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Last Labor-Management Initiative training for the year

SALINAS – The Alisal Union School District wrapped up its last ALMA training for the year, a project that began three years ago and it’s resulted in improved collaboration among administrators, teachers and classified employees.

 The training took place over two days at the Education Center at Jesse E. Sánchez Elementary and the District Office, and it involved extensive sessions with principals or vice principals from all our 12 schools, representatives from management and from all the unions – a total of nearly 50 employees.

 ALMA stands for Alisal Labor Management Accord, and it focuses on collaboration and communication by all members of the Alisal “team” to create a culture of “we” that will teach the whole child and close the achievement gap for our students. Research shows that improved collaboration correlates with higher student achievement, Ed Horowitz from the California Labor Management Institute told the group during his presentation.

“It’s kind of intuitive: if adults get along, that’s good for kids; but the research is showing the impact. There are specific studies are coming out, with expanded data sets that involves six states. The data is impactful both in student achievement and staff retention,” Horowitz said.

Greater collaboration can also offset high turnover rates in high-poverty schools, he said.

“What we’re also finding is that we’re elevating the role of unions in taking responsibility on issues of quality. It’s not just management or the state holding us accountable. It’s building internal accountability,” Horowitz said. “It matters for kids. The more partnerships and collaboration you have, the less management and labor sides are beating each other up and the more you find ways to achieve goals collaborative, the more students achieve.”

ALMA was launched in 2015. It was an effort to improve relationships after many years of turmoil, a dark period of time marked by distrust, something that has slowly been left behind but still is in the rearview mirror.

“It’s a positive change in leadership and because we had a really troubled past now we’re really moving more in a positive direction in learning how to communicate or to be partners on how to do everything,” said Keiko Inoue, president of the California School Employees Association Chapter 577. “It’s very important. Most other districts don’t invite classified to be a part of the labor-management partnership, and here in Alisal they invite us. That’s a positive thing, that we have the opportunity to express our voice.”

John E. Steinbeck Elementary Christina Palmer was a member of the first year ALMA, and she remembers the lack of trust that existed then. She helped put an agenda with ice breakers designed to have everyone learn about the importance of each other’s roles and how their contributions matter to the well-being of the students. 

“The goal of ALMA is to break down those barriers, to trust, to communicate effectively and continue on the road of building that,” she said. Steinbeck was one of the four schools that was chosen to be studied at the beginning of the project, and when the reports came back the reports were bleak: everyone felt they worked hard and also felt under-appreciated and they did not know where to turn to for help.

While ALMA began three years ago, not all the schools were part of the first cohort. Alisal, Sánchez, Steinbeck and Chávez were the first schools in the project, followed by Bardin, Creekside, Fremont and Virginia Rocca Barton. Oscar Loya, MLK, Monte Bella and Frank Paul were the last schools to join in the project.

Although it was easier to start the project with few schools at the time, it was also a barrier since not all the schools spoke “the same language.” But now that all the district’s 12 sites are part of the project, it’s easier.  

George Lopez, a representative to ALMA from the Alisal Teachers Association, credits the higher level of collaboration and success of the annual Technology Conference and the Alisal Good Teaching conferences. Every year the Alisal Teachers Association in conjunction with Alisal administrators support and help put together professional development conferences that has district teachers presenting at these events. While the T3 is not a direct product of ALMA, the some of the collaboration structures that are also key elements of ALMA.

"The collaboration and coordination for these types of conferences is made a lot easier, when we work together," he said. "It's been showing by the work and results of the leader teams at each of our schools and in the end it changes the learning that takes place in the classroom by our students."

On Thursday, all schools site representatives heard presentations by Mary McDonald and Ann Cummins-Bogan from the Consortium for Educational Change, the organization that’s leading the trainings at the district level. Horowitz explained how the role of unions has traditionally been to advance workers’ rights and how it is important that it also has a place at the table when discussing how to improve learning for students.

“Unions need to step up,” he said. “There’s got to be a reason, a powerful driving force at your worksite, in your life, and not just about ‘can I get an extra percent in my salary'.”

These are tough conversations to be had, and several members say that ALMA is not a “thing.” It’s work that needs to be done, and that needs to be done by everyone in order to move forward. 

The day was launched by our Aztec dancers from Monte Bella Elementary. They provided a spiritual reminder of why we're in the district: to provide the best possible education and services to all our students. 

For photos of the workshop, click here and here