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AFT Massachusetts Member Profile: Gina O’Toole

“Gina has been a leader in our Lynn local for years and she excels at member engagement,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “When the time came for us to hire an organizer at AFT Massachusetts, she was the natural choice.”

“Having Gina as part of our team has been an enormous help to me and the LTU (Lawrence Teachers’ Union)” says Kim Barry, president of the Lawrence Teachers Union. “Our weeklong series of walk-ins to protest the surge of violence at Lawrence High School certainly grabbed the attention of school administrators because Gina helped turn people out.”

Students Need Support, Staffing, and Resources, Not High-Stakes Standardized Testing, to Address the Effects of the Pandemic and Poverty

The MCAS test, highly correlated with student socioeconomic status, has always been a flawed and unreliable measure of both student learning and school quality. This was never truer than last school year, when the MCAS was administered in a haphazard manner during a global pandemic that exposed and amplified deep social and educational inequities.

Educators don’t need a standardized test to know that our students have missed out on learning since the onset of the pandemic, or that they need extra help to get back on track academically, socially, and emotionally. In many of our highest-poverty schools, test scores dropped because students lost family members to COVID-19, or because they were supervising their siblings instead of fully concentrating on their own schoolwork, or because they were busy working to keep their family from being evicted. This year’s test results, as they do every year, reflect our failure as a society to support students living in high-poverty districts; they’re not a reflection of our students’ true potential.

AFT Massachusetts Member Profile: Amesbury's Tia Costello is Developing Civics Professional Development Curricula 

Before AFT Amesbury member Tia Costello was selected as one of just 12 teachers nationwide to be part of an AFT Civics Design Team that will develop civics curricula and professional development for K-12 educators, she spent a decade teaching social studies to Amesbury middle school students. But her path to becoming a national civics education leader began long before that.

“Especially in the climate that we’re in, it’s important that educators understand how to talk about politics and ensure that we can have conversations without tuning each other out,” says Tia. “It’s important for teachers of civics to have passion, teach dynamically, and encourage, not shy away from, student participation.”

“I really do believe that kids learn best when they get to do things themselves,” says Tia. “Even though they’re not old enough to vote, once they get involved in something, they realize they can make a difference. Civics education builds agency in kids. They realize that as adults, they can vote, but they can also do much more than just that. They can be full participants in our democracy.”

With Federal Student Loan Payments Set to Restart on January 31st 2022, Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program Is Available for AFT Members With Student Debt

The AFT has been working to address the student debt crisis for nearly a decade. The union has counseled thousands of members at our student debt clinics, provided a free benefit to union members that will save them an estimated $500 million, taken student loan giants like Navient to court, and sued the Trump administration to protect borrowers.

“Income-driven repayment plans are used by many student loan borrowers to reduce their regular monthly payments, often by hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year,” says Matt, who previously worked as a Technology Librarian in Wayland, Massachusetts. “Many people who work in public service are also eligible to have all or most of their debt forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which began in 2007 as way of incentivizing people to work in government and nonprofit public service. It was a way to get people to go into public service careers with salaries that might not support the amount of debt needed to obtain the educational credentials that those careers required.”

AFT Massachusetts Expresses 'Deep Disappointment' With Baker Administration's School Reopening Guidance

AFT Massachusetts sent a letter to Governor Baker expressing 'deep disappointment' with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's new guidance for school reopening, especially the failure to follow CDC guidelines and mandate masks for students under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

"The release of this guidance was an opportunity to lead on health and safety, but your Administration missed the mark by issuing weak and ineffective guidance on masking," reads the letter from AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. "You still have time to change course before the school year begins, and we urge you to do so by immediately instituting a universal masking mandate for all preK-12 public schools."

AFT Massachusetts Members in Elected Office: Dracut School Committee Member Renee Young

With public education undergoing such challenging conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to have lawmakers who understand what it’s like in our classrooms. That’s why so many AFT members across the country are putting their hat in the ring; running for office to serve their communities on school committees, in town halls, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress.

