Holyoke Teachers Association Responds to DLC Report

For immediate release: Dec. 14, 2015
For additional information, contact HTA President Gus Morales, xxx-xxx-xxxx

Holyoke Teachers Association Responds to DLC Report

The Holyoke Teachers Association shares the concerns expressed in the community about the report issued by the Disability Law Center. Our members want to be sure that all students in Holyoke, and specifically those at the Peck School, are provided with a safe and productive learning environment.

As the professionals who directly address the learning and caretaking needs of students in a high-needs educational setting, our members at the Peck School have long raised concerns about systemic problems. Issues include the need for more resources, higher staffing levels, and appropriate student placements.

The HTA stands by the staff at Peck. A lawyer from the Massachusetts Teachers Association attended each of the interviews that the DLC conducted. Based on the attorney’s observations and report to us, the HTA believes that the advocacy group is not portraying an entirely accurate or fair picture.

We look forward to working with the district attorney and will cooperate fully with his office in the days ahead.

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NO to PARCC; YES to Moratorium

Send a message to BESE: NO to PARCC, YES to moratorium

MTA’s messages on the destructive impact of high-stakes testing are beginning to get through, but it is crucial to drive them home.

Members are asked to turn up the volume by sending messages right away to members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education before it votes on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The MTA’s message is this: NO to PARCC. NO to MCAS 2.0. YES to a moratorium on high-stakes testing.

Across the country, educators, parents and students are making their voices heard on how high-stakes testing undermines teaching and learning. MTA members need to continue to raise their voices in that chorus.

Please click here to send your e-mails right away. Feel free to elaborate on the message the MTA has developed to describe your own experiences with PARCC and high-stakes testing.

In addition, members are urged to come to the BESE public hearing on the future of testing in Massachusetts. The hearing is Monday, Nov. 16, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Malden High School, 77 Salem St., Malden.

Revenue Campaign

The MTA has joined an effort by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition to raise revenues for education and transportation through an amendment to the state Constitution.

The Raise Up Massachusetts Amendment filed on Aug. 4, 2015, would:

  • Add a 4 percentage point tax on the portion of a filer’s income in excess of $1 million. Income tax rates would remain unchanged for the bottom 99 percent of the population.
  • Index the $1 million threshold to inflation so that it would never affect anyone but the very wealthiest taxpayers.
  • Dedicate the more than $1 billion raised annually to public education, public higher education and transportation infrastructure.

For Immediate Release:

For Immediate Release:
August 21, 2015
Contact: Gus Morales, President Holyoke Teachers Association,

“State Issues Charge Against Holyoke Public Schools for Firing Union Leader”

http://massteacher.org/news/archive/2015/complaint_issued_in_firing_of_hta_president.aspx

The state Department of Labor Relations (DLR) has found “probable cause” to believe that the Holyoke Public Schools illegally fired Holyoke Teachers Association (HTA) President Gus Morales because of his activism as a union leader.
The DLR will hold a hearing on the complaint, which stems from a charge filed by the HTA on June 25. The DLR complaint is similar to a grand jury indictment; the upcoming hearing will have many of the characteristics of a trial, with witnesses and cross-examination.
“Because I speak out against policies that I see as bad for our students and bad for our educators, I have been targeted for two straight years,” said Morales, whose employment contract with the Holyoke Public Schools was not renewed at the end of the school year.
Morales, who does not have professional teaching status, was similarly dismissed at the end the 2013-14 school year after his election to lead the HTA. Then, as now, the DLR issued a complaint that found reason to believe that Morales was illegally terminated for his union activism.
In that case, following the initial DLR complaint, the Holyoke Public Schools agreed with the HTA and Morales to return Morales to the classroom in November. Shortly thereafter, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a planned review of Holyoke Public Schools and its intentions to recommend that the district be placed under the control of a state-appointed receiver.
Morales and the HTA were vocal opponents of the takeover, which was imposed in April despite widespread objections from the community and several of its elected leaders.
“It is an outrage that an educator and leader such as Gus Morales, who has spoken out for the students and the Holyoke community, is being targeted for dismissal,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “The MTA will not tolerate attacks on educators, especially when the attack is meant to cause fear among those who challenge the deeply flawed accountability system used to punish educators, students and communities. Gus has the courage to address the real issues affecting Holyoke — such as economic and racial injustice — and the MTA supports him and the HTA in holding the state accountable for providing resources that the community can use to combat these problems.”
Throughout stakeholder meetings to craft a “turnaround” plan for Holyoke Public Schools, Morales and others from the HTA raised concerns about the influence of standardized tests, the need to provide social services to students living in poverty, inadequate programs for students on special education plans, the lack of ethnic diversity in the teaching ranks and other issues that they felt that the receiver needs to address.
“Before I became vocal about the problems I see in our schools, I received very good evaluations. But once I spoke out, my evaluations turned negative,” Morales said. “The real story here is how the current evaluation process lets administrators target and eventually terminate educators who challenge their authority.”

