor and management to work cooperatively.
Since the program began last June, teachers have attended special district funded training sessions. ABCFT has contributed funds for teachers to travel out of state to enhance their instructional skills. One school’s staff has opted for a staggered reading program. This requires them to teach an additional hour each day. Plans are underway to create a mobile learning center. This converted bus would travel throughout the community to offer adults expanded learning opportunities. Evening parent classes have been scheduled. In an effort to aid parents wanting to attend classes, both parties are striving to develop a free, voluntary preschool program. There are leadership meetings once a month for progress and invention sessions.
This unique labor and management partnership is a model of focused education. The Union and District see themselves as equal partners in achieving a dream of universal literacy for ABC’s students. President Clinton has noted there will be no majority ethnic group by the year 2020. In the ABC Unified School District , 2020 is now. If the partnership helps to meet future challenges today, then what lies ahead is not just a more diverse society – but a more literate, tolerant and productive one as well.