Brugger: Teacher’s Woes
COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

Brugger: Teacher’s Woes

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Sunday’s leading front-page story headlined the information that it can take 120 hours to assemble the portfolio necessary to gain the master teacher bonus pay of $4,000/year for three years. It was said that teachers were not doing it because of the time commitment. My math says that in the first year, that would amount to $33/hour to fill out the paperwork and gain the bonus. Over three years, it would amount to $100/hour to gain the raise. I must ask, when graduation from high school now requires students to prepare a portfolio pointing to their accomplishments, is it a chore for teachers to do the same thing? Especially since they will gain an immediate pay raise.

I do not intend to dismiss their concerns out of hand, but neither do I agree that the paperwork is an onerous task for a professional who is required to be able to organize and communicate information as the main purpose of their job. Reading between the lines, I suspect that they are really saying that they believe that they should already be receiving a higher salary without having to justify it. Indeed, teacher pay is subject to a great deal of public policy discussion. Let’s take a look at the history of public education. K-12 educators have always had a problem with public perception. Until the latter half of the 20th century, a student who had completed the 8th grade was literate enough to gain even high paying jobs. Teachers in public schools were mostly women or men who had to have extra employment in order to support a family.

University professors and teachers in prestigious private schools were held in much higher esteem and were paid better, if not well. Teachers have had a hard time attaining the professional designation of educators, but that is now what we expect them to be.

Being an educator deserves high esteem and higher pay. An educator must have an academic background as well as skill in teaching (or, formally, pedagogy). Nothing has changed the higher ethical standards required, but a professional is someone deeply immersed in their occupation. Education as a profession requires constant study and skill refinement. In fact, all professions have similar requirements.

Public education is undergoing a major culture shift, and the tensions are certainly on display with this debate about the requirements to gain master teacher status. Part of the conversation revolves around unions which represent teachers. Do the unions simply exist to exert bargaining power for higher wages and working conditions, or are they also forums to encourage professionalism, best practices and recognize excellence? Another part of the conversation revolves around the administration of schools. How does management rate an educator’s performance? How does management protect academic freedom while also insisting on good classroom management, curriculum sufficiency, and measurable outcomes?

Professionals practice in groups and as self-employed individuals. Educators do not have the same leeway. Unless they call themselves tutors or establish their own private school, they are part of an organized educational enterprise. The profession of the educator will only be held in high esteem if educators themselves hold each other to high standards of academic preparation and pedagogy. In today’s world, word of mouth can be cherry-picked and even purchased. In selecting a doctor, a carpenter, an accountant, a plumber, or even a lawyer, I look for some form of objective proof of competence. I don’t think it is too much to ask educators to submit data to make their claim.

Finally, I must make one other point. We as parents and taxpayers have allowed the demeaning of our children’s educators to continue unimpeded. I am often appalled at the way parents and grandparents talk about the teachers in their children’s lives. Yes, there are some who are unsuited or unskilled for the profession, but the majority of educators are slogging ahead with making a difference every day in the lives of children. I use the term slog because they have an enormous responsibility in the face of derision and complicated personal lives. As a new school year begins, let us vow to find the best in our educators and to help them feel worthy of their profession.

Linda Brugger retired from the Air Force and is a former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Democrats.

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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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