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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

May 17, 2020 EBulletin

On Friday, you received an email from David Fleishman in which he references a conversation between him and me in which we shared how fortunate we both felt to have such a terrific School Committee. I want you to know that this is an accurate summary of a shared sentiment, and that David respectfully called me on Thursday, before he sent out the email, to make sure I was willing to be referenced.  This School Committee, and David, have been heavily criticized by some members of the parent community, who have argued that Newton's distance learning plan is not sufficiently academically rigorous. They believe it does not contain enough "synchronous" learning—longer and more regular Zoom lessons to approximate the schedule of a regular school day. Most members of the school committee have stood fast behind the plan we have in place, and resisted the calls for this kind of "rigor."  Take a look at about ten minutes of last week's school committee meeting. Cue it up to 58:15 minutes in, and listen for about ten minutes. SC Member Kathy Shields wonders why high school students, responding to a survey question about whether the amount of work they have is "too much," "not enough," or "just right," mostly say "too much." She wonders why this is so, if in fact high school students are actually spending much less time working than they ordinarily would. The answers are quite telling. The student representatives on the committee (whom David references in his Friday email to staff) speak quite eloquently to how hard it is for them to maintain focus and initiative absent the vibrant context of school and classroom, peers and teachers. Being in each others' presence motivates them, feeds their passion to learn. And it makes it easier to learn, not in the sense of "less work," but rather in the sense of "more at ease." But now, nothing is "easy" or "normal." A student can't just turn and talk to her classmate when she doesn't understand something, or needs to check an answer, or practice a skill. There isn't this easy back and forth, this ready to hand context for learning and growing. Students, and educators, have lost much of this, and have to work really hard to reproduce it. But that's counterintuitive, because you can't really "work hard" to reproduce something that is partly defined by its ease, its naturalness. It's hard, and it's lonely, and it's draining to teach and learn in isolation from one another, on jittery screens. David, Toby Romer, and Beth Fitzmaurice respond to Kathy's question as well, and speak to the outstanding effort and quickly acquired expertise of Newton's educators during this crisis. And they speak to your deep and genuine concern for your students' well being. The scene captures, to my ear, as it did to David's, the poignancy, and centrality, of keeping the social and emotional well-being of the school community at the center of our attention.  Thank you to David, to Toby, to Beth, to the terrific School Committee, including its eloquent student representatives, for supporting the work Newton's educators do, for speaking to the parent community about how hard this is, and how much effort, time, creativity, and work Newton's educators are putting in every day to do this as best as possible, in spite of how hard it is. And most importantly, thank you to all of you, for all you do. On jittery screens. 

Covid-19 Update

Next Steps? I know many of you are worrying about what school will look like this fall. Both the prospect of returning to distance learning and the prospect of returning to school buildings feel overwhelming...yet fall will come, and we will return in some form to educating students. The American Federation of Teachers has put out excellent guidelines on what districts need to do--and what unions need to advocate for—to return to school safely. You can see these guidelines here. They are informing our deliberations in the NTA about how to protect members in the fall...and what we need to do now, and in the summer, to prepare. As I said last week, a critical battle is forming right now for the future of of public education in Washington. That battle came into clearer focus this week.  Led by Nancy Pelosi, with nearly exclusive support from democratic lawmakers, the House passed the Heroes Act, which will infuse three trillion dollars of stimulus money into the economy. The bill includes large amounts of funding for state and local governments, which is essential to protecting public education from the ruinous effects of state and local budget shortfalls caused by the recession.  Mitch McConnell has promised to stop it cold in the Senate, calling it  a "seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities," and President Trump is threatening to veto it if it gets by Mitch. It must be pretty good for them to get their backs up like that! The MTA has created an opportunity for us to make our voices heard in support of this legislation. Click here, and send a message to your representatives asking them to support the Heroes Act. Please do so even if you responded to my posting of NEA's call to action last week.  I also suggest taking a look at the National Education Associations (NEA) special website on the Coronavirus crisis, educating through crisis.  It is informative, and offers opportunities to take further action. New Member Training Opportunities

The MTA is offering webinars targeted to new members, one on loan forgiveness and one on PTS.  Space is limited in these offerings. If you are unable to register, or if you have questions, contact NTA New Member Liaison, Ariana Foster, If there is enough local interest in the these workshops, we might be able to schedule a workshop specifically for Newton educators. Loan Forgiveness: The Loan Forgiveness training, conducted by credit expert Todd Friedhaber of Cambridge Credit Counseling,  explains exactly what educators need to do to qualify for federal loan forgiveness. Registration link: Wednesday, May 20, 4:00-5:30pm Wednesday, May 27, 6:30-8:00pm Monday, June 1, 3:00-4:30pm PTS/Rights of pre-PTS educators: The Professional Teacher Status training shows teachers exactly how they earn (or don’t earn) professional teacher status – and also the rights they have BEFORE they earn PTS.  Registration link: Tuesday, May 19, 3:00-4:00pm

MTA Massachusetts Child Funds Available

The Massachusetts Child Fund is making available approximately $4,000 in additional funding to the Newton Teachers Association to support enrichment and educational materials for students in need. You can apply directly to Mass Child electronically. They have set up an electronic application form on the Mass Child page of the MTA website. Make sure that you contact Chris Walsh at before you apply. Tell her: 1) the items you plan to purchase, and 2) approximate cost. She will then be able to let you know whether or not your proposed purchase will be reimbursed before you have spent the money yourself. 


Unum Disability Insurance Open Enrollment Period Ends May 22. You probably have been inundated with emails announcing the open enrollment period for UNUM disability insurance from MTA Benefits.  NTA recommends that members sign up for long term disability insurance through UNUM. We do not recommend other UNUM plans at this time, including short term disability insurance, UNLESS you plan on using short term disability insurance to extend the length of a maternity leave.  Click here or on the picture below or call the number below to schedule an appointment with an Unum representative to discuss your options.

Out-of-Assigned District Application for children of NTA members due June 1.

The district has extended the deadline for submitting an application to have your children attend the NPS if you live out-of-district until June 30.  The Google Form for applying can be accessed by clicking here.


Thank you for reading.

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

Please take care and stay well.



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