Updated: 03/06/2014 10:42 PM
Created: 03/06/2014 9:43 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
In St. Paul, teachers came to the brink of a strike vote. In dozens of other Minnesota districts, unions and districts are still negotiating teacher contracts behind closed doors.
But a new group of teachers is taking a different approach, claiming they want a stronger voice in the policy-making process.
"This is really exciting for us," said Madaline Edison, executive director of Educators 4 Excellence Minnesota.
What happened on Thursday night is new -- conversation, the venue, and the people participating.
"I found this was sort of a shared passion of teachers really wanting to have an impact on policies that were impacting their work with their students," Edison said.
The Minnesota chapter of Educators 4 Excellence, or E4E, is the fourth for the national nonprofit. It already boasts about 550 Twin Cities teachers. Each one wants to bring their classrooms closer to the policy-making process.
"For too long, these decisions have been made without teachers present at the table," Edison said.
On Thursday night, an E4E teacher-led policy team focused on Q Comp, Minnesota's policy on teacher pay and performance. The meeting was all about brainstorming, bantering, and bouncing ideas around the room.
"What's working for kids? What's working for teachers? How can we better support teachers to make a bigger impact on student achievement?" said Holly Kragthorpe, a teacher at a middle school in the Minneapolis Public School district.
E4E insists it is not competing with Education Minnesota, Minnesota's largest teachers' union -- they're complementing it. In fact, Kragthorpe is a union steward at her school.
"I think that there's room for multiple types of teacher advocacy and education advocacy groups in Minnesota," Kragthorpe said.
But E4E's "Declaration of Teachers' Principles and beliefs" does include some sensitive topics -- student achievement impacting teacher evaluations, performance-based pay, and ending "Last In, First Out" teacher layoffs.
Right now, the group says it's focusing on simply starting a discussion -- and keeping teachers involved in it.
"They are here because they believe in the solutions they are putting forward together," Edison said.
This year, E4E Minnesota plans to develop policy recommendations on Q Comp and recruiting teachers of color.
The group does have its critics. They point to E4E's big financial backers, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave the group a $3 million grant last July. Skeptics say that means instead of giving teachers a stronger voice in policy-making, reform groups like E4E actually give corporate interests a stronger voice in schools.