You’d be forgiven for thinking Lindsay Burningham became the new president of the teachers union because she likes a good tussle.

Conflict, and pushing for benefits of the 8,000 local members of San Diego Education Association, is the very essence of the job.

But on Monday as she met with reporters, Burningham’s new role belied her cautious and low-key demeanor. She seemed uneasy as a photographer scuttled around for the right shot. “I didn’t know this was going to be a whole photo shoot,” she said.

This is only Burningham’s third week at SDEA headquarters after 10 years teaching kindergarteners and first-graders at a Scripps Ranch elementary school. At 34, Burningham is the youngest president SDEA has ever had.

Burningham replaces Bill Freeman, who has gone back to the classroom after serving two consecutive two-year terms – the max for an SDEA president.

Burningham started as a union representative at her elementary school, and then worked her way up the leadership ranks: She was elected board member, then secretary. In 2012, she was elected vice president, beating out former president and polarizing activist Camille Zombro by more than 100 votes.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

And earlier this year, Burningham beat out Shane Parmely, who also represents a more aggressive faction of SDEA. The union’s choice of Burningham over Parmely for president meant it’d be staying the more moderate, Freeman-esque course.

In the end, being an effective president doesn’t come down to who makes most noise, but who gets the most done. Knowing how to choose battles – holding tight to the non-negotiables while being open to compromise on the fine print – is the art of the job.

For the past three months, the union has been negotiating its next contract with the school district. The last one ended on June 30, and the goal is to reach a new agreement this fall. Until then, teachers will continue to work under the terms of the previous contract.

I sat down with Burningham to hear what she thinks about teacher evaluations, the Vergara trial, the seniority-based transfer system for teachers and class sizes.

SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill sat in and shared some thoughts as well.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Taking on this leadership position for the teachers union, you must have realized that you were putting yourself in the line of fire, so to speak. Did that give you any reservations about becoming president?

Lindsay Burningham: I got into the teaching profession to teach. And I didn’t step into this leadership position because I like conflict. But I also realize that sometimes it takes conflict to make necessary changes.

Someone once told me that teaching is one way to impact students’ lives, but becoming SDEA president is a way to impact even more students.

What do you see as the role of teaching evaluations?

LB: The role of the evaluation is to give the teachers an opportunity to grow as educators, highlighting their strengths and also giving them the chance to hone their teaching skills.

The evaluation is a constructive model to help teachers grow. It takes a lot of research and work to develop the right evaluations.

Revamping teaching evaluations seems to tie into the Vergara trial, which has really been a hot topic lately.

LB: Yes, the Vergara trial has been a hot topic, but I don’t think evaluations were really a part of it. One of the arguments in the trial was that teachers were given permanent status too early, but the probationary period is not tied to teaching evaluations.

probationaryExtending the probationary period doesn’t do anything to help teachers. In fact, it does the opposite – it keeps prospective teachers from wanting to be in the profession.

One of the reasons I think teaching evaluations are part of this conversation is because Vergara plaintiffs argued that ineffective teachers are disproportionately found at low-income schools. But without an evaluation system that allows us to say who’s an effective teacher, and who’s not, it’s harder to make that point.

Tim Hill: Right. We have schools where 90 percent of teachers have three years or less of experience. But Vergara doesn’t do anything to address the fundamental questions about why that’s happening. Why are teachers leaving those schools? Changing teaching evaluations wouldn’t address that.

Then why do you think we have those schools, where as you say, most of the teachers are inexperienced? Do think it could be a result of the post-and-bid (seniority-based transfer) system?

TH: You’d really have to look at each reason for why those schools are hard to staff. It could come down to something like housing, because many of the teachers who work in high-poverty schools don’t live in those neighborhoods, and they want to work close to home.

LB: For the past several years, transfers have really been determined by budget cuts, and where teachers have been placed after they were excessed. There really hasn’t been a lot of voluntary movement for the past four or five years.

But when it comes to transfers, I would rather have a clear process like post-and-bid. At least it’s determined by seniority, which is a fairer way than basing the decision on a subjective measure like teacher performance.

TH: The most important question is to figure out why teachers choose to leave the schools they do. When we look at the schools they leave, what kinds of resources would be needed there to level the playing field? To make them comparable to the schools in La Jolla that have massive school foundations that can pay for the supplemental teachers, or tutors or arts and music programs?

Vergara doesn’t do anything to solve the fundamental problem of inequity. Stripping teachers of due process – which is really what this comes down to – or changing the evaluation system isn’t the answer.

I want to stay on evaluations for a minute. If the current evaluation system is designed to offer teachers feedback, but doesn’t allow us to say who’s effective and who isn’t, then why not develop a system that would allow us to do both?

