A Letter

This is a letter I sent to the board president and superintendent.

Last week you visited West Hills and spent almost ten minutes in my AP World History class. While I appreciate the visit, I question your timing and motives. Why haven’t you visited classrooms before? Granger Ward visited my classroom unannounced on three different occasions.

Mr. Kelly, three years ago, when you were on the County board, you went out of your way to pass a county resolution congratulating me on receiving the Internet Educator of the Year from Classroom Connect. While I was grateful, I had received a lot of attention already and attempted to “get out of it.” In the end you insisted that I make the board meeting and on that evening you presented me with a beautiful award that still hangs in my classroom. You praised me for my efforts to go above and beyond with my students.

Today, it appears, that I am the enemy. Your appointed representative dismisses my contributions and my efforts.

In ten years of teaching at West Hills High School, I have changed prep periods seven times. Just this year I added Advanced Placement World History. I have spent literally thousands of hours working outside of my contracted day. I have continued to integrate technology within my classroom, incorporating digital video and the Internet on a regular basis. I update and maintain a web site for my students and their parents. I e-mail parents about upcoming events, grades, and other relevant information. Plus, I am currently finishing a challenging masters program in Educational Technology at SDSU that has allowed me to strengthen and expand my teaching skills.

The only priority above my day-to-day interactions with the 180 students, who walk through my class doorway each day, is my family. My wife and I decided that she would stay home with my two young sons (ages 2 and 4) until they were in school. Financially, it has been an immense struggle for a family of four to live on $55K annually. I have had to take on additional responsibilities at school and find side jobs just to make ends meet. One of the major components of the decision to expand our family further is the ability to pay for the added expenses on top of the already rising day-to-day costs.

At this point, I know you are thinking that Dan McDowell is not the problem. He is not the enemy. The union is. Well, I am part of the union. I know that the union is fighting for the best interest of the teachers. Bruce, Linda, and the others are finding themselves having to fight tooth and nail for something that should be a given. I am tired of having to fight to be fairly compensated, but I will continue to do it. I will continue to support my union representatives.

When you attack Bruce and Linda, you attack me. And my office partners and the teachers at ALL of the sites. If you have a problem with the union leadership, then you have a problem with all of us. We are motivated, intelligent, educated, passionate, and insightful. We are religious, spiritual, well meaning, and dedicated. We are unappreciated, underpaid (in comparison to other jobs with a similar education level), and overworked (I currently have 115 AP essays which I will grade entirely on my own time).

We see that the district received almost 4% last year and 5.5% this year in a COLA. Teachers make up about 40% of the budget. Therefore, 40% of that money should be passed on to the teachers. Don’t argue about it being one-time money, it’s not. Make an honest, fair, and straightforward offer. Make teachers a priority; we are the ones that connect with the students every single day. Don’t try and play games by raising co-pays or making “off the salary schedule” offers. When you do that, you insult our intelligence.

So in the end, I have to ask why fight this battle. By not moving on your offer, in fact, by making it worse (the department chair issue, academic control, and union president release time), you are pushing the teachers towards a strike. Why? Why put the students in between. You will cause a wound that will take years to heal.

While I cannot afford a strike, I will if I have to. I know that I give something valuable to the children of East County. I know I am a good teacher and I demand to be treated fairly. No doubt the students will suffer in some respects, and for that, I blame you, the board and the superintendent. You have a chance to end this, but you refuse. You will not meet the union in the middle. Your final offer showed no sign of compromise, in fact it showed a malicious side of the administration.

This year I am seriously considering leaving the district, as are many others. In the last three years I have had two opportunities to leave. Both times I decided that staying in the district I graduated from and in the community in which I live was a priority. No longer is that the case. I would rather leave the field of teaching altogether or find a district where the board and administration are willing to work with teachers and meet them at a middle ground. I deserve to be paid what I am worth, as do others, and if leaving Grossmont Union High School District is the means to that end, then so be it.

The ball has been in your court for some time. It is time for you to make this right.

Dan McDowell
AP and CP World History Teacher
West Hills High School

2 thoughts on “A Letter”

  1. Very well said Dan! IF you think you might get serious about relocating, consider EL Centro. I know both principals at the local high schools and I am sure they would be interested in a person with your teaching and tech. credentials/qualifications. There are usually high school history teaching positions open each year in the Central Union High School District. Housing is cheaper out here too……3-4 BR homes in my neighborhood are going for $250-300K. Let me know if I can help you out, should you decide to make the move.


  2. So I just started flipping through the “Next Blog” button when yours popped up. What a great blog. I am a student in California and would just say it is amazing to hear from a teacher who really loves his jobs and his students. I took AP History in high school and it was intense for me, I can not imagine what it must be like for a teacher.


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