Mary Ann Ranells

Mary Ann Ranells, PhD, is superintendent of the West Ada School District in Meridian, Idaho. She has played a key role in aligning curriculum to meet state standards and directed several federal programs.

How Low Can You Go?

Our state legislature recently passed three major educational reform bills.  The first one significantly restricts collective bargaining by local unions.  The second mandates a pay-for-performance model based on schoolwide achievement, and the third requires increased use of technology and online learning for high school students.  Other than the pay-for-performance bill, introduction of these bills was done without input from educators or stakeholders.  The State Superintendent released his plan at the beginning of the legislative season as his Students Come First plan proclaiming Idaho schools would achieve more with less.

Hundreds of people testified to the Senate Education and House Education Committees, mostly in opposition to the proposals.  While some adjustments to the bills were made, the increased reduction in funding (for the third year in a row) is causing districts to increase class size, eliminate programs, and cut discretionary spending to the bone.  Funding has further been reduced to pay for the technology and pay-for-performance bills.

Balancing budgets is nothing new.  Implementing mandates is nothing new.  The unexpected devastation has come in the form of a direct hit on morale.  After reading an article in the Washington Post, written by Kathie Marshall, a veteran public school teacher in California who is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network  and the Accomplished California Teachers group, one teacher sent this email to me:

I don’t have much that’s concrete to say, but I wanted to let you know that I FEEL the sentiments of the author of this article boiling beneath the surface among many teachers here at THS -- anger, disenfranchisement, discontent, general morose, a feeling of being unappreciated by society, district, supervisors...

Times are tough for everyone in education, obviously, and for a lot of different reasons. There’s no one simple explanation and neither will there be one simple answer. But I do hope that, at a time when society at large and the state’s politicians are choosing to condemn and scapegoat public school teachers in so many ways, Lakeland will deliberately choose to deny and refute these condemnatory attitudes. If the district administration truly believes in, supports, and appreciates its teaching faculties across its many programs, I hope that it will find deliberate ways of saying so during these times when the message from nearly every other direction speaks the opposite. I don’t know what this would look like exactly, but I do think that explicit efforts to publicly say to faculties and the community that teachers in general (and at Lakeland in particular) are NOT to blame for America’s education troubles, would be a powerful and helpful gesture.

Thanks for letting me vent, basically.

Chris Sabatke, Physics/Math teacher

The sentiment of this teacher is not unlike many in our district.  As our Leadership Team is wrestling with all that is coming our way, facing the dilemma of an all time low in morale among staff begs the question, “How do we make certain our good people feel valued, appreciated, and protected?”

Our PLC journey has taught us to celebrate, stay focused on the three big ideas, and re-imagine.

We will continue to celebrate all that is amazing.  Our eleven schools have met AYP targets for the past three years.  We have a 98% graduation rate districtwide.  The Secondary Principal of the Year, the Middle School Principal of the Year, the Assistant Principal of the Year and the Rookie Elementary Principal of the Year for the state are members of our team.

We will continue our steadfast focus on learning, collaboration, and results.  As a professional learning community, this is our greatest strength.

As we face each new mandate, our first question will be, “How will this new requirement help us help our students?”  We will turn each mandate into an opportunity to re-imagine our pedagogy of possibilities.

We will face these new challenges as professionals, not victims.  We are that good, that strong, that determined.  That is the Lakeland Way.

This is for you, Chris.



The same thing has happened here in Indiana. Expect more from out students and teachers while reducing our funds to do so. The schools have been negative lately and I agree that it is hard to solely focus on the students when you are worried about being able to make it financially. Hard times to be an educator. Hopefully we have hit bottom and everything will go up from here!

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I think it's really sad that we as a nation built on the principles of laws for the people and by the people have come to the point of finding ways to reduce the value of educators and stall our pay. Sure, there is no perfect way to correct the woes of our economy, but cutting funds from education is certainly not the best answer and finding ways to justify those cuts; bogus evaluations and/or performance pay stipulations,aren't either. Ultimately, our children will suffer most if the morale of our teachers continues to fall. No pay raise in years and state recommended furloughs hurts us all!

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I hate to say it, but in Michigan it is exactly the way that Chris describes it. There is much "anger, disenfranchisement, discontent, general morose, a feeling of being unappreciated by society, district, supervisors" and it has not helped that the state has decided to balance their budgets on the backs of teachers and schools. I also think that all administrators should realize that when teachers feel these things, their performance in the classroom will be less than it could be. We are all worried about our administration wanted to dock our pay 20% so that we can get it back next summer if we have a "perfect" evaluation. No one is perfect! I have had young teachers say to me that they will lose their homes if this goes into action. That is what they are truly worried about, survival! With everything that the state wants us to be responsible for now new teachers will take home about $700 every two weeks. (Figured by a local business manager.) From that amount they must pay for housing, food, and probably school loans. You can see why a lot of teachers are not focused 100% on their students. I know that I get tired of being compared to Japan or Germany on student performance. My question is, how do the teachers in those countries get treated by the government or the parents? Are they valued, revered, or rewarded?

