Two weeks ago, the BTU Bulletin focused on the turmoil many of our schools are experiencing. We appreciate the efforts the Boston Public Schools has made thus far to collaborate with us in elevating the voices of those closest to the students to better understand the lived realities of our schools in these times. Together we have recognized that in order to foster the safe and welcoming environments we all want for our students we must acknowledge the very real traumas of the pandemic, we must resist a rush back to a false sense of normalcy, and we must commit to using the historic infusion of federal funds on tangible solutions to fully staff our schools and address students’ social-emotional needs. We believe that while we must continue to listen, now is also the time to begin to take action to make things better.
Over the past few weeks, the BTU has convened the Collective Bargaining Committee to gather suggestions from a broad cross-section of members, co-sponsored a listening session with BPS leadership, and surveyed those in attendance at the membership meeting. Our members brought forth a number of suggestions.
Some of the recommendations are already contained in demands the BTU has already brought to the bargaining table that would help our schools at this moment. We call on the BPS negotiating team to accept the following BTU proposals to support our schools:
increased social-emotional and mental health supports;
better staffing ratios in our special education classes;
more support for educators of color;
increased support and funding for parent mentor programs;
more time set aside for planning; and
increased funding for libraries, arts and athletics
In addition to the above, we have also been calling on the district to take the following immediate actions which will help school communities stabilize during this traumatic time:
Allow educators and administrators to focus on building our school communities back up. This includes pausing the introduction of additional mandated initiatives and giving after school professional development time back to educators so they can use this time for planning together and getting necessary tasks done. New initiatives are unwise and unsustainable when staffing shortages are already leading to educators taking on additional responsibilities. This school year should be considered a learning year for new initiatives that have already been introduced and staff should not be evaluated based on implementing these new mandates.
Hire additional staff to make up for the pandemic-related staff shortages that schools are experiencing at this moment. This should include at least one additional cluster sub for every school and additional monitors for recess and lunch.
Encourage schools to prioritize social-emotional learning (SEL). This cannot be accomplished through top-down mandates but rather by empowering educators who already have expertise in SEL, by providing high-quality SEL curricular resources and training to educators who opt-in, and by guaranteeing planning time before implementation.
Build-in more breaks for students in school schedules. This includes daily outdoor mask breaks and more recess.
Cancel mandates of unnecessary tests, so that these tests are optional at the discretion of the educator These include MAP tests and interim assessments. Over-testing takes time away from learning and building relationships.
Choose priority standards to focus on this school year, as was done at the beginning of the pandemic. The pressure of trying to cover every piece of material in the curriculum and trying to make up for so-called “learning loss” is counterproductive and adds stress that only makes it more difficult for students to learn.
Increase pay for support staff, especially paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, lunch monitors, bus drivers, and bus monitors, in order to attract and retain more staff in these critical positions.
Add early release days to the school calendar that can be used for student vaccination clinics and educator-directed planning time.
Give administrators back their time so they can support students and staff, by returning to the summary memo evaluation process used in SY20-21.
Stop taking teachers and administrators away from their schools for online district meetings. Instead, offer optional professional development which is normally scheduled during the school day after school with stipends so more educators can remain in school to meet student needs. Central Office departments should differentiate professional development schedules and content to meet the needs of their adult learners and the students they serve.
The crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and the additional responsibilities and stressors are leading students and educators to feel overwhelmed and unsupported. We are living through unprecedented times and the moment calls for us to take unprecedented action. Now that we have taken the time to listen, it is time to act. The health and well-being of our school communities depends on it.
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The BTU recently filed a grievance against the district’s practice of mandating professional development activities outside of contractual hours. The district’s rollout of the new WIAT IV test is one such example. Unfortunately, the district put our COSE, who are BTU members, in the uncomfortable position of being seen to direct this activity to members. As they always do, our COSE were doing their best to meet the district’s mandate despite poor planning. The BTU would like to clarify that this rollout is a BPS initiative and school-based contractual PD, CPT, or administrative periods should have been allocated for this purpose. If you were required or have been asked to complete this training on your own time, please contact Paul.
As winter approaches and Covid cases are on the rise in our schools and our city, we want to once again encourage BTU members to get vaccinated, including the booster shot for which all are now eligible 6 months after their first shot. To facilitate this, we are pleased to announce that the BTU will once again be hosting a vaccine clinic THIS SATURDAY, December 4, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Pfizer vaccine will be available to anyone who is eligible to get either their first, second, or booster shot. All eligible adults and children 5 & up are welcome! Please note anyone who is under 18 will need a parent or guardian present, or they will need to pre-register. It is recommended but not required that everyone coming use the pre-registration link.
Finally, we wish all those celebrating a very happy Hanukkah!