TH: Have you actually read the teaching evaluation we use? It’s pretty comprehensive, and there’s already a place for principals doing the evaluation to mark a teacher as “satisfactory,” “requires improvement” or “unsatisfactory.”

LB: Right. I think our contract outlines pretty clearly that we expect our administrators to make ongoing observations and evaluate teachers on a set schedule.

We have a process that’s outlined, and we work to make sure that process is followed. We can challenge the process, but we can’t challenge the content.

But any evaluation system you create is only as good as the administrator who’s actually doing the evaluation. Whatever system you use, there’s going to be a human being in place making a subjective call. It’s what you do as an administrator and educator that makes it work.

We’re not saying that we’re opposed to any changes to the evaluations, but whatever changes are implemented need to be something we decide together. It can’t be something that’s handed down by one side.

I think that’s a really interesting point, and one that we don’t talk about often. So you’re saying that principals also have to be a part of this conversation, because in a big way evaluation come down to how active of a role they play?

TH: Yes. And just like on any bell curve, where you have all levels of expertise, you have a similar bell curve with principals.

I recently read this interesting article in Salon, written by a high school math teacher. He argued that if we want to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, we have to raise teachers’ salaries. But it seems like there would be a better case for raising pay, if the pay was somehow tied to performance. So my question is: What if lacking a system to find the best teachers is part of what keeps teacher salaries low?

LB: I think we’ve talked teaching evaluations in a circle and into the ground. It’s not just the pay that attracts teachers or keeps them in the profession. It’s the respect and resources they have at the schools they teach.

And if pay was tied to student performance, or test scores, I don’t think teachers would risk it. Because so many factors impact learning that have nothing to do with what happens in the classroom – things like poverty and home life.

Don’t get me wrong, competitive pay helps, especially when you consider that San Diego Unified teachers are among the lowest paid in the county. If you look at the our Fight for 5 campaign, and see the things we’re pushing for, pay and benefit increases is one component – but it’s not the only one.

If salary is what attracts people to the teaching profession, those are the ones who leave after a few years and contribute to the high turnover rate. There’s so much more to it when it comes to retaining teachers, things like low class sizes.

At our recent Politifest event, Paula Cordeiro said that the debate over small class sizes is completely misguided, because quality teachers should be able to do good work whether there are 15 kids in a class or 40. What do you think of that argument?

LB: I think it’s 100 percent ridiculous. That argument completely overlooks that a single class can include advanced students and students with special needs, or English-learners.

Will I be a good teacher if I have 40 students in a class? Absolutely, I’ll put 150 percent into it. But I won’t have the same one-one-one time with students as I would if I had a class of 15. I would be a good teacher, but not as great or effective as I am with a lower class size where I have the time to meet the individual needs of my students.

motherI look at it like this: Would I be a good mother if I had 15 kids? Yes, I’d love them all and care for them the best I could. But I wouldn’t be able to devote the same time or resources to each kid, as if I had only two.

TH: What are Cordeiro’s credentials again?

She’s the dean of University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Educational Sciences.

TH: I think it’s easy to make that comment from the ivory tower of a university. Whereas, I think if you went and asked the teachers actually on the front lines, I bet they would tell you that wasn’t the case.

But I thought Cindy Marten said something similar recently to the U-T’s editorial board, and she’s a former teacher and principal.

LB: She did. And that’s where we came down on her the hardest.

And did she walk that statement back?

LB: Not publicly, but she told us that the statement was part of a larger conversation that needed to be taken in context.

Is there anything else that you’d like me to know, or anything you’d like readers to keep in mind?

I am a big proponent of communication and collaboration. We cannot get anything done if we are not willing to talk and put in the hard work necessary to accomplish things. That does not mean that we will agree with everything the district says or does, but if we are not will to discuss it, it will be challenging to accomplish anything.

    This article relates to: Education, News, People, Q-and-A, School Leadership, Share

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    26 comments
    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    No questions about the student national standings of 47th?

    Just lots of palaver about process, and nothing about results?

    There is an elephant in the room. Anybody see it?

    francesca
    francesca subscriber

    @Kathy S 

    40 states tie teacher evaluations to performance  of their students on standardized tests?

    I think this may answer the question, why teachers don't stay in historically low performing schools. 

    Transfer to La Jolla and your scores go up.  Stay in City Heights and results are low.  I'm just going by past tests results, on the CA state site, including those at Central Elem. and Marshall Elem, where our Superintendent and Chief of Staff were principals.