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I'm sorry to hear about your struggles at the moment. It is unfortunate that all of this was done without teacher input. The students' best interest needs to come first, however, this is going to be difficult with tired, overworked and underpaid teachers. Many of us are experiencing these same challenges throughout the country. Keep fighting and providing your input. With politics aside, remember why we show up to school every day and look for energy from those smiling students!!

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E. Diederich


Thank you for sharing that information. Our district made some pretty steep cuts for the 2011-2012 school year. Student contact days have been cut, therefore teachers took yet again, another pay cut. We had a RIF, which is leading to larger class sizes. We are also a small district and we have been drastically cut for three years now. I am nervous about next school year, we are opening our doors with the bare minimum needed to run a school. We cut a total of 12 million for the 2011-2012 school year! Our interventions are going to be sparse and limited to say the least. How can RTI work if we do not have interventions in place?

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I too am a teacher in California, and we are currently awaiting a new budget and possible tax increases. I work in a district that foresaw the educational cuts coming and two years ago we lost 257 teachers, took a pay cut of 5.5% and class sizes increased for K-6 teacher to 34 students. Our district took a hit of 18 million dollars that year and last year another 8 million, which may not sound like allot in comparison to many districts; however we are a small district. Our union is telling us to brace for another round of cuts and even larger class sizes. Like many of my colleagues, we struggle to do the best we can with what we have. The cut backs have had a profound effect on my students and my coworkers. Support staff and intervention programs are a thing of the past and experienced teachers are taking early retirement and the constant personnel shifting have put a hole in our "Personnel Learning Community". Like many of you, I wonder what it will take before the public and politicians begin to realize the state of emergency that education is in and the long term effect that this will ultimately have on our nation. Educators are a resilient group of people, we are dedicated and hard working and it is high time we be recognized as such.

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I can feel the pain of the teachers. As a teacher here in Texas, we are currently "under the gun", as the state has still not come up with the budget, and as a result districts across the state are trying to figure out what they are going to do for the next year. As a teacher in the second largest district in Texas (Dallas ISD), we stand to lose approximately 14 teachers per campus worst case, or as little as none, due to the teachers and administrators who took the early buy out.

This comes on the heels of DISD having a RIF not more than two years ago, due to mis-handling of funds that resulted in a short fall of close to $80M, and teachers being lost across the district. Unfortunately, the way the District by laws are set up, the RIF was on a campus by campus basis, so we had teachers who had been teaching 10 years let go on one campus, and on other campuses, where there were teachers with less than 2 years experience, who lost no one. This did not seem fair then or now.

Between these two follies, the district has lost great teachers and administrators, we have lost our PLC time, and as a result we will have more schools that do not meet AYP, more school that are considered Low Performing, and more students who are not college or career ready.

Now, who do you think will be blamed? The State legislature? The superintendants of the school districts? I know, how about the Governor for not stepping in and using funds necessary to achieve high performing schools? NOPE. It will fall to the teachers. We will be blamed when the students do not succeed and the schools fail to meet AYP and are considered Low Performing. We will be told that the students did not change, we did not change, why did the scores change? Why are the students not performing? The answer is simple – we need the technology, and adequate training, in the classrooms across the state and across the nation to make our students what they can become. World Class Leaders in all that they choose to pursue.

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Laurie Robinson

Mary, Thank you so much for sharing the candid remarks from your math/physics teacher, Chris Sabatke! As a PLC associate doing this work, and regularly in the trenches, I am hearing similar sentiments from teachers all over the country. The professionals are tired and the plate is full. Every possible "ill will" is blamed on under-performing teachers, which has in many districts, been a major deterrent in establishing healthy school cultures. Teachers are pitted against the public, when we need to be working in partnership to do "whatever it takes" to impact student achievement as a "systems team". This poses all the more need for highly functioning PLC's, rooted in the "right" work of working interdependently in efforts to share the load. The exciting news, is that with positive, supportive leadership as you have modeled, teachers can know they are appreciated and their efforts do not go unnoticed! Hats off to the thousands of teachers, administrators, and effective districts who are truly making a difference by creating systems of commitment and excellence, on behalf of the 21st century learner and our colleagues as professional learning communities! Collectively we DO make a difference! Applause, applause!!!!

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