A new partnership between Nashoba Valley Technical High School and Middlesex Community College (MCC) will allow students in the high school’s Design and Visual Communications Program to graduate with a full Associate's Degree from MCC. Development of this new Early College learning pathway was spearheaded by members of the Nashoba Valley Federation of Teachers, the union representing the educators and school support staff at the high school.
“This pathway will allow our high school students to gain the equivalent college education that will leapfrog them to the next steps on their path forward,” says Derik Rochon, a Design and Visual Communications Instructor at Nashoba Valley Technical High School, and President of the Nashoba Valley Federation of Teachers. “This advantage can mean more opportunities to enter the workforce, or remove two years off the time it takes to complete a Bachelor’s degree program.”
Lowell Public School Community Manager Gayl Hurley is in her 25th year as an educator, and she’s always looking for new ways to support students and their families at the Sullivan Middle School in Lowell, where she works.
Last school year, Hurley brought in a barber a few times to provide free haircuts for students, and the response was overwhelming. Within a few days, nearly 60 students signed up.
Hurley, United Teachers of Lowell union rep who is in her 12th year in the Lowell Public Schools, immediately began working to set up the first operational barbershop in a middle school in Massachusetts. With the support of a federal Community Schools grant awarded to the district, she was able to open “Husky Kutz” this past fall.
The Wentworth Institute of Technology Faculty Federation, AFT Local 2403, which represents the faculty and librarians at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, recently negotiated a strong three-year contract that includes a salary increase of 16.5% over three years, the addition of lecturers as members of the union, and a host of other workplace benefits.
“Winning our new contract was the result of our union's patience, determination, and unity,” said Ted Rooney, an Associate Professor of English and President of the Wentworth Faculty Federation. “Those are the fundamental elements of any successful union initiative. The union negotiation team established ambitious goals for the contract, remained steadfast in the face of management resistance to union demands, and refused to accept unreasonable proposals from management. At all times, meanwhile, the negotiating team had the full support of the union membership, which was made clear during the several meetings the negotiating team held to update members.”
As we observe MLK Jr. Day this year, I hope you’ll join me in reflecting on these words. As educators and librarians, we have a duty to equip our students not only with knowledge, but with the tools they need to apply that knowledge to improving their communities and the world. And as a union, we must stand up for the audacious vision Dr. King describes: a world where all the needs of our students and our communities - both physical and nonmaterial - are fully met.
I’m constantly inspired by the students I see living out their values in the world, whether they’re organizing rallies for racial and gender justice, working to reduce climate change in their communities, or advocating for the high-quality, fully-resourced schools they deserve. Let’s remember Dr. King’s words this month, and continue working towards the ‘worthy objectives’ that he spoke of. - Beth Kontos, AFT Massachusetts President
After a months-long contract campaign by the North Reading Federation of Paraprofessionals (NRFP) that featured rallies on the Town Common, paraprofessionals speaking up at School Committee meetings, and parents and students voicing their support for the union’s priorities, the union reached a new 3-year agreement with the school committee in late November.
“The strength and unity of our members showed management that we deserve to be respected and compensated for the hard work that we do every day,” said Nancy Scioli, a Paraprofessional at the Little School and President of the North Reading Federation of Paraprofessionals.
In recent years, Massachusetts libraries have been increasingly affected by a coordinated, nationwide effort to bar or restrict access to books and programming that extremist groups find objectionable. According to the American Library Association, Massachusetts saw 45 documented attempts to censor books and other library resources in 2022 — the fourth highest number of any state. 90% of reported book challenges were demands to censor multiple titles - and of those demands to censor library books, 40% sought to remove or restrict more than 100 books all at once.
“The members of the Massachusetts Library Staff Association fully support the concept of intellectual freedom: the right of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” said Patricia Kelly, Head of Reference at the Lynnfield Public Library and President of the Massachusetts Library Staff Association. “We are so proud and grateful that our union siblings in the NSLC, AFT Massachusetts, and MA AFL-CIO have joined us in support of libraries, library programs, and access to information for all.”
More than a hundred students, parents, educators, community activists, union leaders, researchers, and concerned citizens – many wearing blue Thrive Act t-shirts in solidarity – descended on the State House on Oct. 4 in a passionate display of support for the Thrive Act, a landmark education bill that was given a hearing that day before the Joint Committee on Education..
“Passing the Thrive Act is the equivalent of proclaiming to the nation from the dome of this beautiful State House: The painful, destructive era of test-blame-shame-and-punish is over,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos in her written testimony. “There is a better way to do things, and Massachusetts will once again show the way.”
“With the passage of the Fair Share Amendment, Massachusetts has an opportunity to build a public higher education system that lives up to our values and prepares Massachusetts students to be active, engaged participants in their communities, the workforce, and our society,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Students today are struggling with the cost of college and a lack of adequate support services, while adjunct educators struggle with low pay and limited benefits. Our public college campuses have insufficient funding to address crumbling buildings, rising student needs, and staffing shortages. We’re pleased to support the Higher Ed for All campaign to reverse the budget cuts that have occurred over the past several decades, and begin rebuilding a truly public state college and university system.”
On Monday, September 18, AFT Massachusetts Secretary-Treasurer Brant Duncan, Grant O’Rielly, President of the UMass Faculty Federation at UMass Dartmouth, and Nick Gula, President of the AFTMA Maintainers at UMass Dartmouth, all testified before a hearing of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education in support of two bills that would transform our public higher education system for the better. The hearing was attended by dozens of energetic educators, students, and community members, and watched by supporters across the state, including at a UMass Dartmouth watch party.
The Thrive Act, a major education bill and legislative priority of AFT Massachusetts, has been scheduled for hearing by the Joint Committee on Education on October 4, 2023, starting at 2 p.m. in Gardner Auditorium at the State House.
“The upcoming hearing will be a critical opportunity for educators, students, parents, and community members to impress upon legislators the harm caused by state takeovers and the high-stakes use of MCAS standardized tests, and to show there’s a better way forward—the Thrive Act,” says AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “We will be reaching out to local presidents to mobilize members and community allies for this event.”
“It continues to be all hands on deck,” says Kontos. “This is a special opportunity to put our imprint on education for years to come—to move from a deficit model of test and punish to an asset-based model of resources and support. And to a model that supports the whole child—all facets of learning and growth. We must seize the moment and work strenuously in partnership with our allies to make this bill a reality.”
“Paras work hard to support the needs of North Reading students in the classroom every day, and we are members of this community. Some of us are your neighbors, some are your fellow parents, and some are graduates of North Reading schools. But for too long, our basic needs have been short-changed,” said Nancy Scioli, a Paraprofessional at the Little School and President of the North Reading Federation of Paraprofessionals. “As paraprofessionals, we should not have to work 2 or 3 jobs to pay our bills and feed our families, as two thirds of us do currently. We choose to work as Paraprofessionals because we love working with children, but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice so much to follow our desired career path. It’s time to stop under-valuing, under-paying and under-respecting the Paraprofessionals in the North Reading Public Schools!”