    Arne Duncan should know better.  He's mentioned in Chapter Two of Freakanomics.  Tells about when he ran the Chicago School District and investigated a cheating scandal.  Chapter called, "Why Teachers Cheat."

    dana deima
    dana deima subscriber

    @Dennis @Kathy S @francesca Thanks Dennis for good article.  I heard NEA has asked for the resignation of Arne Duncan based on his comments.  I also know court battle was won by teachers who were illegally dismissed from their jobs in New Orleans.  This article you shared here sheds light on the judgement of people who are allowing for corporate takeover of public schools.

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Dennis @Kathy S 

    I think it is very important to remember that research can easily be skewed to the author’s politics and POV.

    We need to be very careful when we digest reference articles as submitted without some scrutiny. For every supporting article, there is most likely an article supporting an alternate viewpoint or providing a different slant.

    Examples:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0301/New-Orleans-goes-all-in-on-charter-schools.-Is-it-showing-the-way


    http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/some_charter_schools_cutting_t.html


    http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/04/state_charter_school_applicati.html


    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2007/12/Three-Leading-Nonprofits-Seek-to-Boost-Achievement-in-New-Orleans-Public-Schools

    ** I know many of you will poopoo this because of the source, however, it does not invalidate the research


    http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2012/07/new_orleans_charter_school_app_2.html

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Dennis 

    Dennis – on the for-profit running of Charters we likely agree to a large extent. I’m really all about student outcomes and supporting education that provides meaningful and objective and/or student vice adult prioritization in order to increase all student outcomes regardless of race, religion, gender, or socio-economics. To me, it’s all about the children whether Charter or traditional public school or even home schooling. No single model is good for ALL children and no single school can satisfy the entire community demographics.

    However, my point really was that most anybody can find articles to support their position and it incumbent on us all to balance that with reality. I apologize if you found the articles presented as “outdated” although I would argue that many older research and reports, eg. Census, historical economic, etc… play a large part in developing current policies.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0301/New-Orleans-goes-all-in-on-charter-schools.-Is-it-showing-the-way

    http://www.worldmag.com/2014/08/new_orleans_charter_school_experiment

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/05/09/education-reform-charter-schools-week-column/8868043/

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/04/17/illinois-charter-schools-education-teachers-column/7710697/

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    @ScrippsDad @Dennis


    SD, for many years now, the mainstream news and media outlets who are owned/funded by those in the oligarchy (Manchester, Broad, Gates, etc etc etc) have portrayed public education as failing and used it as the catalyst for their reforms, (Charters, VAM's, TFA's, School Privatization backed by Wall Street hedge funders, etc.) They used Michelle Rhee for the last 5 years, recently shuffled her out, and are now using Campbell Brown (her husband and his business associates are some of the wall street hedge funders). http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/pretty-campbell-brown-and-her-ugly-misguided-anti-due-process-crusade/


    For the past two years you have started seeing an increasing amount of educators pushing back with blogs, (Diane Ravitch http://dianeravitch.net/, Peter Greene http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/, and Mercedes Schiender http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/ among others.


    They are tired of the "failing" label on teachers and public education and frankly so am I.  Sure there is always, always, many ways to improve (SDUSD included). But for far to long public school teachers have been used as a scapegoat.


    Some states are also tired of being labeled as failures. Vermont  just passed a resolution last week:


    http://education.vermont.gov/documents/EDU-SBE_AssmntAcct_Adpted081914.pdf


    SD, there is so much BS going on nationally in education "reform" and people are standing up/speaking out about it. 


    So yes, maybe it seems one sided, but only one side (reform side) has been told for to long.

    Monica Johnson
    Monica Johnson subscribermember

    I have been a teacher for over 35 years, in California, in suburban, inner city, and rural schools. I was evaluated every year, even when I was a Mentor, Master teacher and part time administrator. I also taught for a year in Australia, where I was evaluated. As a professional, I welcomed the evaluations. 

    I never in all those years saw more than three low level teachers. These people were dealt with by excellent administrators or referred to peer coaches. 

    The Vergara decision is a one person opinion/decision and should not punish the many for the indiscretions of the few. 


    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    So evaluations are only to help teachers improve? What about the bad teachers? It should be appalling to all that union representatives protect horrible teachers which do damage to kids. There are teachers who abuse kids, are incompetent and should just not be teaching. But the union protects them and for that they deserve our scorn.

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    @Michael Robertson "There are teachers who abuse kids"


    I believe any teacher I have read in the news across the nation abusing kids have been arrested and fired when proven guilty.

    Michael Robertson
    Michael Robertson subscribermember

    Sadly it is happening in all major govt school districts. Pedophiles and others who would exploit kids have learned that school administration will shield them just as the. Catholic Church did.

