Superintendent talks bargaining, testing

Mark Miller has spent about two weeks on the job

Mark Miller likes a good fixer upper.


The district’s new superintendent recently moved into a small, older home near Juneau-Douglas High School. But that’s not to say he couldn’t find anything better; he picked the place with renovations in mind.

“I love to work on houses,” he said during a meeting at the Empire offices Thursday. “It’s something I do to relax.”

Just like the work he’ll have to do on his new home, Miller can look forward to more than a couple challenges as he starts his first school year on the job, including teacher contract negotiations, which begin in December, and new state standards and assessments to implement.

As a former assistant superintendent of human resources for the Hayward Unified School District in California’s San Francisco Bay area, Miller has first-hand experience with teachers’ union negotiations. He said the union in Hayward was a tough bunch, but the district got through it each and every time. The last time the Hayward teachers’ union and district hashed out a new teacher contract, the two groups met two or three times a month, all day long, for more than nine months.

“They prided themselves on being one of the four or five most aggressive (teacher) groups to work with” in the state, Miller said.

The strategy the Hayward district used — and what Miller would like to introduce to the Juneau School District — is called non-adversarial or interest-based bargaining. In non-adversarial bargaining, instead of sitting across the table from one another, head-to head, teachers and district administrators sit side by side around the table. The two parties “set criteria ahead of time” and stick to it through out the process, and a neutral facilitator helps the groups get through the process civilly, Miller said.

This strategy can take longer, but is worth it in the end, he said.

“You damage relationships so much with that adversarial discussion,” Miller said.

He said he’ll rely on his cabinet members — JSD human resources director Ted VanBronkhorst, teaching and learning director Ted Wilson, and others — to help him through the upcoming contract negotiations. The most recent teacher contract was agreed upon in February.

Assessments will also come into the spotlight this school year, with the district implementing the new Alaska Standards, similar to the Common Core State Standards, and transitioning to completely computerized Alaska Measures of Progress testing. The district has also done away with its exit exam, but will now be required to provide SAT, ACT and ACT WorkKeys testing to all graduating high school seniors.

One of the goals of this year is making sure all students are “tech savvy” enough to take state assessments on a tablet, Miller said. Last year, the Hayward district moved all of its testing to tablets.

“So it’s very similar, just a year ahead,” he said.

He hopes to get teachers in the habit of assessing their students’ progress daily, either formally or informally. A downside to state assessments, although they give a good look at the big picture, is that “by the time you get the information back, the kid’s already in someone else’s class.”

Although he couldn’t yet say what JSD’s test scores were like last year, he said “there’s good news in there.”

“It’s clear that some of the things (the district) put in place over the last couple years are working,” Miller said.

He said he will continue carrying out the plans that the JSD Board of Education and former superintendent Glenn Gelbrich set in place.

“Just because a new ‘supe’ comes on, that doesn’t mean all bets are off,” he said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.


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