As teachers contract controversy continues, Education First Shawnee Mission asks community to stem divisions

More than 200 teachers and supporters, many clad in red, packed the Shawnee Mission board chambers in November to lobby for a new contract.

More than 200 teachers and supporters, many clad in red, packed the Shawnee Mission board chambers in November to lobby for a new contract. The adoption of a unilateral 3-year contract by the board of education Jan. 30 has been met with strong criticism by many in the area.

In the wake of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education’s adoption of a unilateral 3-year teachers contract late last month, emotions have been high.

Education First Shawnee Mission, the advocacy group focused on the school district area, has been working since the board meeting Jan. 30 to better understand the rationale of members of the board as well as the position of the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission. Today, the group published a letter to the community on its website this morning condemning personal attacks on people involved in the contract decision, and encouraging people to stay involved in efforts to support the institution of public education:

Dear EFSM Community,

It has been a difficult and heartbreaking time to be a public education advocate in Shawnee Mission. Since Education First Shawnee Mission began, our goal has always been to be a source of information for our community and to work at the state level to ensure our legislators were passing laws that positively impacted public education. We have gone to great lengths to be as transparent as possible in our work through public interviews, forums, and openly sharing our in-depth, intricate process for endorsement. It’s very important to us that EFSM is representative of a collective of voices who have varying experiences as mothers in our school district. We have Title 1 mothers, single mothers, mothers of children in elementary school, mothers with children in secondary buildings and those who aren’t even in elementary school yet. Despite these differences, we all agree that we care deeply about our public schools and have made public education advocacy a priority in our busy lives for the long haul.

The situation in Shawnee Mission right now feels dire. But we did not arrive in this place last week. This has taken years of pent up frustration, anger and sadness. At EFSM, we have focused on providing our community with information and opportunities to engage. We have testified in Topeka and celebrated with all of you when a funding bill was finally passed last spring, even as we worried “adequate” funding would not be enough for our district. We have been there every step of this contract negotiation process. We have read all the documents. We have provided opportunities for all parties involved to share their message. We have met in-person with teachers, administrators and community members. We have reached out to experts. Most importantly, we have listened. We have been kept up at night with the fear of what will happen to our community and our children, who are caught in the middle of a mess they did not create.

I wish we could give everyone the perfect solution. We can’t. Right now, there is no “winning” for anyone. No matter what happens in the next few days, our school district has been damaged and it will take time, effort, empathy and humility in order to heal. We plan to be an active part of that healing, by continuing the work we have done over the past few years. We will continue to show up…in our own school buildings, in our community, in Topeka and at Board of Education meetings.

What we refuse to do is give up. We refuse to buy into the idea that if you don’t agree with us 100% of the time, you’re our enemy. We refuse to amplify language that furthers the divide we are feeling in our community. There is no room for personal attacks on anyone involved in this situation, and we strongly condemn threats of any kind. Please note, threatening language and personal attacks will not be tolerated on EFSM’s social media channels. Through numerous conversations and encounters, we have learned people (teachers, parents and community members) who care deeply for our district are frightened of speaking out due to threats of retaliation.

This is NOT who we are. As a community, we are better than this.

Today, we encourage you to seek out a one-on-one conversation. We encourage you to demand transparency, ask questions and choose to seek out information from multiple sources. We encourage you to write a note or call your child’s teacher, and let them know you support them. We encourage you to back away from social media and the siloed, black and white thinking that is so easy, but incredibly problematic.

We love this community and we are grateful for every one of you. Thank you for being engaged and continuing to work to make our community a better place. We appreciate you!

Best,

Megan Peters, Chair – Education First Shawnee Mission

Education First Shawnee Mission Board of Directors

Liz Benditt, Jen Boles, Kristin Brown, Stacy Hetz, Elizabeth Kelly, Jen Salvo, Emily Robb