HTA Local Stakeholder Group Representatives Update to the Membership

*The location of the next Local Stakeholder Group meeting has changed. The meeting will now take place at the Kittredge Center at Holyoke Community College. The meeting is scheduled to run from 3 to 6 p.m. on Monday, June 1. Please spread the word and plan on attending. Even though the meetings are not public forums, the public is welcome and members of the stakeholder group are accessible during breaks in the formal meeting*

HTA Local Stakeholder Group Representatives

Update to the Membership

 

Members of the HTA,

 

The Local Stakeholder Group (LSG), whose purpose is to serve as an advisory board to the state and make recommendations as the state begins the school turnaround process in Holyoke, held its first meeting Wednesday, May 27,  at the Holyoke Public Library. The group consists of 18 community representatives, including President of Holyoke Teachers Association, Gus Morales;  teacher representatives, Briget Reilly and Shelley Whelihan; parents; school principals; and leaders of local organizations. The first meeting set the stage for the work the group must undertake within the next 45 days.

 

With approximately 100 people packing the meeting as observers, the group spoke freely and discussed both the positive and negative aspects of the school district. Among the topics discussed at this meeting were Early Literacy Programs, such as Holyoke Early Literacy Initiative (HELI), the education of second language learners and how the city approaches this issue. The group also brought forward such pressing issues as class size, class period length, discipline issues, and  suspension rates .

 

To one point in particular, the HTA representatives questioned the state’s use of the terms “affordable” and “sustainable” as applied to the turnaround process. The LSG facilitators mentioned the possibility of start-up funds for some proposals, but the HTA will be looking for answers on long-term investments in education and community resources. As stated in a MassLive article posted yesterday:

 

State officials who facilitated the meeting asked members to ensure suggestions are “affordable, sustainable and scalable.”

 

Holyoke Teachers Association President Gus Morales asked for clarification on this point. “Affordable for whom? For our district or for Longmeadow?”

 

Several other issues were brought up by the HTA that had to do with the start time of the meetings and the possibility of having the meetings televised. To the first, the HTA’s position is that the start time of 3:00 pm is not beneficial to the community, especially when considering the parents who do not receive their children from the bus until about 3:30pm. In order for this to be a truly public, open, inclusive process, all efforts must be made to ensure maximum participation from the community. As to the second issue of the meeting being televised, it is imperative that the process of the LSG be as transparent as possible. This entails making sure that even the folks that can’t attend due to childcare or work-related issues, should be afforded the same opportunity to bear witness to the events that will likely shape Holyoke’s future. The HTA feels strongly that the onus falls to the state to accommodate as many as possible and avail the process to the whole community.

 

Overall, the HTA Teacher Representatives were pleased with yesterday’s meeting and feel that several pertinent issues were brought forward by community members. Shelley Whelihan said, “It was good to see that the parent representatives and some of the community members seemed to understand some of the issues we, as educators, have been talking about and wanted addressed.”

One such example of the mutual understanding and productive back-and-forth discussion was the issue of 90-minute blocks for classes. Gus Morales was asked by a community member what he meant by 90-minute blocks. Dean Tech teacher Briget Reilly fielded that question by explaining the concept and the challenges of this schedule, further adding that it is an extremely difficult endeavor for students to sustain attention for long periods, especially for one class/subject. Principal Jackie Glasheen stated that she had “plenty of teachers begging (her) to give them longer periods of time with their kids.” Holyoke High School graduate and current Yale University student, Erin Hebert, a community representative on the LSG,  stated, from the perspective of a student who has experienced both, that “forty-five minute periods at Holyoke High were a breath of fresh air. Ninety minutes was just too long.”

 

As the work moves forward, the Teacher Representatives to the LSG will continue to meet with their Advisory Committee and hear from all teachers who share opinions and concerns. They will then take those concerns to the table and continue to add to the dialogue that is intended to try to create the schools our students deserve. It is important that we share the experiences of teachers working in the classroom. This will provide the proper context to the data being presented by the state.

 

“I always want to address the mistakes we’ve made and we really do need to address things that have not worked if we are to progress as a city. We’ve seen a good give-and-take of varying viewpoints, and I thought our facilitators were clearly capturing the ideas of the participants,” said Gus Morales, President of Holyoke Teachers Association.

 

The next meeting will take place on Monday, June 1, at 3:00 pm. It is of the utmost importance that we have a great showing of teachers, students, parents, and community members at all of these meetings in order to send the message that we are present and that we will hold the commissioner to his word about making this a transparent and public process. Even though the meetings are not a public forum, it is clear audience members can interact with members of the group during breaks and through other means of communication for those not present. We look forward to seeing you on June 1st and welcome all comments and suggestions.

 

If you have any imput you would like to share, please feel free to email Briget Reilly at BrigetReillyHTA@gmail.com.

Gus Morales Returns To The Classroom!

Holyoke Teachers Association President Gus Morales is back in the classroom! Congratulations, Gus, and thanks to everyone who supported him. This is a victory for activism and members’ rights to speak their minds on important education policies. Gus is seen here entering the E.N. White School, where he will be a middle school English Language Arts teacher. A statement on Gus’ return to the classroom is on the MTA website. http://massteacher.org/news/archive/2014/morales_return.aspx