President’s Update

Members of the HTA,

The receivership is a big change for Holyoke; it’s too soon to know if it’s a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

One important factor is the turnover in the teaching staff. Commissioner Chester, on the advice of Holyoke administrators, terminated or non-renewed 78 teachers, including 4 who had PTS. In addition, many veteran teachers decided that this was the time to leave, going to places as far from here as Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard. It’s too early to say exactly how many of our veteran members will be gone come September. Good luck to them, and kudos to all those who have stayed to try and create the best possible schools for Holyoke students.

One important task for all of us is to reach out to new teachers, to help them get their bearings, to be there for advice about professional issues, and to tell them about the union. Let’s make sure we identify the new teachers in our buildings and then make a plan so that an HTA member reaches out to every single new teacher in the district. Let us use this as an occasion to create solidarity among educators. We don’t yet have a full understanding of what Dr. Zrike will be like, but he has reached out to the union, met with us, and treated us with respect. It’s a good sign, but he was clear that he will be bringing issues to the bargaining table, and the rules for state receivership give him extra leverage in those negotiations.

Some people have asked about my own situation. It’s the same as it was last year at this time: the employer says I am fired, the union contests that, arguing that I was terminated because of my union activity. The state labor board had a preliminary hearing on July 29. Both last year and this year the board ruled in favor of the union, saying that there was “probable cause” to believe I had been fired for my union activity. Last year the employer settled before the case went to a full hearing; this year we don’t yet know whether the employer will settle or force us to go to a full hearing, which would come a couple of months from now.

I look forward to all of us working together in September to meet our challenges. If you have questions, comments, suggestions, or problems by all means be in touch.
In solidarity,

Gus Morales
HTA President

Meeting with Dr. Zrike

Members of the HTA,

On Thursday, July 9, the HTA leadership met with Dr. Zrike at the HPS offices. The stage was set for an open line of communication between the HTA and the receiver. We felt that a positive and successful discussion took place and are hopeful that the discourse will continue. Many mutual issues and concerns were shared and a follow-up meeting was scheduled to continue our discussion. We are confident that the HTA is part of Dr. Zrike’s turnaround plan by his statement about not being “here to bust the union. We need to work together and come to a common understanding.” The HTA is optimistic that this relationship will help us move forward and start the hard work it will take to change the Holyoke schools into the schools our children deserve.

Holyoke Teachers Association
Executive Board

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.

HTA Vision Statement

For immediate release

Contact: HTA President Gus Morales


Holyoke Teachers Association releases vision statement for turnaround process

As the Local Stakeholder Group for the Holyoke Public Schools prepares to meet on Wednesday, May 27, the Holyoke Teachers Association released its vision for the turnaround process while district schools are in state receivership.

“Members of the HTA are looking forward to working with the stakeholder group, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester and his appointed receiver,” said HTA President Gus Morales. “The HTA is hopeful that Commissioner Chester and the receiver will collaborate with educators and the community in a dynamic process that will require modifications and improvements as plans unfold.”

In its vision statement, attached to this message, the HTA prepared the guiding principles and goals it intends to adhere to as educators engage in the turnaround process.

The first guiding principle is an acknowledgment that a turnaround will be sustainable only if adequate and comprehensive investments are made in education resources, with a commitment to educating the whole child.

The principles and goals take into account that Holyoke schools are affected by the city’s economy, and the turnaround plan will not be long-lasting if the impact of poverty on Holyoke Public Schools is not addressed.

Educators will be advocating for a process that addresses students’ health and well-being as well as purely academic issues. The state Achievement Gap Act, which gives Commissioner Chester the authority to take over the school district, also calls for resources for the community to tackle the economic injustice that affects student preparedness.

The HTA is pleased to have members Briget Reilly and Shelley Whelihan joining Morales on the 18-member Local Stakeholder Group. Reilly teaches at Dean Technical High School and is in her 18th year in the district. Whelihan, a 20-year veteran teacher in the Holyoke Public Schools, teaches at McMahon Elementary School. Both are parents of students in the Holyoke Public Schools and both are members of families that are active in the community.

“I see my role as bringing the real stories of teachers into the stakeholder discussions,” Reilly said.

Whelihan said policies and plans put into place without authentic input from classroom educators are less likely to be successful than those derived collaboratively.

The HTA has also created a Stakeholder Advisory Group comprising educators from various grade levels and school buildings to assist in adding the perspectives of educators to stakeholder discussions.

The five scheduled meetings of the Local Stakeholder Group are open to the public.

Wednesday’s meeting, starting at 3 p.m., will be in the Holyoke Public Library.

***The HTA Vision and Guiding Principles document is attached to this post as JPG (photos) and are in English and Spanish. Please distribute***

HTA Vision Statement ENGLISH

HTA Vision Statement SPANISH

President’s Message May 3rd 2015

Members of the HTA,

As you know, on Friday, May 1, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester made his first trip to Holyoke after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved his plan to place Holyoke Public Schools in state receivership.

