Look at school day length, coaching revival part of educators contract effective to 2020

Dan Monahan, president of the the Cambridge Education Association, listens to a speaker at a School Committee meeting. (Photo: Jean Cummings)

Teachers and some school administrators who have been working without a contract this school year are now covered through August 2020. The School Committee unanimously ratified an agreement Tuesday with Units A&B of the teachers’ union.

Committee representatives Fred Fantini and Patty Nolan and Cambridge Education Association President Dan Monahan negotiated a one-year agreement to cover this year and an additional three-year contract to cover teachers, assistant principals and deans.

Cost-of-living raises will be 2 percent for the current year, and bump up to 2.5 percent for the following three years. The last four-year contract used 2 percent and 2.5 percent annual increases, with one year getting a 4 percent increase as part of a restructuring of step increases and increased health care burden placed on educators. The agreement also provides increased stipend rates for summer school staff and time spent outside school hours on such things as tutoring, conducting weekend music performances and driver’s education.

“It was difficult bargaining, but our team was strong and we were able to get an agreement that we all believe to be solid,” the association told members via Facebook.

The contract includes the creation of several working groups – many of them joint labor/management – to be formalized in separate “side letter agreements” that respond to several important issues raised repeatedly over the past two years:

bullet-gray-small A group to examine the length of the school day and of the school year. The group will be made up of 10 union members, nine administrative members and one School Committee member. The issues “include but are not limited to the most effective use of the current length of the school day and school year,” which could decide the rollout of programs such as world language. The recommendations to the superintendent are expected to be complete by December.

bullet-gray-small An educator advisory group on curriculum and instruction of a dozen educators to advise Assistant Superintendent Anda Adams “for the purposes of looking at the system as a whole and providing input as part of [Adams’] entry and strategic planning process.” Areas include student assessment and professional development.

bullet-gray-small A diversity committee, including the superintendent or a designee, the union president and six educators, to bring forward to the superintendent “issues of diversity” and recommendations for addressing them.

bullet-gray-small A student services group to advise the assistant superintendent of student services – a role being filled on an interim basis by Jean Spera following the departure of Victoria Greer this summer. In addition to reviewing caseloads “to ensure equity across schools,” the group will “provide input and identify topics for joint training sessions [for] interested members” of the educators’ union. The group will be made up of eight special education-related staff members; four Office of Student Services administrators; Spera; and three principals.

bullet-gray-small A professional development group, advisory to the superintendent, to assess “reallocation and restructuring” of professional development time. The group will have six educators and six administrators, and will be co-chaired by a union representative and the deputy superintendent or a designee.

Feedback on educators

The contract initiates a pilot program, to be run at at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, for peer evaluations. It will be conducted by a newly defined group of “peer educators” in two content areas to be determined by the superintendent and agreed upon by the union president. Teachers at the high school may apply to be peer educators; they will be selected by the superintendent or his designee and will have training. The plan is that each peer educator would partner with one or two teachers for guidance and development. Peer educators will get four half-days of release time each year.

CRLS had a similar coaching model for several years before it was abandoned under Principal Damon Smith a few years ago. Smith has pointed to the loss of some of his “best” teachers to coaching – because coaches were relieved of teaching one course – as one of the constraints of the program. In School Committee meetings, many high school staff have urged that coaching be reinstated to help develop their classroom and content skills, and this pilot program appears to be a concession to the union. The contract also creates a peer evaluation working group of four educators and four school administrators to monitor the pilot program and make recommendations about implementation and expansion.

There is also the addition of language regarding the use of student and staff feedback in the educator evaluation process, which will see each educator or administrator across the district being assessed via some type of feedback tool from April 1 to June 15 each year. The results are to be used by the educators and administrators in their own self-assessments, and are intended to help them and their evaluators in goal-setting. An existing evaluation process working group will advise on the design and implementation of feedback.

Other issues

Notable among the other issues is the insertion of considerable language regarding “reasonable suspicion” drug and alcohol testing.

There are also two adjustments to class size limits at the high school. The maximum number of students in academic classes has been dropped to 28 from 30, and the top class size for science labs has been raised to 22 from 20. High school staff have noted in committee meetings that the growing interest in science classes, coupled with the 20-student cap, has led to increasing numbers of students being shut out of classes. This year, some first-year students were even unable to take the required ninth-grade physics class.

The superintendent recommendation to the School Committee to ratify the contract was passed 6-0, with Nolan out of town for an education conference. The only comment was by member Richard Harding, who thanked Nolan and Fantini for their work.

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