The Lowell Teacher Academy (LTA) is the “brainchild” of the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL). Paul Georges, UTL President, saw the need back in the early 90’s for a venue that would allow teachers to pursue excellence in their practice right here in Lowell at a reasonable cost. Hence, the LTA was “born.” Since that time, hundreds of teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, tutors, etc., have taken advantage of the LTA offerings. Pina Maggio, Director of the LTA, explains the purpose of the LTA is twofold: To provide incoming teachers with a comprehensive Induction Program; and, to provide all staff the opportunity to attend workshops and enroll in courses that will enhance their teaching practice and skills. The LTA Induction Program assigns new teachers in Lowell a mentor. Mentor teachers are expected to support new hires in developing the interpersonal skills and knowledge to meet the needs of Lowell’s diverse student population. New hires are required to attend workshops and seminars that enhance teaching and learning.
The AFT Black Caucus, Boston Chapter has been working tirelessly to support educators of color, while also working to support the communities these educators serve. Johnny McInnis is a music teacher, Boston Teachers Union Political Director, AFT Massachusetts Vice President and chapter president of the A. Phillip Randolph AFL CIO. McInnis said that the caucus works to support Black educators, noting that the caucus and its work has benefits that ripple outward from people of color. The caucus has been working to highlight not only the needs of educators of color in Boston, but also works to help shine a light on within the union to support educators of color.
"It’s a national caucus with AFT Boston that has been meeting and trying to develop ways to support educators of color,” McInnis said. “We had our inaugural Kwanzaa celebration with a huge turnout at the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). We had vendors for the first time and that was a success also because we were able to sell and highlight local products from business owners of color.”
Jenna Young, a Massachusetts Library Staff Association (MLSA) member and union treasurer, has loved libraries her entire life. As communities turn to library systems and staff to help them navigate life, Jenna says it’s time to invest and truly serve our communities.
She says there’s more to libraries than you might expect, “I didn’t realize the vast range of services available to people before I worked here. We offer literacy services and English services for speakers of other languages. For some people, we are the only place to check their email or get help with computers and technology.”
Lucia said that the founder of MRU, Kathy Kelly, who served as past President of AFT Massachusetts, knew the political power of retirees. MRU’s roughly 2500 members are spread across the country, and volunteer their time with no compensation. COLA has become their primary focus for retirees, amid other issues, and legislation to strengthen retiree benefits and health insurance is a goal for MRU. Lucia said that more cannot be put on the backs of seniors.
“Don't put more on the backs of seniors than they need,” he said. “We need to increase COLA bases and preserve health insurance benefits for our retirees. Local pensions, Medicare and Medicaid all need to be priorities for our retired educators. We have fought and earned them. Don’t balance budgets on the backs of seniors.”
In honor of Black History Month, we sat down with Joel Richards, Boston Teachers Union member, local activist and chair of the BTU’s Black Lives Matter committee. Joel is committed to justice both inside and out outside the classroom, ensuring that he leads by example.
As an educator, Joel feels compelled to correct the wrongs he sees running rampant throughout the education system. “I am going to do what I can to improve the lives of my colleagues and students, especially injustices experienced by students and educators of color.” When asked what motivates Richards, he smiles and says that his energy comes from a much deeper place. “I am motivated by the Christ- like mindset I have. It's urgent. It's needed. Education is very urgent to me. It always has been.” Richards said that as a Christian, he is a person who works towards justice no matter where he is.
Mike Cooney, as described by his coworkers as the “energizer bunny,” took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. It is well known that being an educator has not been easy, and that is certainly true as we start 2023. Record lows for educator retention, paraprofessionals demanding fair pay for fair work, and students working hard to close reading and math gaps are common themes across the Commonwealth. Mike touches on all this and much more.
“As a Special Education teacher who had challenges as a student, I can relate to someone who has trouble reading or is trying to keep up with the other kids, praying the teacher doesn't call on them,” Mike says. As an educator who is known for going above and beyond, Mike pulls his energy from deep down, knowing well the struggles his students experience too. “A teacher pulled me aside and helped me when I needed it, and I strive every day to make students feel comfortable and good about themselves because it's hard to advocate for yourself.”
“Paraprofessionals are a catch-all term for the various positions we fill in our schools. It’s important to retain paraprofessionals for the long term, but that’s not going to happen if they aren’t paid what they deserve or continue to be invisible within the larger educational community,” says Chelmsford Federation of Teachers leader Kathy Peluso. “When we launched our campaign, people were blown away at how little we were making. Such low pay leads to a revolving door, and with such overturn, kids are not receiving the support they need.”
When looking ahead, Kathy pauses. She mentions how empowered her and her team felt from this contract fight, but acknowledges the work is not over. “Moving forward, we still need to become a stronger union. We can do that by educating more para-educators about what our union is for, which includes providing resources for us to feel good about our jobs and to know that we are a vital part of the school system.”
As a union, when we fight for strong contracts, we’re not only fighting for better working conditions – we’re fighting for better schools for our students. In many ways, we still haven’t recovered from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our schools and communities. Many Latino families at Madison Park and throughout the state were struggling with housing insecurity, job loss, no access to the internet for remote learning, and adjusting IEPs. Educators were left with the difficult task of supporting families with limited resources, all while trying to process our own experiences in the midst of a global pandemic.
I’m proud of the work our caucus is doing to create a space for Latino educators to come together. Affinity spaces and caucuses are a crucial part of union organizing because they allow us to identify and amplify the issues that are impacting our communities. The ability to relate to our students’ lived experience allows us to advocate for culturally-responsive solutions. When educators come together to build identity-based caucuses, we can ensure that our unions are prioritizing the fight for racial justice in our organizing.
#AFTVoices is proud to feature Yamilis Cruz, Teacher and Building Rep at Chelsea High School. This series aims to uplift the voices, members and staff that make up AFT Massachusetts.
In the discourse around public education, teachers are often pitted against administration. This false dichotomy can not only create unnecessarily difficult dynamics in our schools, but it can stop us from building power together in the fight for better schools. In my time as a building representative in our union, I’ve been exploring what it looks like to foster stronger connections between educators and the administration.
#AFTVoices is proud to present, Cathy Mastronardi, President of the Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals! This series aims to uplift the voices, members, staff and educators that make up AFT Massachusetts.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that saying remains true especially today. While teachers and staff are working for the betterment of students across the Commonwealth, others work behind the scenes playing equally valuable roles in providing students with the resources and attention they need to succeed.
Paraprofessionals provide a critical service to our schools and communities by providing essential assistance in a variety of ways. Certified Nursing Assistants, Licensed Practical Nurses, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants, Physical Therapy Assistants and Paraeducators, represented by the Springfield Federation of Paraprofessionals (SFoP), are all vital members of our communities that ensure communities across Massachusetts can thrive. We talked with Cathy Mastronardi, President of SFoP about the myriad of ways these critical professionals help students, staff and communities succeed, but are too often overlooked.