Dear Colleagues: Please note that in the body of this email I have included a poll asking your opinion on how members should vote on an agreement the NTA reaches with the School Committee. Don't forget to share your opinion through the poll before you finish with this email! I introduced last week's EBulletin with these words: "Yet even as you are struggling, pressure is mounting in the community for more: more time on learning in elementary schools, a quick transition to hybrid in middle schools, and a short timeline for switching to a hybrid plan in the high schools. If the district is truly committed to instruction that is attuned to the trauma students are experiencing, if central administrators and School Committee members really care about the social and emotional well-being of children, then they will do more than overwhelm staff with PD on these topics: they will push back against community pressure for "more," for "faster," for "right now." They will lead." Since I wrote those words, the situation has gotten worse. All week, NTA leaders have been hearing from members who report that the current level of expectations is unsustainable.
Preschool educators say that the situation is so bad they are not even drinking water during the day, because they are in small, ill-ventilated rooms with students who are with them all day and often cannot wear masks. Staff members fear to take off their own masks to take a drink, let alone eat lunch, so they go home dehydrated and feeling ill.
Elementary educators in both the hybrid model and Distance Learning Academy report that they are grossly understaffed and that they are barely able to stay afloat. Planning is never done; personal planning time gets eaten up with consults and communication with parents and colleagues.
The Distance Learning Academy, which has the most diverse student body in the district, is most acutely understaffed, belying the districts' claims to equitable programming.
Hybrid educators write to me with their fear of what is coming in November, when the district has promised to extend in person learning in elementary school until 3:00. They wonder how they can possibly work with students all day, every day, without even so much as a lunch break.
Middle school educators say that both they and their students find the current schedule, with the amount of time they and their students are spending on Zoom, unsustainable, if not borderline cruel. When one principal lobbied to take five minutes off each block to create a slightly longer lunch period and a twenty minute break, the idea was nixed by special education central administrators because the amount of "time on learning" in each class cannot be reduced AT ALL...in spite of the fact that it is special education students who most need this break.
High school educators report that six hours of zoom every day is unsustainable and unhealthy, that there is not nearly enough time to plan or collaborate, and that they doubt that they or their students will be able to sustain the current schedule all year. One educator told me she thinks she will be able to "survive" it, but doubts her students will.
Special educators across the district are being pushed beyond their limits, yet Unit A members are being asked, on top of their other duties, to supervise Unit C members. The district has so few aides and BTs that many are being asked to work with two or three or even more students, even when these students' IEPs call for one-on-one support. Compliance just doesn't seem to matter when it requires additional staffing.
And what is anyone supposed to do if they are sick? There are few substitutes, and there appear to be no plans for what happens when someone cannot report to work. Everywhere, building and department supervisors are figuring it out as they go along. The situation is such that, if you are working in person, you feel compelled to come to work, even if you are sick, and even if coming in puts everyone you work with--students and colleagues--at risk.
And the plans for addressing cases of COVID-19 leave few people feeling safe. Members have learned that the family member of one of their students has fallen ill, or that a student is quarantined for some other, undisclosed reason, and they are left to wait and worry. They leave work wondering whether they are bringing the new coronavirus home with them to their own families.
