Updated: Apr 18, 2020
This past Wednesday, April 1st, the NTA reached agreement on a second Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Newton Public Schools that will extend through the remainder of the school year should schools remain closed.
The Agreement has four parts, all of which can be found on the NTA website. These are: (1) the MOA itself, (2) Attachment A, the NPS Distance Learning Plan, (3) Attachment B, the agreement on evaluation, and (4) Attachment C, a protocol for Unit E Tech Support members to service devices at the Ed Center.
The MOA has provisions: protecting members if they or a family member becomes ill (#1); protecting salaries and wages (#2, #3, and #4); defining working conditions under school closure (#5, #6, #7, and #8 and Attachment A); establishing guidelines for evaluation for the remainder of the year (#9 and #10 and Attachment B); and protocols for safeguarding Unit E members who are required to work in the buildings (#11 and Attachment C).
In addition to this MOA and its attachments, the NTA also agreed with the Newton Public Schools that as a district we would make up the four "snow days" (March 13 to March 18) over April break (excluding Patriot's Day) rather than from June 22 to June 25. The 2019-2020 school year will end on June 18 for students and June 19 for teachers.
Like many of you, I'm drained. As much as I am aware that we all need rest, when David approached me with his proposal to make up the snow days over April break, after a good deal of consultation, I made the decision that indeed April break was not the time to retreat into our corners.
If my own experience of this pandemic is any measure, my ability to perceive it with clarity and fullness of feeling changes every day. The next two or three weeks are going to be difficult, with the number of cases of COVID-19 possibly peaking at this time. More people will become ill, more will die, and we and our families, and our students and their families, will begin to know more people directly or indirectly impacted by the virus. It will become more real, and more personal, for all of us.
I know many of you are busy, and probably more than a little anxious, because tomorrow you will be beginning distance learning according to the new expectations. Before you even had time to figure out the first "Distance Learning Plan," you were quickly dragged into the second.
I ask you to bear in mind as we go forward that the basic premise of Newton's Distance Learning Plan has not changed: we teach from a distance to connect with and support our students and their families socially and emotionally through these times.
Be careful. There will be a temptation to believe that we can do everything we would have done were we still in school. There will be a temptation to make the curriculum the end, and not the means for connecting with and supporting students. The new plan makes it much easier to succumb to that temptation.
But in negotiating this "Distance Learning Agreement," I've become convinced that principals, central administrators, and especially our own NTA Unit B members--Department Heads, Curriculum Coordinators, Assistant and Vice Principals, Program Directors and others—are committed to this fundamental principle: we are supporting our students and their families through a difficult emotional time.
The good thing is that for many of our students, making distance learning seem a little more like "real school" will provide the structure that will be exactly what they need socially and emotionally. It will feel good for them that school seems more like it did-- I think this will be especially true in the secondary schools. And it will be true for their parents as well.
But for many, this will not be true. They, or their families, may find what we are asking them to do to be HARD. And we should not be making their lives harder. The times we are entering will do plenty of that without our help.
A week ago a teacher from a middle school forwarded to me an email she had received from a parent, sick with worry over what the district might ask of her next, a single mother working from home. She said, regarding her worry that expectations might increase, that:
"I can't help feeling a little of that guilt too, as there's a voice in my head that keeps telling me a better mother would somehow manage to work full time while also managing school work full time while also keeping herself and her children sane and healthy."
I am sure that the School Committee heard far less from parents like her, and that she and others like her were not posting on the Newton Parents Facebook page. But you do. Make sure their voices matter.
As Mike Feldstein from Horace Mann explained to me: equity for our students and families for whom school is HARD does not necessarily mean doing all we can to make to make it possible for them to do the SAME as more privileged students or families. It means meeting each student and each family where they are, understanding their needs, and being responsive to those.
Here is an excerpt from an email Mike sent to parents in late March that illustrates this:
Obviously, by far the most important thing is that everyone remains safe and healthy. Second is the social and emotional well being of you and your child.
That said, it seems that adding some structure and encouragement would be helpful for some of you. If you are managing fine and think added academic expectations will not be helpful to what is most important, please do not feel as though what I am sharing with you and your child is required. If you feel that adding structure and encouragement would be helpful, I hope you find the attachment useful.
There is no doubt that it will be difficult for some students to complete these assignments on their own (that is why we have school :-)). If your child is struggling have him/her reach out to me. I would look forward to it. If your child is eager to do some of the work, but not all of it...that is fine too. Ultimately as we navigate through this uncharted territory you will be the ones who will need to continue to assess what is best for you and your child. I will help in any way that I can.
Find your version of this idea of equity, whatever grade or level you teach. Find your way of continuing to lead with kindness and compassion, to meet your students, and their families, where they are. Resist the temptation to try to do what we always do when we teach, only from a distance. Trust that your colleagues and your administrators will support you in resisting this temptation; support them in resisting it as well.
"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."
Please take care and stay well.