Teachers describe overwhelming workload; School Committee votes to approve and implement MOA V
About a dozen teachers described regularly staying at school late into the evening, struggling to find the hours in the day to complete the work asked of them and sacrificing time with their families for their jobs in emotional public comments during Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.
To address this workload, some high school educators asked the School Committee to consider implementing a cap of 100 students per educator. For the LHS history and math departments, caseloads can currently be as high as 125 students per teacher.
Jill Gormisky was one of a handful of math teachers who spoke up on Tuesday. Having taught at LHS for seven years, Gormisky came to the meeting to share “the challenges of balancing 125 students while having a family, and the impact it has on our students.”
Gormisky stressed that she loves teaching and loves her students. But when she became a mother, Gormisky made the difficult decision to drop down from working over 50 hours per week to 80% part-time teaching – meaning, in her department, four classes and 100 students, as opposed to 125 students across five classes. With a lower caseload, Gormisky has been able to spend more time providing support to her students. But even at 80% teaching, Gormisky still often works late into the evening and on weekends: “Essentially, I’m a part-time employee working a full-time job,” she said.
“The extra effort we put into grading student work holistically, and writing creative lessons, is above and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced at other schools I’ve taught at,” Gormisky said. “If we don’t have time to sustain these practices, then our students will not receive the quality of education we know they deserve.”
“Many of my colleagues with five classes are having to make similar decisions regularly,” she added, through tears, “about whether to be a good teacher, or a good partner, friend, mother or family member.”
A couple of LEA members spoke on behalf of elementary school special educators with overwhelming caseloads.
Lexington Education Association Vice President Amy Morin read a statement on behalf of an elementary special education teacher. With a caseload of 10 students, this educator only has time to administer assessments during her lunch and prep time, Morin said.
“I would like the School Committee, and others at this meeting, to understand that there is not enough time in my day to complete work, and I am always spending at least one weekend day doing a significant amount of work,” Morin said on behalf of the educator. “I am exhausted, and I am getting burnt out, but I’m always working hard and working to provide the best possible instruction and emotional support for my students.”
A couple of high school students also spoke up in support of educators.
Nathaniel Dvorkin, a current LHS senior, said that while every year he has been at LHS has been “unusual and difficult” for students and faculty alike, “this year in particular has been difficult for the school community because there has been this underlying feeling that the administration is not prioritizing the mental, emotional and physical safety, health and well-being of the school community.” He has observed that teachers “are more overworked this year than I have ever previously seen as an LPS student; they are sacrificing their time, their commitments and their sleep to keep up with the constant changes and new expectations of their job.”
The rampant burnout among teachers, he said, has a direct negative impact on students: “We can’t learn in an environment that is barely holding together.”
Educators spoke up during the meeting after raising the same issues internally “a significant number of times,” according to Lexington Education Association President Avon Lewis. She cited the class action grievance filed last year as one example, adding that while the district addressed some issues when the grievance was filed, some of the same challenges are worsening again now, especially because the “base problem” of an overwhelming workload has not been adequately addressed.
Educators wanted to make sure that School Committee members were aware of the depth of the challenges they faced on the ground, according to Lewis. “The School Committee asks for the moon and the stars, and the educators work hard to make it happen,” Lewis wrote, “but everything takes resources – time, money, people, pure creative effort – and accounting for those resources needs to be part of the district’s ambitious vision.”
Though the School Committee typically does not respond directly to public comments, member Larry Freeman broke with that norm after hearing several educators speak. “Tonight I was particularly moved at the experiences shared with us by teachers,” he said. “Thank you for sharing that…thank you for coming and bar[ing] your souls.”
“I do hear you, and quite a few of you I did feel what you were saying; of course, I can never guarantee how my vote is going to go one way or the other, but I do listen,” he told educators.
Educators who attended Tuesday’s meeting in person wore red clothes again, after also doing so at the last meeting to draw attention to their request for an extension of paid COVID leave, which the district previously offered to educators recovering from their own illness or caring for a dependent.
This time, wearing red was about more than COVID leave, Lewis wrote. Educators “are feeling like we bend over backward to meet and exceed the expectations of this district, and when we advocate for what we need, even the little things that do not cost much – the district says no,” she wrote. On Tuesday, hundreds of students also wore red to school in solidarity with the teachers, according to Dvorkin.
The School Committee unanimously voted to “approve and implement” a Memorandum of Agreement stipulating pandemic plans for the 2022-23 School Year. This MOA did not include any paid COVID leave measure. Superintendent Julie Hackett said at the meeting that “we are working on a successor agreement, and talking about the sick leave in the successor agreement, and not necessarily the COVID agreement.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Hackett said that it was important to vote to implement this MOA now in order to ensure that substitute teachers are paid according to language specified in one section of this MOA.
“We are not opposed to having the sick leave adjustment go into the successor bargaining rather than a temporary COVID document,” Lewis wrote. “However, the district has twice said no to that proposal and we have not yet found terms that we can agree on.” Because terms were not agreed on, Lewis said “the LEA is pursuing an appropriate legal response” under MGL 150E governing labor relations for public employees. She added that this is the first time in decades that the LEA has been in this situation. “We are saddened to have to take this step,” she wrote.
An evaluation of Lexington Children’s Place
Two Special Education consultants completed an evaluation of Lexington Children’s Place this spring. The consultants commended LCP on several fronts, including for the knowledge and enthusiasm of staff, its focus on increasing students’ self-regulation, effective collaboration between Special Education and English Language teachers, and the impressive new building.
Among recommendations for the future, the consultants suggested adding an Evaluation Team Supervisor, which LCP has now done; updating the curriculum to better align with the LPS kindergarten; and regularly surveying LCP staff about their professional development needs.
One parent, Carissa Black, noted during an opportunity for public comment that current and former parents only had the opportunity to share input for this evaluation at the very end of the process.
A new policy codifying diverse representation on LPS committees in the works
The School Committee completed its second of three required readings of a new policy that will require the committee to “strive to ensure” diverse representation on all school working groups and committees. School Committee Vice Chair Deepika Sawhney first suggested that the committee create such a policy in August.
Three students receive MASS Award for academic excellence
Lexington High School students Anjali Asthagiri, Isabel Li and Pria Sawhney all received the annual Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Award honoring academic excellence from Hackett on Tuesday.