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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin February 21, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

I hope that all of you had a restful break. A year ago I actually took a vacation and travelled to warmer climes. Now that seems like so long ago. I hope next February brings renewed opportunity for all of us to actually vacation during February break. In my January 31st EBulletin I explored what it would take for the NTA and the NPS Central Administration/School Committee to improve relations. I concluded that email by stating that “as leaders of the NTA, our promise to you, our members, is that we will find a path to a better relationship with the district that does not come at the cost of our honesty and transparency with you, nor our willingness to advocate fiercely on your behalf when that is the only path available.” Both our fierce advocacy and our willingness to collaborate have produced results. First, finally—again—we have a tentative agreement with the district on a revised MOA. This time around, we will not vote on it until the School Committee has approved it—based on their scheduled meetings, likely late in the week of March 1st. In the anticipation that this time the SC will vote to approve the agreement, I am asking that you hold Thursday, March 11, at 4:00, for a GMM. You can expect more information on the agreement soon—including a list of changes from the original tentative agreement we ratified in November. Second and third, we are almost there on two critical issues over which we began our advocacy late last August: Surveillance testing and an independent review of the HVAC systems in the schools. A bit of history: Late last August, at a General Membership Meeting 1,250 members voted overwhelmingly to demand of the district that it conduct surveillance testing and contract with an independent firm to review HVAC in NPS buildings slated to reopen. We started from a place of fierce advocacy; We are now working together with the district to operationalize these projects. Surveillance testing: The week before break, the School Committee voted to invest nearly $2 million to contract with JCM Analytics to implement a comprehensive surveillance testing program for the staff and students of the Newton Public Schools. This program will allow participants to pick up kits at their school, take them home to swab themselves, and drop them back off at school. Simple and convenient, this approach will ensure the highest possible compliance and, consequently, much safer schools. The first stage of implementation is set to begin in the high schools the week of March 1st. The School Committee chose the program that puts the least burden on the district for implementation (and costs more because of that!), but there is still work that has to be done at the building level. Our NTA Unit B administrators in both high schools are going to need support to make this program work! I urge anyone who can to help out! It’s ours, we won it, let’s own it! Independent review of HVAC Systems: To date, the district has invested more than $3 million on a comprehensive plan to review, repair, test, and balance the ventilation systems in every building in the Newton Public Schools, overseen by the independent firm Crowley Engineering. We have felt the need to be vigilant even as they did the work, but in our most recent meeting with Liam Hurley and Josh Morse, they were able to answer all of our outstanding questions. One example: Q: How was it possible to get such better results at Memorial-Spaulding from the first round of testing and balancing to the next? A: They replaced the obsolete control mechanism that were causing the problems.) Moreover, they agreed to add a critical piece of information to the dashboards they have been publishing on the NPS website.--the “nominal occupancy” of every room based on the actual amount of fresh air being introduced into each room. You will soon be able to see, on updated dashboards, how many people it is safe to have in your rooms without further mitigation. The sample dashboard below (for Underwood Elementary) is the model the district is using for updating all of the dashboard OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS. On these, in addition to these columns:

You will also see a new column that will show how many individuals can safely be in your room without further mitigation measures:

Chris Walsh really lead the way in our advocacy, sticking tenaciously to her conviction that the dashboards must display real numbers for maximum occupancy for each room. Thank you Chris. And thank you to Josh Morse and Liam Hurley for their diligence, long hours of work, and willingness to listen. As they interacted with staff in the buildings, they said that you always made them feel welcome. And they heard from you, not just Chris and me, that you needed to know how many people are can safely be in your rooms. To summarize, district leaders are no longer simply saying to us, “schools are safe.” They have shown a commitment to working with us to make them safer. I think it is fair to say that Newton’s school buildings are now among the safest in the state. So these are some of the results of our advocacy, and our collaboration with the district. I also said that this collaboration would not come at the expense of our honesty and transparency with members. There is much community pressure on the School Committee and David Fleishman to open the schools up to more in person instruction, particularly at the elementary level. Other districts—Cambridge, Needham, Brookline—are collapsing the two elementary cohorts into one, and returning students to school four or five days a week, in some cases for full days, in some cases for partial days. But it is not just about community pressure. The hybrid model is hard on students, on their families, and on educators. It feels important, for many reasons, if it can be done well, and safely, for students to spend more time, together, at school. And as I said above, Newton has, in fact, gone above and beyond on making schools safer. David Fleishman and his team have reached out to us, and Chris has put together a group of teachers to work with Mary Eich, Eva Thompson and a number of principals to consider how and when to make these changes at the elementary level. To be clear: the decision about whether to do this would rest with the School Committee. But the district is actively seeking our input. And in order to provide our input, we need yours. Please take a few minutes to click here and fill out this survey, which seeks your feedback on both the impact of the surveillance testing and the improvements to HVAC on your comfort levels with school safety, as well as your feelings/concerns/opinions about further reopening of the schools to in person learning. Newton Elections The 24-member City Council currently has two open seats, one in Ward 2 (the Cabot, Horace-Mann, NNHS, Day Middle School area) and the other in Ward 1 (the Lincoln-Eliot, Underwood, Bigelow, NNHS) A special election will take place on March 16 to fill these seats. The Representative Assembly of the Newton Teachers Association voted to endorse Madeline Ranalli in Ward 1 and Bryan Barash in Ward 2. Ward 1 - Madeline Ranalli: The NTA believes that Madeline Ranalli will bring a thoughtful, well-informed, and mature perspective to the Newton City Council. In her role as city councilor, we believe she will be a strong advocate for public education in Newton, and a strong supporter of Newton's teachers. She is clearly ready to assume that role. Ward 2 – Bryan Barash: The NTA believes that Bryan's strong commitment to the City of Newton, his honest and forthright advocacy for educators, and his history of rolling up his sleeves and doing whatever he can to support schools and teachers makes him the best candidate for the Ward 2 City Council position.

  • Please Note: Both seats are at-large positions. ALL Newton voters can vote in both elections.

  • Please note as well: One of the more controversial issues that will face the City Council is Zoning. The Newton Teachers Association did not did not take a position on zoning redesign in its deliberations for candidate endorsements.

Influence of the city council on the schools: While the City Council has minimal systemic influence on NPS, in recent years the actions of the City Council have affected the daily lives of teachers and staff. For example, the Traffic Council and the Public Facilities Committee periodically weigh in on issues that affect the quality of the working/learning environment in the schools. More specifically, the Council had the final say in decisions to buy properties that abut two new elementary school buildings, and in doing so enhanced the final project plan, including providing for increased staff parking. NTA can expect that circumstances will arise in the future that the require City Council approval and/or input, and it is in the best interests of the teachers and staff that individual councilors understand the needs of the system. Deadline Reminders from Human Resources Leaves of AbsenceMarch 15th (Units A, B, C, & E) Voluntary TransfersMarch 15th (Units A & B) Tuition Reimbursement May 1st (Units A, B, C, & E) Early Retirement Incentive--$500 bonus to employees who complete retirement notification form and submit it to Human Resources at least four months prior to their last date of employment Forms can be found here.

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike


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