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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

June 7 EBulletin

I think I speak for all of you when I say that each day reveals in fuller detail how dangerous, frightening and uncertain these times are becoming. 

For all members of the NTA, even before we finish this school year, and against the background of a pandemic that seems to find new ways of revealing our society's injustices at every turn, the uncertainty looms over us of what we will be doing when school resumes in the fall.

For members of Unit C, this uncertainty is immediate, palpable, and acutely painful.

Many Unit C members have received notice in their buildings or their departments that their positions will not be renewed for next year. Many are still waiting to find out if they will be renewed.

Many of our Unit C members, even though they know they will return in the fall, do not know how they will make ends meet over the summer. Well over two hundred members of Unit C--over a third of our Unit C members--depend on earnings from Extended School Year (ESY) programming every summer. It isn't clear how much of that programming will happen this year, nor where that lost income will be made up.

All of us are in limbo concerning what school will look like next fall. Will we be teaching in our buildings, or remotely? There are rumors that DESE will recommend some sort of hybrid model, with some teaching and learning happening in school, and some happening remotely. But we don't know many details about that model, nor how prescriptive the guidance will be, nor what will remain to be bargained at the local level.

That said, we know that there will be aspects of the fall learning plan that will be mandatory subjects of bargaining. 

And when we enter into that bargaining, the NTA will make sure that the important work that Unit C members do is a central part of any learning plan we adopt. 

Clearly, the value of our Unit C members was not fully acknowledged this spring, both as evidenced in the non-renewals, but also in how inadequately Unit C members were utilized in the current distance learning plan.

In fact, they were grossly underutilized. While Unit C members were glad that we negotiated an agreement that allowed them to be paid their full salaries until the end of this school year, they wanted and needed a fuller role in supporting their students. They wanted to earn their salaries! The most frequent complaint I received from Unit C members was that they wanted to support their students, but were not allowed to do so.

That cannot happen next fall.The number of Unit C members who return to work in the Newton Public Schools must be sufficient to meet the needs of Newton's students. Their roles must be defined.The current reductions do not make that possible. 

What is this vital work that Unit C members should have been doing in the spring, and must return to doing in the fall?

Distance learning puts a heavy burden on all students' (and their families') technology skills, their executive functioning, and their resilience. But for special education students, that burden is even more acute. Working with their Unit A colleagues, one of the primary roles of Unit C members--one of the key reasons their presence is included in students' IEPs—is precisely to help students with their executive functioning and resilience: to be a steadying and calming presence, redirecting students when they lose focus, helping them manage their schedules and work load, emotionally supporting them when they feel overwhelmed.  Yet, this spring, even as the circumstances made Unit C members contributions more necessary, they were prevented from working directly with their students.  What was the result? Far too many students and their families were effectively left out of the current distance learning plan, unable to access the curriculum that was being offered remotely. Existing inequities were exacerbated, and although the reasons for this are complex, not putting to full use the considerable skills of our Unit C members made the situation worse. The NTA will bargain to make sure that Unit C members in sufficient numbers join the work all members do in educating our students next fall, whatever model of learning we follow.  Thank you for reading. "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike  


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