    You think LAUSD is an abberation? It is not. Not only incompetent teachers are protected by the union but abusers too and they collect in the worst schools.

    Try submitting a document request for citizen complaints on teachers to SDUSD and see their response. Then you'll start to get an understanding about what is going on.

    francesca
    francesca subscriber

    Tenure, teacher evaluation and seniority...Three favorite targets of the right wingers.  If you can destroy tenure and seniority, why would a teacher belong to the teachers' union?  Exactly...

    If the anti public education promoters can get rid of union protections, all that's left to do is evaluate the expensive teachers out of their jobs.  Doesn't matter whether they're good or bad or in between...money's saved by hiring new teachers.

    Final goal, to destroy the biggest contributor to the Democratic Party, public unions.

    I'm encouraged by the new SDEA president.  I understand what she says, clear statements.  No dream big, work hard...empty slogans.

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @francesca  WOW - talk about gross generalizations, one right after another.  So, to maintain the unions and the entire democratic party all hinges on teacher evaluations and no teacher should be evaluated? It's not possible to have teacher evaluations, unions, and Democrats?


    Of course, no teacher would want to be evaluated to better do their job as happens in virtually every other profession because that would, of course, not only result in the result in the destruction of the Democratic Party, but, directly lead to expensive teachers (who could be really really bad teachers or be really really good teachers) to be terminated?


    Tell me again how a positive evaluation for a quality teacher, regardless of tenure and/or seniority would destroy both their jobs and the Democrats?


    Tell me again what you would do and how you would find each side of the bell curve in performance for the 8,000 certificated SDEA members? Or, is their no bell curve and every teacher is really good and there are no "bad" teachers. I can't believe you would try and argue that they would be really bad.....


    Many of us so called "right wingers" which I find hard to characterize myself as given my other political and philosophical beliefs, argue for what we believe is best for education of our kids- period - and not what's best for adults, political parties, old people, young people, good teachers or bad teachers or other social priorities. Your gross generalizations seem to clearly argue on behalf of adults and at the expense of our children's future education.

    francesca
    francesca subscriber

    @ScrippsDad 

    I think a lot of very sincere parents, whose children experience difficulty in school, academic or emotional difficulty, are drawn in, by the public education detractors.  

    But Trigger school takeover policies, charter schools, foundations with agendas, (USD, Scott Himmelstein), homeschooling, Teach for America, Right to Work states,...did not spring up, in every state, by coincidence.

    Groups like ALEC, write legislation, go around federal government and operate state by state.  One look at who the sponsors of ALEC are, tells the story.

    I don't see where I said "no teacher should be evaluated" but with the Vergara ruling (now there's a case worth looking into who sponsored it...just amazing), with Vergara, and subsequent loss of tenure, there's no need for evaluation.  Without tenure, teachers can be fired without a hearing or cause for termination.

    I don't see you as a "right winger" but a sincere parent, looking for the best for your child.  All the teachers that I know, want that, too.

    I favor evaluations that are based on clear objectives, several times a year, teachers given support and guidance in some cases.  I'm against evaluations based on test scores, or some arbitrary "what works" observation per Ms. Marten, and if you're not doing "what works" in her ill defined opinion, ...she turns into Donald Trump..."Yer..Fired.."

    How would you evaluate teachers?


    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @francesca @ScrippsDad 

    I think a lot of very sincere parents, whose children experience difficulty in school, academic or emotional difficulty, are drawn in, by the public education detractors.  

    ** I hate to say this, but, most parents are not well informed nor engaged and if you look at polling, most parents are very happy with their teachers and their school. So, why do over 50% of the SDUSD kids go to some other school than their community school (these could be other SDUSD schools through “choice”) – certainly NOT the result of the public education detractors.

    But Trigger school takeover policies, charter schools, foundations with agendas, (USD, Scott Himmelstein), homeschooling, Teach for America, Right to Work states,...did not spring up, in every state, by coincidence.

    ** I agree – they have grown because of the failure of community schools to provide both a voice for kids and parents and a focus on children rather than a focus on adults resulting in poor performing community schools.

    Groups like ALEC, write legislation, go around federal government and operate state by state.  One look at who the sponsors of ALEC are, tells the story.

    ** And it’s ok that the teachers union in California, with a mission statement to protect adults and not for the benefit of our children, is the most powerful lobby and litigant and likely outspends any of those other organizations multiple times over? Look who the sponsor’s are of the CTA, etc… the law firms they hire and, by the way, they ultimately are using taxpayer money for their activities,

    I don't see where I said "no teacher should be evaluated" but with the Vergara ruling (now there's a case worth looking into who sponsored it...just amazing), with Vergara, and subsequent loss of tenure, there's no need for evaluation.  Without tenure, teachers can be fired without a hearing or cause for termination.

