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Ringgold, its teachers mark 'a new beginning'

| Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

NEW EAGLE - "A new beginning."

Those words by Ringgold School Board President William Stein served as the theme of the board's regular meeting Tuesday night.

At the session, the board ended one bad tradition and took steps to avoid starting another.

After emerging from a 45-minute executive session, Stein announced that the district and its teachers union have virtually come to an agreement on a five-year contract that will begin when the current contract expires in 2008.

"Although the law does not require contract negotiations until next January, the school district and the teachers have engaged in early bird negotiations in an attempt to reach a contract before the current contract expires," Stein said.

"I am pleased to announce that that these negotiations have been very positive, and we are very optimistic that a new five-year contract will be ready for ratification in the near future."

Stein said negotiations between the board and leaders of the Ringgold Education Association were "positive and upbeat" and that, once the final portions of the deal are worked out, "I am certain that we will have a contract to take back to the board and for the union to take back to its membership for ratification."

The surprise announcement, which was made with REA President Doug Weir, Vice-president Rick DeMedio and Secretary Rachel Roberts standing with Stein, ends a long history of uneasiness between the district and the union.

Stein noted that the two sides have had a history of discord, which included bitter negotiations and strikes and that each side wanted to put those bad feelings to bed.

"We have carved a new relationship here at Ringgold," said Stein. "We will have five years of harmony and labor stability in our district, which is something we didn't have before.

"We had a desire to set the tone for a new beginning at Ringgold," he added. "We have a history of labor strife and strikes. We saw an opportunity to begin these negotiations fresh and forge a new path for the betterment of our teachers."

Stein said the board and the union wanted to address the low starting salaries of new teachers, which has kept the district from getting and sometimes keeping new teachers.

"We believe that this contract will be very attractive for quality candidates, for new teaching positions, while keeping the experienced teaching staff that now exists," Stein said.

Weir and DeMedio left the meeting after the announcement without commenting.

However, while the board was in executive session, DeMedio hinted that the upcoming announcement "was finally going to be some good news for the Ringgold School District. I am very excited."

The district's other big announcement was that it was implementing a plan for improving student achievement on all levels.

After getting poor results from state testing for its students, the district decided to be pro-active and put together its own in depth plan for improving students' performance.

Dr. Karen Polkabla, assistant to the superintendent, outlined the plan, which involved the administration, staffing, curriculum and tutoring.

"We, as a board, are concerned about our curriculum and improving it," said Director Don Bartoe.

"We're committed to this program," said Stein. "Let's look at it as a new beginning and let's get it done."

Director Chuck Smith said, "Our improvement (in test scores) starts right here with this board. This board is 1,000 percent behind curriculum improvement."

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