While teachers at Ottawa Township High School are behind the building trades program, they are, as a group, walking a fine line on the student protests.

Teacher Wendy Sheridan, president of the OTHS Education Association, said the union supports fellow member Dave Keely, the building trades instructor dismissed effective May 30, and the building trades program.

"We also recognize that by well-established law, administration is charged with maintaining the learning environment in any school," she told The Times.

"Teachers are charged with doing this in their own classrooms as well," she said. "In fact, we are the primary caretakers for maintaining that environment, in the most literal sense.

"This doesn't mean teachers are unsympathetic to how students might feel. However, in a school setting, the right to free expression has to be balanced with legal requirements and that has been upheld repeatedly by the courts."

At Monday's Board of Education meeting, Sheridan was among the many teachers as well as students, parents and supporters of the building trades program.

Before speaking she presented the board with a petition signed by 353 students.

Sheridan was philosophical about the value of the building trades program as a setting for students to discover more about themselves and in some cases to become self-supporting.

She said it is part of a teacher's job to notice if a student has a unique talent.

"Students often have no idea what their own unique talents might be or that that talent might have potential for their futures," she said. "Along with that is being able to offer unique experiences in which a student can apply those talents. Putting students in different settings besides regular classrooms is often the key for them to discover the abilities they never knew they had.

"Not every student is meant to go to college," she said. "Offering those students situations in which they can discover their strengths will benefit not only them but also the community."

Sheridan noted OTHS and many schools in Illinois face serious economic challenges.

"Very difficult choices lie ahead and the communities we serve also have to understand what is involved in those choices," she said. "Many who are quick to criticize the board or administration or teachers are often unaware of what we actually do or how difficult it is to satisfy many competing groups — not to mention complying with various laws and mandates at the local, state and federal levels.

"Public education is not a simple task," she said. "All of us here are trying to do the very best job we can under some very difficult situations."

Sheridan told The Times there are other ways for students and the community to convey their feelings about the Board of Education decision.

"One is to attend school board meetings and become more involved with, and informed about, how a school is actually run. Ultimately, the community decides how tax money should be spent; that's why it elects school board members, to be prudent stewards of their tax dollars.

"More public involvement with local government such as school board meetings will promote well-informed decisions based on facts and reason and possibly prevent some high-emotion situations," she said.

Sheridan said the primary concern of teachers' union is representing and supporting its members — as they do Keely and his program.

"We cannot control what the people of the Ottawa High School district think," she said. "But we do feel they should become as well-informed as they possibly can in order to provide the education they want for their children — because ultimately they are the ones who decide what they want this school to be."

(5) comments


I hope everyone understands the emotions these kids are going through. Walking out of school wasn't the best idea they had. Their bravery speaks volumes, though. Their actions should not be held against them. They're teenagers. They are learning how things work. This is an excellent learning opportunity for them to see how their actions affect others, especially those in charge. They need to be sat down with and talked to until they understand what exactly is happening and why. There are other things that could be done to "save Dave" but they need to come up with a better plan. If and when they do that we will know if they learned anything.

retired electrician
retired electrician

In the Eugen/Springfield area in Oregon the industrial arts programs have been slowly eliminated to that point that the biggest school district in Lane County, 4J, has no industrial arts programs left. Most of the surrounding districts have limited or no industrial arts either. I am part of a trades academy program through IBEW Local 280 and and several other local unions trades who are concerned about the students in high schools. I have talked to many who have no idea what kind of employment is out there to make a good living at and they have never had any kind of hands on experience at any of the trades. I know that as a Union electrician that I made a considerable amount more yearly than students with a bachelors degree. Some that specialize and get their masters degree in that specialty sometimes make the equivalent of what a journeyman electrician makes. At this time with the amount earned on the check and the amount in benefits paid by the employer the 2000 hour year for an electrician earns him or her just under 108 thousand dollars. If we don't give our kids a chance to look at these programs many of them will fail in life because as has been said many are not meant for higher education. It is really hard to get the administrations of the districts in the Eugene/Springfield and Albany areas on board with our programs because of the Universities and Community Colleges in the two areas. Most administrators in education want the students to go on to higher education so the money stays in the school systems. I have had teachers tell me that the students should go to college and then after they get their higher or while they are getting their higher education decide on a career path to follow. I don't agree with this. Why would you send a student to spend thousands of dollars on an education that will serve them no good. The program that the unions in Oregon have and across the US is an apprenticeship and a earn while you learn program. When our apprentices get out of the program and pass the State Exam to get their electrical license they have no debt to pay back involving their schooling. I have to wonder where the teachers at Owatta Township High School hold the future of their students. I also have to wonder if the administration of the school district has gotten raises in salary. One teacher's salary and benefits and the materials and gear to run the class seem like a very small amount to pay if even one student per year were to go into the building trades. I am a retired Supervisory electrician and in the time I was running jobs for 40 years I also taught the apprenticeship program with CJATC in Tangent, I still teach and am planning to keep on teaching until my health no longer allows me to do so. I believe in the future of our children and am doing as much as possible to improve their prospects here in Oregon.


Then why don't you fix the retirement system so the kids can learn you fat cats, setting up for the ballot to suck more money from everyone.


the 130 high school students all learned a bit of a lesson with this protest. first, they learned that protests after the fact aren't as fruitful as protesting during the decision process. secondly, they have learned that breaking the rules is not a constitutional right and resulted in suspensions for those who did not follow orders or policies in place.
if the unions are in support of student industrial arts programs, why isn't there a trade union based program in place for a job shadow opportunity, co-op programs or exposure to the trades for prospective in their areas of expertise?
stop the hypocrisy about the necessity for union trades, when the funding shortfalls in the school are directly related to the employee unions represented.


[sad] We have lived for nearly thirty years in a warm and friendly house that was built by the building trades program of Dakota High School in 1974. Numerous families in our school district have grown up in homes that the school built, and many of the students in the building trades program have gone on to very successful careers as professional tradesmen. I hope that Ottawa will reconsider this decision, and look at the tremendous benefits that such a program brings to a community.

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