That is just some of what we are hearing. And in spite of this, the district keeps promising more to the community....which brings me to this week's..... Negotiations Update I've repeated, two weeks in a row now, that we are near an agreement on almost all issues we are negotiating. The holdup seems to be this: the district wants to retain as much flexibility as it can to implement further initiatives, or to change or scrap elements of the agreement, without further negotiations. In other words, the district wants to continue to implement first, and negotiate the impact later. But there are two principal reason for reaching an agreement: (1) to have the assurance that things will not change unless they are first negotiated, and (2) to be able to enforce the terms of the agreement. We continue to work on it. Stay tuned. Health and Safety: Surveillance Testing Why has the NPS been so reluctant, so recalcitrant really, to put the health and safety of students and staff first? The NPS flat out lied to the public and the NTA about the so-called work they had done this summer to make sure the HVAC systems were delivering adequate fresh air to rooms, work they are scrambling to do now. Their current plan too has elements that point to a cover up of what they haven't done, as opposed to simply doing what they need to do. The NTA will have to remain vigilant to make sure that they actually do the work they have promised to do. Frankly, it's exasperating and exhausting to never be able to just TRUST that the district central administrators will do the right thing....and TRUST that the school committee is doing its part to hold these administrators accountable. The NPS has been equally reluctant to implement surveillance testing, even if only in a pilot mode for, say, the Newton Early Childhood Program or some of the other high needs/ high risk special education programs. On this issue too, I believe, good sense will eventually prevail...not through good sense, unfortunately, but because NPS will again be FORCED to do what makes good sense. It is already happening: A group of Newton Parents who work with the Broad Institute have been lobbying the Mayor and the School Committee for months to convince them to participate in a coalition of area school districts that is implementing surveillance testing. (I believe the coalition is now up to twelve districts.) Because they have met with such little success in these efforts, they have gone directly to parents to see how much support there is in the community. Working with PTOs and other parent groups, they surveyed a representative sample of some 1,200 parents district-wide to find out how much more confidence parents would have that the schools are safe if a surveillance testing program were put into place. The response could not be more clear:
General Membership Meeting When we reach a tentative agreement with the School Committee, our next steps will be first set a date for a General Membership Meeting, then distribute information that will inform all members of the substance of the agreement, and finally hold the meeting and a ratification vote. The earliest we could hold that meeting would be the week of October 12, and that is assuming we come to a tentative agreement with the school committee early this coming week. NTA leadership will bring a plan for the General Membership Meeting, including a proposal on voting protocols, to the Representative Assembly for approval this week. We are making it a priority, as we plan for a General Membership Meeting, to make it possible for participants in the GMM to have ample opportunity to have their questions answered and to hear and participate in open debate on the merits of the agreement. Only when they have been afforded this opportunity will members vote. It would be helpful for us to have your input on who you think should be able to vote on the agreement. There are two ways ways the NTA could hold a vote on the agreement: We could only allow members of the NTA who attend the General Membership Meeting to vote on the agreement OR we could allow all members of the NTA to vote on the agreement, including members who did not attend the General Membership Meeting. In both cases, voting would begin when debate ends. In both cases, voting would be electronic, secure and anonymous. Who do you think should be able to vote on the agreement? Only NTA members who attend the General Membership Meeting should be able to vote on the agreement." All NTA members should be able to vote on the agreement." We appreciate your feedback.
Flu Vaccinations Carolyn Campo sent out the following information on the availability of flu vaccinations for staff: **************** Employee flu vaccine appointments Outdoor Appointment-based flu vaccine clinics will be held for all City of Newton employees on: Friday, Oct. 2 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. (Newton City Hall) Monday, Oct. 5 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. (Newton South High School) Friday, Oct. 9 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. (Newton North High School) All locations support drive-thru or walk up participation. Click here to schedule your appointment or cut/paste this link: https://apps.newtonma.gov/apps/flu_clinic/ Please arrive during your scheduled appointment time wearing your face covering/mask (even for drive-thru). Be sure when you get to the vaccinator that your upper arm is uncovered. If you are 65 or older, you can get either the regular dose flu vaccine or the high dose flu vaccine. Click here to learn more about the two vaccines - if you have any additional questions about which vaccine is best for you, contact your healthcare provider. Let us know which one you want when you arrive for your appointment. HHS will not be able to accommodate employees who stop by our department this year for a flu shot. Please make every effort to get vaccinated during these clinics. Students will not be vaccinated in school buildings this year. They may participate with their families at the community drive-thru clinics which will be posted at www.newtonma.gov/flu by early October. City of Newton employees may also attend the community clinics. Location information: City Hall Clinic on 10/2 Walk-up location: City Hall lawn on Homer Street side by the small flagpole Drive-thru location: War Memorial Circle For the City Hall clinic, you do not need to decide in advance if you will drive-thru or walk up. Please choose what works best for you. Newton South Clinic on 10/5 Walk-up location: Tent near Wheeler Faculty Parking Lot on Brandeis Road Drive-thru location: Solar panels in Wheeler Faculty Parking Lot on Brandeis Road (same side of road as the school) Newton North Clinic on 10/9 Walk-up location: Existing tent on front lawn near staff parking lot facing Walnut Street Drive-thru location: Staff Parking Lot facing Walnut Street (under new solar panels). Enter Elm Road from Lowell Ave and travel along Elm until you turn right into the staff parking lot where the vaccines will be given. When you exit, it will be right turn only toward Walnut St. No one will be able to access Elm Road from Walnut St. You need to go around. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org *************** "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike Mike Zilles, President Newton Teachers Association