One AFT Massachusetts member who serves in public office is Dracut School Committee Member Renee Young, a history teacher at Billerica Memorial High School and member of the Billerica Federation of Teachers.

For Berklee Faculty Union’s Anti-Racism Committee, Action Starts with Historical Perspective, Clear Facts, and Substantive Conversations

Last summer, in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the protests against police brutality that took place across the country soon after, the Berklee Faculty Union formed a new Anti-Racism Committee (ARC). Many other organizations, including AFT Massachusetts locals, have formed similar groups to more actively participate in the Black Lives Matter movement and to organize against racism in our institutions.
 
For Prince Charles Alexander, a Professor at Berklee who teaches advanced production and mixing and serves as Chair of the Berklee Faculty Union’s ARC, this moment is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s.
 
“Right now is as interesting of a climate as the Civil Rights Movement; there’s as much momentum as I’ve seen since then,” said Prince Charles, who recalls his aunt traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. “The Civil Rights Movement included white people, Black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people in a unified effort – that’s what it takes to achieve real change. If Black people didn’t create racism, how can they solve it? We need white people to step up and be involved in these goals.”

Salem Teachers Union, Salem Public Schools Reach Collective Bargaining Agreement - Negotiations Involved Innovative “Bargaining for the Common Good” Strategy

“At one of the community forums we held, I remember parents saying that they went through their entire education without having teachers that looked like them,” said Ann Berman, President of the Salem Teachers Union. “We are proud to work with Salem Public Schools to make an intentional effort to remedy that problem.”
 
The new contract builds upon Salem Public School’s key priorities including the desire to be an anti-racist district and specifically contains multilingual material and incentive requirements. These requirements include:
  • job postings be made in English and Spanish
  • recruitment differential for bilingual staff,
  • and efforts to expand culturally responsive library materials in every school.
The Union and Salem Public Schools also reached agreements on other “common good” provisions such as affirming the district’s previous strong commitment to safe and well maintained school facilities for all. Salem Public Schools invested substantially and early during the pandemic in investigating and improving air handling equipment in every school in the district. The FY2022 City capital budget includes an additional $1,134,000 in investments in school buildings and equipment, further demonstrating the district’s commitment to ensuring safe and accessible learning environments for all Salem staff and students.

Job Posting: Organizer

AFT Massachusetts is a statewide federation of more than 50 autonomous locals that represent more than 23,000 members—including teachers, school support workers, librarians, higher education faculty and staff, healthcare professionals, and public employees. We have a long, proud tradition of empowering our locals and members to fight for improved teaching and learning conditions, as well as better salaries and benefits through collective bargaining and action.
 
AFT Massachusetts is seeking an organizer to assist locals and members with capacity building, internal organizing, parent/student/bargaining support, and statewide and regional coalition and issue-based support.

Updated: Substantial Infusion of Federal and State Funds Headed to Mass. School Districts

There is good news on the horizon for Massachusetts schools and students. Massachusetts school districts are slated to receive more than $2 billion in federal education aid over the coming year, thanks to federal COVID-19 relief packages passed since March 2020, the most recent being the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This federal money, in tandem with promised state-level investments in K-12 education, could have a positive impact on Massachusetts students for years to come.

It is useful to think of the two streams of funding—federal ESSER and state SOA—as working in tandem. Full ESSER funds (from Rounds I, II, and III) will arrive in districts over the next year for use through September 2024. Meanwhile, state SOA monies will ramp up steadily over six years—with new money added each year on top of the previous year’s baseline—until full funding of SOA is achieved in 2027. What this means is that districts could strategically use ESSER funds now to accelerate investments in students and schools (e.g., smaller classes, more social workers and nurses, better wages for paraprofessionals, HVAC improvements, etc.) and then use SOA funds to sustain those investments. The timing is quite conducive to this strategy, with SOA ramping up at the same time that ESSER ramps down.