Karen Robidoux, president of the HPA, John Cavanaugh, president of the HEA, and I were present at the meeting with Chester and others from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I asked the commissioner for details on his plans for educator pay scales, benefits, seniority rights and professional teaching status guidelines. He had no information on any of those topics, so I asked that he provide answers as soon as possible.

Another item that came up was the Local Stakeholders Group (LSG). The commissioner asked me to provide within a week the names of four HTA members to serve on the LSG. The members chosen will be responsible for ensuring that educators’ voices and the HTA’s collective concerns are part of any plan for the district.

Moving forward, there is a meeting this week of the Executive Board, and the MTA is gathering information pertinent to collective bargaining and due process rights.

The HTA and MTA are committed to fighting for members’ jobs and rights.

Through this process, it has become clear that the community values our work and shares a vision with us about creating schools that provide all students with a well-rounded education.
We must remain united. We must continue collaborating with the parents, students, and residents who support us.

Please watch for announcements on upcoming meetings to review the report on Holyoke Public Schools prepared by the MTA. Your input is crucial as the report will be the foundation of our demands for Holyoke Public Schools.

This is not a time to feel defeated or adrift. The HTA is not abandoning the goals it set for itself with input from the community. Adhering to our vision and principles should not be misconstrued as being “confrontational.”

We owe it to the students and families who passionately spoke on our behalf to continue working toward the schools that Holyoke deserves.

The HTA has made clear that educators want to be active participants in the planning, as well as the execution, of plans for Holyoke schools. If this is not a collaboration of equal partners, though, I fear there will be no collaboration at all, just top-down directives.

Transparency and democracy will better serve you and your students.

I will provide updates as they become available.

In Solidarity,

Gus Morales
HTA President

President’s Message – Clearing The Air

Members of the Holyoke Teachers Association are deeply disturbed by how the threatened state takeover of our schools has deepened divisions, increased mistrust and destabilized our system. We are asking Superintendent Paez to join the union, the community, the parents and students in focusing our attention on the real threat to our community – a Level 5 designation and loss of public control of our public schools.

I would like to set the record straight on what the HTA has been doing over the past few weeks and what we plan to do now. Far from claiming that Holyoke already has the schools our children deserve, we are proclaiming loudly that Holyoke does NOT have the schools our children deserve.

We are asking teachers, students, parents and other community residents what their vision is for those schools. They have a lot of ideas, including better services for English language learners and special needs students and a rich curriculum with art, music and physical education in buildings that are as safe and well-equipped as those attended by children in wealthier Massachusetts cities and towns.

Far from defending the status quo, we are calling for nothing short of a major and dramatic change in society’s practices and values so that together we can drive policies that reduce poverty and guarantee all children a quality education – regardless of the color of their skin or their language of origin.

We have not heard anything from state policymakers that suggests these priorities are the state’s priorities. In fact I’m not sure how state policymakers would have any idea what the Holyoke community wants, since the first public hearing in Holyoke on this issue is likely to be on the eve of a final vote on the takeover – in other words, after the policymakers have already made up their minds.

To date, state intervention in Holyoke has been anything but helpful – both in the past when America’s Choice was brought in and as of now. Even the process the state has used in moving toward designating our schools “Level 5” has created huge rifts, hard feelings and bad blood. That’s what happens when a policy is rammed down the throat of a community without adequate input or a commitment to work with those who are most affected.

We stand for the children of Holyoke, and we stand with them. We invite the administration to stand with us. Together we can develop a strong vision for the schools Holyoke students deserve.  The entire community needs to come together to create a shared vision of the schools Holyoke children deserve.

In Solidarity,

Gus Morales

HTA President

President’s Update

Members of the HTA,
I just had a very positive meeting with the superintendent where we discussed several of the issues facing Holyoke teachers. We talked about the future of Holyoke and the need to be on the same page. We both contributed ideas to the conversation and I have hopes that this is the first step in building a better relationship with the administration through open and honest dialogue.
As for the situation with the commissioner, the superintendent doesn’t know much outside of what he’s already revealed in his letter addressed to the HPS staff. As I learn more I will relay the information to you all. We are facing a situation where there is no familiarity, but we must face it together. The forces that work against our city mean to disrupt our way of life.
Some of you take issue with my words and I understand the reluctance to accept the situation as it is because it is scary. Here is what the commissioner had to say to a reporter today (full story out tomorrow): “The educators are robbing the youth of Holyoke of a brighter future.” If that doesn’t ring as a declaration of intent, then I’m not sure what will. That comment is a direct attack on every single teacher in our city who gives everything they have to Holyoke on a daily basis.
I stand ready to defend every single one of you against any who would try to besmirch the good name of Holyoke.
In Solidarity,
Gus Morales

HTA President