On Thursday, Dec. 18, the School Committee heard presentations from eight teachers describing what they would like to see in the budget for the next fiscal year. Here is the full text of their remarks plus supporting material.

School budget logo"Let’s move from the standard one-size fits all to the edges in education."-- David Moore, Arlington High art teacher

Introduction, by Linda Hanson, president of the Arlington Education Association

Over the past two school committee meetings, teachers have listened with interest as administrators presented their thoughts on the additional supports and positions they prioritize for next year’s budget. Tonight, you will hear from teachers at each level of the district who will be responding to the administrative requests as well as emphasizing teacher priorities. One important source of information the presenters will be reporting out on comes from the Teacher Forums that were held in each building this past October. Teachers who attended the forums were asked two questions:

● What is your vision of a quality Arlington public school education? and

● What is getting in your way - what are the impediments to achieving this vision?

I want to start by adding a little context to this discussion. In the past four years since the last operating override, the district has restored and improved on the amount and kinds of services available to students, teachers, and administrators: full time social workers are now in place in every building, additional BCBA and BSP personnel better support students with social-emotional and behavior challenges, math coaches in every elementary building and math support teachers for each grade at the Ottoson better support the district math program; additional math, computer science, and world language offerings at the Middle and High School allow students a greater variety of courses to choose from, and a third full time administrator at the Ottoson better supports the students and staff in that building. In addition, over the past few years we have increased access to more technology for teachers and students and we now also have additional IT support in the district.

School Committee logo

These efforts to regain and surpass the level of service we had before the 2011 override have been important for the district. The last few years the district has rightfully prioritized restoring and adding additional supports for teachers, students, and administrators.

For next year’s budget, teachers would like to see more attention paid to competitive compensation for teachers. Two years ago, the town undertook a salary study for all job categories in town. Through a collaborative process that included town and school management and union leaders, a group of “most comparable communities” was selected.

[See the salary study here >>]

This group is now referred to as the "Town Manager 12." Many factors were taken into consideration when selecting our most comparable communities, but at the top of the list were a community’s relative wealth and its ability to generate revenue. The results of the study are in, and it is clear that Arlington teachers provide an above average education for below average wages. Teachers have waited patiently for the results of this study, so that we could have a salary discussion taking the most objective information into account. We now have the results of the study and we hope they will be considered in your budget deliberations.

Teachers are very aware of the overall budget limitations, and it is clear to us that increasing salaries can only happen if we focus on maintaining and further supporting the programs we currently have in place, while adding only carefully targeted, modest additions. At this point in time, Arlington does not collect enough revenue to add much in the way of new programs or initiatives, while maintaining the programs and supports that have been put in place AND paying teachers a competitive wage. Every new initiative or position you add this year will increase personnel costs that will need to be sustained over time down the road. Future initiatives will crowd out the opportunity to better support current programs, maintain reasonable class and caseload sizes, which are another top teacher priority, and pay teachers a more competitive wage.

In order to achieve this, teachers have looked long and hard at separating the "nice to haves" from the "need to haves." You will now hear briefly from teachers at each level about the prioritized, targeted additions that teachers feel will help us continue the work we are doing in a more feasible and sustainable way. Each speaker’s comments will be brief. We will start with the MPS program and work our way up to the high school. I will ask each speaker to introduce themselves, state where they work and their position at the school, and then make their remarks.

Patty Toohig, Menotomy Preschool

• 1.0 classroom teacher to meet the needs of children with special needs ages 3-5

• Classrooms are close to capacity with only seats available as of

• 2 TAs to support the needs of the children and classroom teacher

• Preschool classroom furniture, technology, and curriculum to support the additional class

• 8 children have moved in since September requiring programming

• Classrooms are capped

• ask you to consider the increased demands an additional classroom will place on the Related Service Providers: specifically: BCBA, OT, PT, Social Work, and SLPs

• Additional classroom will keep us in compliance with federal mandates regarding classroom size and student: teacher ratios

• Please keep in mind that an additional classroom will also increase the workload for related service providers, as there will now be more students to work with

• Facilities is an ongoing issue

• Pests continue to be a concern

• Shortage of space, therapists are already sharing spaces with offices

• Parents and siblings wait for the preschool children who come in for therapies in the hallways, making these spaces crowded

Siobhan Foley, elementary teachers

• As has already been stated in Linda’s introduction, elementary teachers are very concerned about class sizes and the increasing workload that accompanies large classes. Their primary concern, however, is the fear of letting a child slip through the cracks because there are too many students in one class.

• Elementary teachers would also like to see a significant increase in teacher’s salaries. We know we are doing a good job. We would like to see our pay reflect that.

