Oakland Unified agrees to end ‘Teachers on Special Assignment’ program

Program was meant to accelerate learning at Fremont, McClymonds, Castlemont

   Teachers at Fremont are now just teachers — not Teachers on Special Assignment. And that means they won’t have to reapply to continue to work here.
   The change is due to a settlement reached between the Oakland Education Association teachers union and the Oakland Unified School District. The union had filed a complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board claiming that the TSA program was an unfair labor practice because the district did not negotiate it with OEA.
   OEA President Trish Gorham voiced relief over the settlement. “We have to recognize that the district cannot make decisions without the union,” she said.
  Gorham said the most tragic part of the TSA program was that it cut ties between teachers who had to leave their schools and their students.
   “The district just doesn’t understand the record teachers leave behind at work and that it affects students,” she said.
   However, OUSD spokesman Troy Flint had positive things to say about the TSA program.
“TSA was a way we could help jump start academic progress at these school sites. It was an urgent need to help these underserved schools.”
   This was the second year of the original three-year TSA plan at Fremont, Castlemont, and McClymonds. Under the plan, all teaching positions at the three schools were eliminated and employees who wanted to teach at the schools had to apply for an 11-month TSA contract.
   It was a contract that had to be renewed every year, giving principals the ability to bypass rules on who gets cut first when there are budget constraints or to simply not rehire a teacher.
   Many teachers, including veterans, left Fremont either because they did not get hired as TSAs or because they chose not to work 11 months. For example, Spanish teacher Felicidad Guirao transferred to Oakland Technical High School so she could visit her family in Spain in the summer.
   Michael Jackson, who started the Media Academy in 1986, was one of three Media Academy teachers forced out of Fremont High School by former Principal Daniel Hurst in the first two years of the TSA.
   One of Jackson’s former students, senior Frank Hartwell remains bitter that some of his favorite Media Academy teachers lost their jobs due to TSA.
   “It is just so hard to talk about it … how somebody gives so much to the school and receives so little at the end.” he said.
   Flint, the district’s spokesman, said that TSA “is not a magic solution by any stretch, but it is helpful for several reasons.”
   He noted that TSA would help the schools have a longer school year and that it would allow them to pay teachers for extra work they already were doing.
   In a Green & Gold survey of 15 Fremont teachers, less than half answered that the TSA program has been helpful. No teacher said the TSA program was “very helpful” and 47 percent of the teachers responded that the TSA program “somewhat helped.”
   In contrast, 27 percent of the surveyed teachers said TSA has had a neutral effect on Fremont. And 14 percent said it has had a negative effect.
In the anonymous survey, teachers expressed various frustrations with TSA.
   One teacher said that extra hours for TSA have not necessarily been used wisely.
   “It didn’t seem like we were doing extra things to benefit our climate, other than find 10 hours of extra work to do a month,” the teacher wrote. “While some teachers were doing things to help our students and campus, it didn’t seem like the message was clear of what we should be doing during that time.”
   Another teacher wrote that he almost lost his job because of TSA “based on an arbitrary decision by an administrator,” and that he was not given due process or legal protection.
   “It seems transparently obvious, now as then, that the district had no real vision of what it was doing, and that they were attempting to ‘bust the union,’” that teacher wrote in the survey.
Another teacher responded that the effects of the TSA plan remain unclear.
   “Fremont has gone through significant changes each year,” the teacher wrote. “I don’t know, however, whether to credit or fault the TSA program for those changes. Fremont faces tremendous pressures from all sides, and it is too early to tell how it will fare.”
Gorham, the union president, agrees that Fremont is facing a big moment.
  “I hope that the Fremont community uses this opportunity to find a way for everybody to come together and become the school people want to have,” Gorman said.