Matters of Principal, David Weinraub
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Excerpt from Matters of Principal

   That same morning, Superintendent James Roedel was beginning a meeting with Fred Krisch, the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). Also in the room were Saul Kane, the school district counsel, and Jack Jackson, the vice president of the PFT.
Roedel began. "It's so nice to have you here, when we aren't negotiating."
   Krisch laughed. "Somehow, I think we're always negotiating. It's just a matter of degree and timing."
    "Well said. You're probably right but, at least, this is off the record?"
   "Deal," returned Krisch. "What's up?"
   "Are you aware of what's going on at East Philly?"
    Krisch responded with a mild shot. "I'm aware that Tabas was appointed acting principal at the bequest of a majority of the staff and that's probably something we should build into the next contract. It may turn out to be a better method than the principal's examination which hasn't been very successful in the past."
   "Yes, I guess we are bargaining, but can I at least get into the purpose of the meeting first?" questioned a somewhat annoyed Roedel.
   "I'm sorry, please go ahead," apologized Krisch.
   "You're aware that Tabas and the staff have asked our permission to explore the possibility of allowing them to split the ninth grade boys and girls in January and perhaps the entire school next September?"
   "Yes, our building rep has kept us up to date on the goings on."
   "How does the union feel about that?"
   "We've been kicking it around, and as long as teachers aren't forced into violations of the contract, we don't see a problem."
   "What kind of violations?" asked Roedel?
   "Well, like not having a permanent classroom or having to float every period."
"Hmm, okay. What else?"
   "Nothing else; we like the idea," said Krisch.
   "You know," interjected Kane, the lawyer. "There's nothing in the contract about teaching boys or girls separately.    The staff could be asked to teach either group without violating the contract."
   "We understand. It's not a problem."
   Krisch then looked at the superintendent with a little disbelief. "So, you're thinking of allowing him to do this?"
   "We're leaning that way, but I still have to run it by two more board members," replied Roedel.
   Krisch stole a look at Jackson, who nodded his head. "If you're considering that, how about going a step further?"
   Both Roedel and Kane leaned forward.
   "How about letting East Philly become an 'experimental school?' You know that's already in the contract."
   Roedel turned to Kane and Kane pulled out a copy of the contract.
   "Page 173," stated Krisch.
   Kane turned to the page and began reading.
   "For a period of two years, an experimental school can be established through the positive vote of sixty percent of the teaching professionals in the building, if the vote is acceptable to the principal. Once established, the staff would select committees to chart the direction of the school in all areas, including method of instruction, instructional materials, budget, class size and organizational structure.

The principal and his administrative staff would still remain responsible for all rules governing the operation of the school and the evaluation and discipline of the entire staff, within the general guidelines of the Philadelphia School District and the State of Pennsylvania."
   "What's the history here?" Roedel asked.    "Evidently this was inserted in the contract long before I came on board."
   Krisch explained, "It's been in the contract for a long time, but about eight years ago, two elementary schools tried it for two years. They gave up, because the staff got tired of doing the principal's work. It's never been tried at the high school level, even though that was the original intent of the concept."
   Roedel looked at Kane, who shrugged his shoulders, then looked back at Krisch. "Do you think Tabas would accept this? Do you know him?"
   "I've known Tabas since we were rookie teachers in a junior high school and Tabas was one of the original hard workers in the first and second union representation elections. Tabas quickly became a principal at age thirty-two, in Hatsville, and then decided to go into the educational software business very early on. Let me tell you a Dan Tabas story.
   "We lost the first election, but won the second, two years later. Dan had worked tirelessly, in both elections, because he felt that administrators had carte blanche to screw any staff member, for whatever reason, and he wanted it stopped. Everyone was pretty euphoric at the time and we had our first general meeting at a big hotel, about two months after the election.
   "Dan had a list of new items he wanted to bring up from the floor, for the consideration of the membership and patiently waited for 'new business' to be called. As the officers were getting close to the end of the meeting, without opening 'new business', Dan stood up, waving his hand. When they ignored him, he got furious and started waving his hands and yelling.
   "Well, the chair kept ignoring him and Dan kept getting louder and started calling the president by his last name. Finally, they called on Dan from the stage, to find out what he wanted. Dan asked what the hell had happened to 'new business' and the president told him they didn't accept 'new business,' from the floor anymore. It had to go through committee first and be voted on.
   "Dan was incensed. He walked up to the front of the room and asked for the microphone. The president was really scared, because he had no idea of Dan's intentions, and so he handed Dan the microphone. By now, the whole place was quiet as a church and Dan went into a tirade about who the hell did the officers think they were? They won one lousy election and the membership couldn't talk directly to them anymore. Then he took his list and went through it as slowly as possible. When he was through, he glowered at the president and gave him back the microphone. On his way back to his seat, he got a standing ovation.
   "In my estimation, Dan has always been about people being responsible for their own actions and getting them involved in decision making. I think he'd agree to a vote in a heartbeat," concluded Krisch.
   After a minute, the superintendent responded. "That was certainly an impressive story, but you're now adding a new dimension to the East situation and there are all sorts of ramifications, educational, social and political. Just off the top of my head, who would ask Tabas if we wanted to encourage a vote?"
   "I haven't been over to East in a long time and I'd like to see my old friend," smiled Krisch. "And, after all, it's in the contract."
   Roedel didn't speak for quite a while and Krisch was guessing he was considering whether this could come back and bite him in the ass. In fact, he and Jackson had talked about the very same thing. After walking up to his desk and returning with a glass of water, the superintendent looked at Krisch. "After all, it's in the contract."

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