• In their address to you, the elementary principals mentioned that the grant that was helping to fund the social workers in each elementary building will be ending this year. Teachers would echo the principals’ request that these positions continue. The social workers are a necessary part of the elementary schools.

• Time is a major concern that continues to grow in importance as the demands on teachers have increased – common planning time, time for analyzing data and then using it to plan curriculum, time to complete the progress reports that currently take many extra hours of work, time to set up classrooms, etc.

• Elementary teachers have historically put in many extra hours and days to accomplish these tasks but more work is being added to this pile without tasks being taken away. It has become too much and we request that the school committee keep this in mind when considering adding new curriculum, new requests for data analysis, changes to the progress notes or other budgetary items that will increase the workload for teachers.

• We love our teaching assistants. They do not earn a living wage however and therefore understandably, do not stay for very long. We support the elementary principals’ request that their salaries be increased. This is especially important for those assistants who work with our most vulnerable and challenged students.

• Two other issues have risen to the top of our list at the elementary level, and they are within the elementary art specialist position, and the kindergarten teacher’s positions. I want to turn over the microphone for members of those groups to address you directly.

Erica Dusombre, kindergarten teachers

• I am speaking for the kindergarten teachers and young students that are in our care to make the case for full time TA’s in our classrooms.

Class Size

• As a district, we have taken the Tools of the Mind curriculum on full swing and are embracing the positive outcomes it is having on our youngest students. Although we are implementing this curriculum to the best of our abilities, the demands of the curriculum are high and involve teacher scaffolding throughout all moments of the day (academic, social and everything in between). The program was designed for a class size of 18 with a teacher and a full time TA.

Unfortunately, our numbers in Arlington are much higher than that. This year’s average class size is 22, with one class having 19 and the remainder in the low 20’s. Two classes have 25 students. These large numbers greatly impact our ability as kindergarten teachers to effectively implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum.

Students with Increased Needs

• Along with the growing numbers in kindergarten classrooms, we are also seeing an increased number of children with special needs entering our program. Most often children enter our classrooms with no additional support. For many students, kindergarten is the time when their needs are first recognized. Often times we spend the entire year “figuring out” exactly what a child’s particular needs are – be they behavioral, academic, or medical. In the meantime, the classroom teacher and part time assistant teacher must provide the support. Often these children will have had their needs documented and will be connected to receive special education services by the end of kindergarten, but for the majority of their kindergarten year, kindergarten teachers are managing the challenges alone.

Preschool Teacher Student Ratios

• Most of the children entering kindergarten are coming from a preschool environment with a much different student-teacher ratio than what they experience in an Arlington Kindergarten classroom.
Students typically come from preschool programs with 13 students and 2 teachers or 18 students and 3 teachers to a room. As we listen to these preschool teachers describe their programs, it becomes more and more apparent why we some kids really struggle when they transition to kindergarten.

In the morning, they have 2 adults in the room, but in the afternoon, although it is the same group of kids, and the same number of kids, and the same curriculum, the students only have 1 teacher to go to. The odds are stacked against them and both students and teachers.
More Assessments, More Data

• Another reason for the need for full time TA’s is the growing number and types of assessments and data collection that have are been put on our plates. As we attempt to teach the curriculum, and teach children how to just “be” in school, while also helping that child who just had an accident or who just spilled their milk all over themselves, we are simultaneously being asked to collect data for Baseline Edge, collect data for district-determined measures, We ask ourselves, How can we possibly do all of this??

Kindergarten is Unique

• Kindergarten is a unique time and place in a child’s life. As kindergarten teachers we are faced with children who are experiencing “school” for the first time – even if they have some preschool experience. They come to us with needs that have yet to be identified or supported. Our goal is to provide them with a positive experience that will lay the foundation for their future success. These days, Kindergarten teachers feel like we have our heads just above water and have reached the tipping point. To implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum, collect and upload the mounds of data required, and teach the growing needs of our children, we strongly feel that our youngest students and their teachers need and deserve full time TA’s.

Deborah Martin, elementary art teachers

● The majority of the elementary visual art teachers have been teaching in Arlington for over 10 years.

● Each of us has a vested interest in our student’s artistic and academic learning and progress.

● Our students are the reason we come to work every day, and it’s a privilege to be a part of their creative growth.

● We love to connect with them through visual art and help them flourish in a discipline that is not only important in and of itself, but that also spans across all curricula.

● Unfortunately, the way art is currently scheduled is not supportive to our teaching, our professional goals, or our students’ learning, and it is frankly very stressful to the teachers in the program.

● The large number of classes we teach per week, the short amount of time we have to prepare, teach, allow time for students to create, and clean up before getting ready for the next group puts undue stress on both students and teachers.

