A Reminder of What We're Fighting For

The night we reached our Tentative Agreement with the District we bargained until 4 AM.  I didn’t go to sleep that morning. Instead, I spent my day in a Kindergarten classroom at Woodlawn Elementary with first-year teacher and proud PAT member, Brittney Whitman.

After working so long hammering out the details of our contract, it was a perfect way to reconnect with what we’re actually fighting for—removing the obstacles that get in the way of teaching and learning.

Right away, I was amazed by Brittney’s classroom. Every table was at a different height, and students could choose to sit on stools, carpet squares, rocking chairs, or yoga balls— whatever met their specific needs. Like so many of us, Brittney had spent her own money outfitting this classroom in a way that offers a variety of sensory inputs and makes learning fun.

We know that our younger students are coming to us with more significant needs than ever. That’s why, as educators, we need an even broader spectrum of tools, interventions, and supports to meet those needs and create a safe learning environment for everyone.

This is one area where our contract makes some important advances. For example, we’ve created a task force that includes PAT members, para-educators, and building administrators to help the District develop additional interventions and supports. We’ve also secured $3 million to implement these ideas, and address other pressing safety concerns. I don’t anticipate this will solve all our issues, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

As a middle school teacher, I loved being reminded of how little Kindergarten students are, and how much space they take up! That’s why I’m so proud of our new workload language, which sets a class size threshold of 24 for Kindergarten classrooms. I know this isn’t a cause for celebration—if you think 24 is too many, I agree! But, this year PPS is staffing Kindergarten classes at a ratio of 26 to 1, and we know many Kindergarten classes have even more. At a time when so many of our students need more individual attention, I’m excited to be a part of the first union in Oregon to win comprehensive class size language.

These new thresholds aren’t meant to be a staffing model. They are a ceiling, not a floor on class size and caseload. But they will give us the tools we need to lower enrollments in the most outrageous cases and they are a first step, a foot in the door, towards class sizes we can actually be proud of. Bargaining over class size also gives us another way to push lawmakers to address the real source of our budget problems—corporations who are not paying their fair share in taxes.

For now, I want to celebrate our accomplishments as negotiators and organizers, and focus on our students and what this new contract might mean for them next school year.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President