That’s a Facebook post from Ohio’s new teacher liaison, an elementary teacher from Gahanna named Sarah Dove who has been charged with reaching out to educators across the state to get their input on changes such as a new evaluation system and performance pay, and to communicate teachers’ concerns back to policy makers in Columbus.
Dove’s position isn’t new: The Taft administration, for example, had teachers in similar roles, Ohio Department of Education spokesperson Patrick Gallaway said.
What is new is putting a teacher in that role who is sharply critical of unions and a public supporter of the collective bargaining law that the Ohio teachers’ unions despise. And that highlights the ongoing tension between Republican leaders led by Gov. John Kasich, and unions, and raises questions about which teachers get significant input and how that will be reflected in rules on performance pay, school funding and other changes coming to Ohio schools.
Meet Ohio’s teacher liaison
Name: Sarah Dove
Education: B.A., Communications, Ohio State University; Master of Education, Ohio State University
Experience: Production Assistant, Fox News (three years); fourth and fifth grade teacher, Gahanna-Jefferson School District (five years)
School District: Gahanna-Jefferson is a 7,000-student district in a suburb northeast of Columbus. Sixty-nine percent of its students are white and 26 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch
Salary: $51,544, plus additional pay at $20 per hour for working during the summer. Dove is technically employed by the Gahanna-Jefferson School District, but the Ohio Department of Education is reimbursing the district for her compensation, according to the district’s superintendent.
Source: Ohio Department of Education, Ohio State University, Gahanna-Jefferson School District
Gahanna Superintendent Mark White called Dove “an outstanding educator.”
“She has a lot of energy, knows her students really well, is really bright and is up on the latest practices. She’s a leader in the building and one our bright spots in education,” he said.
As Dove explains it, her job now is to gather input from teachers on the new evaluation system and performance pay plans coming to Ohio public schools and to package it into a report later this year for Robert Sommers, the governor’s lead education advisor, and the Ohio Board of Education.
“I’m here to advocate for my profession,” said Dove, who met Kasich while working as a production assistant on his Fox News show, before she decided to become a teacher.
Even after moving into the classroom, Dove kept in touch with Kasich. She worked on his campaign and served as a founding member of the campaign group Teachers for Kasich. When she was offered the teacher-liaison position, she didn’t feel like it was something she could turn down, she said.
“I, like many, many teachers, was concerned that policy makers and decision makers don’t know what it’s like to be me,” she said.
All After the Same Thing
Dove said she’s one of only two teachers working in the governor’s education policy division, and the only one who’s been in the classroom in the past decade. (The other former teacher is Sommers.)
Since her appointment in June, she has been poring through the 1,300 or so emails teachers sent to the governor in response to his invitation to tell him their thoughts on performance pay and more; meeting with teachers who sent those emails; and talking with members of her office’s performance-pay steering committee, she said.
Some of Dove’s work duplicates that of the Department of Education and the Board of Education. The board is the group actually charged with approving the new teacher evaluation model that the education department has been working on for several years. It has already gathered plenty of input from teachers and principals on evaluation models and plans to gather more during the coming school year.
No matter, said Board of Education Vice President Tom Gunlock, particularly given that the Department of Education had been without a superintendent for several months earlier this year and faces a $6 million budget cut.
“I don’t feel like anybody’s stepping on anybody’s toes by doing it this way,” he said. “We’re all after the same thing, a great education for all of our children.”
But Not Union Leaders
What Dove hasn’t been doing in her role as Ohio’s teacher liaison is talking with education union leaders. She and Sommers have held 19 meetings with teachers to hear their thoughts on how they should be evaluated and paid. But those meetings have been by-invitation-only. Leaders of the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers have not received invites.
“I’m going through the emails that we’ve received and looking for people that have valuable things to add. We’re meeting with those people,” Dove said.
OFT President Sue Taylor said by not talking with union leaders—or asking them to publicize opportunities to comment to their members—Dove risks missing out on some teachers’ views, as well as not reflecting the views of educators from different types of schools.
“If he’s (Kasich is) just choosing teachers who’ve supported his campaign (for governor), … then the citizens of Ohio have a lot to fear about the merits and the integrity of whatever education design comes from these mysterious processes and people,” she said.
The OEA would not comment for this story.
For her part, Dove said she has already talked with “lots and lots of union members.”
But “I’m the teacher liaison, I’m not the union liaison,” she said.
A Private Role
Two months into her role as teacher liaison, Dove’s official Twitter account (@OHTeach) already has more Twitter followers than Sommers, Kasich’s lead education policy advisor. (Recent tweet: “I’m hearing from highly effective teachers who want to innovate & lead! What are your thoughts?”)
But on her personal Twitter account (@sarahedove), Dove is a critic of OEA and of efforts to repeal Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law that, among other things, bars seniority in determining teacher pay and layoffs. The OEA is one of the biggest backers of a referendum to repeal SB 5 in the November election.
Dove’s public comments on that personal account have sparked reactions from union groups. “Sarah works for the Gov. as his “teacher liaison”. Which is apparently shorthand for ignoring teachers,” @jointhefutureOH tweeted earlier this month.
Dove said she would never use her post as teacher liaison to “advocate for my personal views.”
“My job is to listen and provide feedback and advocate for my profession and that’s what I’m doing,” she said.