● Students complain that there isn’t enough time to work on projects and teachers find that there is not enough time to teach the curriculum.

● Projected increased enrollment will only exacerbate these issues.

● Art teachers are looking for a budget solution that would decrease our course load, and increase time between classes

● These types of changes would allow us to provide a better art education program in an environment that also takes better care of the art teachers in the district.

Julianna Keyes, Ottoson Middle School

In addition to the reasons that Linda has cited, the fruition of these goals will attract and retain a quality faculty that will provide much needed stability during a period of great change for our school.

This year we’ve accepted the challenge of welcoming the largest class in the history of the Arlington Public Schools (for now!) into one building. The addition of a sixth grade cluster has kept the class sizes for that grade more manageable, but unfortunately that is a one-year solution. We already know that the student population is going to increase even more, and need to implement plans immediately to ensure that all teachers — both those of core subjects and specialists whose classes enrich students’ lives so greatly — will be able to provide the personalized education that our students deserve.

Coupled with the issue of class size is the issue of physical space. We support the additional staffing for which our administration has asked, we just don’t know where to put them, because we’re maxed out on space as it is. As we gain additional students and teachers, we’re going to need additional spaces - as well as furniture to fill them — so that students may have a physically comfortable environment in which to learn, and teachers may have their own individual, distraction-free spaces in which to prepare meaningful lessons and store and easily access our educational materials.

Relevant professional development is another goal of ours: as the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has expanded its recertification guidelines to include special education and ELL, it’s our hope that the district will provide and/or fund more offerings in these areas, as well as the long-established requirements for pedagogy and content areas. At Ottoson in particular, with this year’s establishment of the advisory program, we’d welcome a thorough and professional training in how to truly run and maintain a successful Advisory program.

Finally, with all the other changes, technology in our building has become insufficient. The exodus of printers in favor of copiers only within the past two years has cost teachers time—specifically a longer time waiting for a small job while someone else’s large job prints. Then, if copiers break down -- which also happens frequently—there is no recourse. We need more "machines that print" in the building. Furthermore, as our laptops and iPads are aging and getting very heavy use, we will need a replacement budget to supply these essential items.

Dave Ardito, Interim K-12 Director of Visual Art, Arlington Public Schools

I was hired by the Arlington Public Schools six years ago to improve the K-12 visual art program and we have made a lot of progress.

• A revised K-12 sequential art curriculum focuses art teachers and their students on essential habits of mind and ways of thinking that will last students a lifetime.

• Enrollment in elective art courses at the HS is at an all-time high. We have added a third art teacher there and developed exciting new course offerings.

• We’ve taken important steps toward making digital art imaging at the HS a reality, including video and animation.

• We’ve added new ceramic kilns in four buildings to the delight of hundreds of elementary students.

• We’ve more than doubled the number of student art exhibits within schools and within the town.

We’ve engaged with the community through public art initiatives, the center for the arts, the annual film festival, the Arlington Education Foundation, the Martin Luther King Celebration, local design competitions and so much more.

The one aspect of the K-12 program that has not improved under my leadership is the way we construct our elementary art program. And frankly, improving the way we offer valuable art experiences to K-5 students is the highest priority for me.

Obstacles exist that prevent art teachers and their students from accomplishing even more.

My part of the presentation tonight is not just about the way we are treating the art teachers, although we really have to examine and change that. It is also about improving the quality of art education for thousands of Arlington students who are with us now and thousands more in the future who will be benefit from important changes that really need to be made.

You should have two documents from us. One summarizes the issues…. And the other presents comparative data that clearly shows how Arlington’s approach to providing K-5 art education is so lacking compared to neighboring towns.

Let me highlight some of the keys issues from the first document called "Proposal to Change the Way K-5 Visual Art is Scheduled."

These are the Current Challenges Facing the K-5 Elementary Visual Arts Program:

1. Elementary art teachers can be required by contract to teach 35 classes per week. This number is far above the average required by surrounding towns (see attached comparison chart).
This results in very short art classes (40 minutes).

2. This maximum of 35 classes also creates extremely large teacher student loads (averaging over 700 students per week per art teacher).

3. There is no transition time between each art classes. The next group of students is waiting at the door while the current group is getting ready to leave, leaving no time for preparation of different materials.

4. Grade levels change almost every art class with 6 different grade levels scheduled each day. (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)

Here are the educational benefits of reducing the total number of classes per week per teacher and making other adjustments in the way art is scheduled:

1. A significant increase in class time increases the opportunity for reflective student assessment of their own work and the work of their peers in verbal and written forms.

2. A significant increase in class time means that art teachers can interface with many more students during each class. Individualized instruction is the backbone of every successful art program because it makes differentiated learning possible in an open, creative environment. Assessment and documentation of student work will be more thorough.

