March 29 NTA COVID-19 Update

Dear Colleagues:

Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey that I sent to you on March 25. When I closed it on Thursday, nearly 1,400 people had completed it. We will need time to interpret your responses, but there are some general results it is important to share now.

The majority of you live with a partner, and the majority of your partners are also working from home. Over 800 of you have at least one child living at home, most more than one, and over 200 of you are caring for a person other than your children who lives in your household.You have a lot of responsibility.

Your primary worries are that someone in your family will become ill, that your students are not doing well, and that your students who already struggle will fall even further behind or "between the cracks." You worry that if you become ill, you will not be able to care for other members of your family or your students. You worry most about those who are in your care.

You also worry whether the district will continue to pay you and provide you with benefits, and whether, given your pressing circumstances, you will be able to meet the expectations that the district will place on you during the next stage of "remote learning." You need to know that your employer "has your back."

You also say that, even though you are experiencing much more than normal stress, you are managing these challenges relatively well. You are resilient. 

We're working with our statewide MTA leadership, with other local presidents, and with the Newton Public Schools central administration and school committee to make sure you are protected. We have your back.

We believe the plans the Newton Public Schools is putting into place are reasonable, respectful of your circumstances and concerns, and compassionate. Specifically, they speak directly to many of the worries you expressed through our survey. 

On Friday, March 27, we had a very productive, cordial, and collaborative meeting with school committee members Ruth Goldman and Bridget Ray-Canada, and central administrators David Fleishman, Toby Romer, and Jill Murray. We reached a number of agreements, all of which we are working as quickly as possible to put into a written Memorandum of Agreement. 

These are the primary areas of agreement that won't change:

1. The agreement will last until the end of the school year, assuming schools do not reopen. 

2. Salary and benefits currently being paid will continue to be paid until the end of the school year for members of all units. Health insurance continues through the summer, as usual. 

3. Normal end of year evaluations are simply not feasible for any unit, and, for the most part, will not happen. There will be exceptions, but there will be no surprises, and these exceptions will be addressed on a case by case basis. 

4. By the end of the day tomorrow, the district will have guidelines on "distance learning" that will be both specific for level and role, but also consistent and equitable. When these are released, I will follow up with another email to provide "guidance on the guidelines."

What I can say now is that the NTA and NPS are in agreement on the purpose and principles of distance learning:

  • Paradigm shift: We are not trying to provide the same education from a distance that we would normally provide from home.

  • Distance versus remote learning: We recognize that not all learning happening at home should be happening on a screen.

  • Weekly "student experience":  We structure student learning and teacher expectations in weekly chunks, being attentive to the needs of students with disabilities, ELL students, and all learners. 

  • Asynchronous versus synchronous teaching: Distance learning will be teacher directed, but this does not mean teachers will gather students together at the same time to deliver instruction. It is not feasible to expect that faculty and students can be on the internet simultaneously, or even have the same resources or skills to access the internet. 

  • Universal design: We follow these principles so expectations can be met by all students.

  • Teamwork and support for teams. Our circumstances vary, and our ability to contribute varies. We recognize that no one educator should carry sole responsibility for any group of students. We need to support each other.

  • Special education. We seek ways to adapt special education supports to distance learning

Finally, It is important to note that David and his team expressed firmly their belief that, during this crisis, what is most important for our students is the quality of the relationships they develop and maintain with their teachers. So I would add: 

  • Connections. We must be cognizant that our focus must be on connectedness and engagement with our students, and we must think of content as the vehicle for that connection.

These, are, of course, general principles, and until the guidelines are released, I am sure you will continue to wonder exactly what is going to be expected of you as of April 6th.

That said, I believe that, if the district builds the guidelines upon these principles, and provides both the proper amount of support and autonomy to educators, we should have an approach to distance learning that establishes reasonable expectations. This should allow you to continue to do the great work you are already doing.

As I said earlier, I will provide more "guidance on the guidelines" in my next update.

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."

Please take care and stay well.



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