    ** First - the CBA at SDUSD, regardless of tenure, requires a significant "due process" - read the CBA. Second, how is it a problem that a wealthy philanthropist put his money where his mouth is to support our children. If you believe that somehow tenure and LIFO will benefit him monetarily, please explain how he would see any kind of ROI. Seems to me that just because you don’t like the decision, you find fault with the backers – which means you also find fault with the children who brought it. Not to mention that money was spent on litigation and not to buy the judge. Last I heard the judge, an impartial arbiter, couldn’t be bought. How much do you think the unions will spend to appeal. Remember, unions represent adults, not kids, so by the very nature of an appeal the adults feel threatened. These rhetorical statements about this case, given the massive amount of taxpayer money spent on behalf of the CTA and other unions throughout the State defies logic.

    I don't see you as a "right winger" but a sincere parent, looking for the best for your child.  All the teachers that I know, want that, too.

    I favor evaluations that are based on clear objectives, several times a year, teachers given support and guidance in some cases.  I'm against evaluations based on test scores, or some arbitrary "what works" observation per Ms. Marten, and if you're not doing "what works" in her ill defined opinion, ...she turns into Donald Trump..."Yer..Fired.."

    How would you evaluate teachers?

    ** I have posted many times what I believe to be ways to evaluate teachers. In summary, I have said it needs to be comprehensive and not even largely based on test scores, but, on a variety of analytics and weighted feedback from stakeholders. At a local charter School, the teachers and admin cooperated to implement an evaluation process and it was implemented last year. It is showing the ways that teachers and admin can work together to better student outcomes and not for terminations.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    ScrippsDad: All teachers teach in Lake Woebegone, and all are above average.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Glad you asked! Since everyone in the Western World is evaluated, I find it difficult to believe that the moment a teacher reaches the classroom, his or her DNA no longer permits evaluation.

    Such diverse professions at the very top of their fields, such as fighter pilots, Submarine Commanders, CEOs and Astronauts get evaluated, so let me give my two cents:

    Administrators, and fellow teachers each rank all teachers on a ladder. No two teachers may be on the same rung of the ladder. Administration marks count 66% and fellow teachers 34% against this "boots on the ground" analysis, whatever numerical student testing analysis is eventually decided upon, that ranking counts 25% against 75% of the Boots on the ground" ranking.

    Any teacher found to be consistently in the bottom 10% of the final ranking for two years gets counseling -- if you are there three out of five years there is an automatic firing. (The counseling constitutes "due process.")

    This process presumes -- as I do -- that everyone from Administrators to Teachers (and actually to janitors and patents), know the good and bad teachers, and that even teachers work on a Bell Shaped Curve, just like humans!

    Peter_Ryan
    Peter_Ryan subscriber

    @Bill Bradshaw


    As a parent, as a former teacher's aide, as a former employee of multiple educational units at multiple levels and a camp counselor I believe that this quote sums up the issues involved:


    "And just like on any bell curve, where you have all levels of expertise, you have a similar bell curve with principals."


    Schools can also be thought of as being on a bell curve. And students, as a group, can also be thought of as being on a bell curve. I separate out the students, as a group, from the School because I believe that there are factors separate from the students: other teachers, staff, location (drive time, amenities), facilities, parent / foundation support, which can be grouped together.


    I believe parental support to be the most important factor in student success. Blaming the teachers for the parent's problems is a cop out. 

    ScrippsDad
    ScrippsDad subscriber

    @Peter_Ryan @Bill Bradshaw 


    And what should be done with the lower half of the BELL CURVE of the teacher population?


    Not to blame teachers, I'm only applying the same generalized metrics to this employment population. 


    Oh wait a minute - after 2 years, you can't really do anything.



    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Looks to me that this “moderate” (just like Bill Freeman) was elected because she can recite the party line:  the seniority transfer system isn’t a problem, nor is the current teacher evaluation system (I’m tempted to say “What evaluation system?”), and it certainly can’t be the short time to achieve tenure......but it might be the drive to work.

    Translation:  We’ve just defined away the “problem” and everything is hunky dory.  The post and bid transfer system is a clear process, and fairer than subjective measures like performance evaluations, because the evaluations are made by biased administrators, yatta yatta.

    Oh, and new super Cindy Marten had better watch her remarks, because she tends to stray from the script..

    Same old, same old.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    Yep! New Boss same as the old Boss.