Letter to the Hart District Governing Board March 14, 2022
This school district has traditionally been known as a phenomenal one. Student performance metrics have historically been high, our campuses have been praised as safe and nurturing places to learn, athletic, artistic and other co-curricular activities have ranked at or near the top in their fields, and community pride in our schools has been strong.
Dear School Board Members,
Why have our schools historically done so well? Is it the school buildings themselves? Banks of Chromebooks in classrooms? Programs and procedures enacted at the District or site level? These things are no doubt important for the functioning of a school district, but no one seriously thinks this is what ultimately matters.
To be blunt, buildings don’t matter as much as people. An empty state-of-the-art theater won’t get applause; a stadium with no athletes will elicit no cheers, and an empty classroom won’t change any lives.
People matter. Our classrooms mean nothing without students eager to learn. Our schools mean nothing without parents adding their expertise and enthusiasm. And our District means nothing without teachers giving their all on behalf of those students and parents.
Make no mistake–by “teachers,” we mean classroom teachers, counselors, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and all other professionals who work with children every day.
That word “professional” wasn’t chosen by accident. Teachers are experts in not only their curricular field of calculus, physics, economics, Spanish, literature, kinesiology, United States history (to name just a few) but also in the science and art of teaching itself. Each and every one of them has a degree–usually an advanced one–in an academic field and also has a professional license to practice their profession.
The last two years have also brought to the forefront a teacher’s responsibility to nurture the socio-emotional development of scores of children as young people struggle with the additional stressors of a global pandemic. Teachers must not only be experts in their field and professional educators, but must also be skilled in practical psychology and foster a warm, supportive environment for all.
When you look back at your own school experiences, you think of people–your friends and teachers. No one ever learned how to sing in harmony from a Districtwide program. No building ever taught a child how to win a debate. Everything important that happens at a school happens because of people.
Why, then, has this District chosen recently to prioritize programs and buildings but not people? Make no mistake–budgets are priorities. Your home budget is essentially a list of that which matters to you: you allocate money and resources to that which you find important. A school district’s budget is no different. Statements such as, “we don’t have the money” are coded messages which really state, “we do not value that enough to spend money on it.” We simply cannot pretend to value teachers when the balance sheet clearly shows we do not.
This issue is not merely an abstraction: undervaluing teachers has a very real and practical negative effect on an entire community. Santa Clarita is quite fond of promoting itself as a wonderful place to raise a family, largely on the reputation of its fine schools. A District that refuses to value its teachers will find itself unable to attract quality candidates, and will find more and more experienced teachers leaving for better opportunities elsewhere. Colleges are increasingly using the quality of the applicant’s high school as a major factor in their admissions criteria.
The effects are already being felt. Young teachers in our District cannot afford to be homeowners in the community they serve. Nearby school districts, such as Los Angeles Unified, offer higher salary scales and comparable benefits. Top-quality applicants for job vacancies are becoming scarcer–not because of an overall staffing shortage, but because we cannot offer the so-called “competitive” salary we claim to in our literature.
The crisis is not too far along to be avoided, however. Once again, it falls on people to correct a mistake and an injustice. We call on the members of the School Board to guide the School District to stand behind their commitment to value the professional and vital people in it–the teachers.
Hart District Teachers Association