3. An increase in class time gives students opportunities for sustained concentration on their work, for valuable assessment at the end of every class, for increased exposure to professional artists’ work, for richer integrated learning and for more complex art experiences in a greater variety of materials and techniques. Longer classes also reduce the number of set up and clean up transitions all year, thereby increasing the amount of students’ time for art making. (and the teachers’ time for teaching)

4. Teaching art under the current conditions creates enormous stress on art teachers both physically and psychologically and if this stress is reduced there will be an increase in their productivity and effectiveness.

5. Teachers will have more energy and time for collaboration and the development of integrated curriculum with classroom teachers. Art teachers will feel a greater sense of belonging to each school community. The storage, exhibition and management of student work will be facilitated.

Finally if you look at the second document called the “Summary of Elementary Art Scheduling Comparisons Between Arlington and Neighboring School Districts” you will see how nine neighboring towns have provided so much more time, structure and support to help their K-5 art programs succeed.

I want to highlight those comparisons [below are two charts that Ardito provided to the School Committee; he did not present the detail]:

 

Summary of Elementary Art Scheduling Comparisons Between Arlington and Neighboring School Districts

         Categories Average of 9 Other Towns

Arlington

Public Schools

Classes per week 1.0 FTE 21.5 classes

35

classes

Minutes per class 53 minutes 40 minutes

Grade levels

Per day

3 grade levels 5-6 grade levels
Total # students per teacher per week 461 students 710 students
Transition time between classes 6 min none
Art classes per student per week 1 1

 

How the survey questions were presented to Directors of Art:

1. What is the current minimum number of classes per week that a full time elementary (K-5) art teacher is contractually required to teach?

2. How long is each K-5 art class?

3. How many different grade levels would an art teacher meet each day on the average?

4. What is the approximate total number of students that a full time elementary art teacher might have over the course of a week?  

5. Is there transition time built in between one art lesson and another? If so, how many minutes?

6. How many art classes does each K-5 student have each week?

Comparisons between the APS K-5 elementary art program and other greater Boston area public school systems’ programs.

                                   

  Arlington Waltham Belmont Winchester Wellesley Lexington Newton Acton Brookline Marblehead
Classes per week 1.0 FTE 35 20 20 23 20-23 21 20 23 25-27 20
Minutes per class 40 min 54 min 70 min 50 min 50 min 60 min

K = 45 minutes

Gr. 1-4 =50

Gr 5= 60

K = 30 minutes

Gr. 1-6 =45

K-4=40

min

5=

45 min

50 min

Grade levels

Per day

6 Max of 4   3-4 2 No response Avg 3 No respons No response No response
Total # students per teacher

710

     380 600 400 400 500 425 525 No response No response
Transition time between classes None 5 minutes No response

None-5

minutes

10 min same grade.

15 min different grade.

none 5-15 min 5-15 min 5 minutes 5-15 min
Art classes per student per week 1 No response No response 1 1 No response 1

No

respons

No response No response

 

Finding a Solution: We have several ideas for how we could alleviate this situation, and we would welcome the opportunity to go into our ideas in more detail at a future date. We stand ready to work with the administration and the School Committee to review and discuss alternatives that would improve the scheduling of these classes and that would lead to a better situation for both teachers and students.

David Moore, Arlington High School

In a Ted Talk I learned that the Air force discovered their cockpit seats were the single source of a decline in performance because it was designed to fit the average standard pilot. Once redesigned to a car-like adjustable seat performance dramatically improved. Let’s move from the standard one-size fits all to the edges in education.

Positives / Challenges: We appreciate an improved access to administrators and a more collegial atmosphere. This often gets lost in the avalanche of emails, DDMs PD, evaluations, workload, and Department Chairs that are just "too part-time" racing to catch up. Teachers also need more time in the current schedule to do their job. While many students do well, others need increased support for coping with their anxieties and special needs.

AHS Building Issues: Yes we still have mice and water leaks. We must not only maintain, but improve the facility each year, for a safer and healthier environment, even while we all wait for a new building. Copiers on each floor, laptops issued with locks, entrances betted secured, and new evacuation procedures made clear are all very helpful.

Class Size, Work Load: Please do not increase current large class sizes, but reduce them with an efficient schedule, with more than the proposed 1.4 faculty increase, Caseloads and paperwork documentation for SPED, Specialists, and Guidance Counselors must be reduced. The impact of foreign students needs more study. We seek contractual clarity and fairness over Stipends, Advisories, and workload.

Scheduling and Time Management: We are working together to improve the AHS daily schedule for next year with a more consistent model. Reduce the number of school meetings, and use early release time for more meaningful work.

Professional Development: We need time to collaborate with each other, but we want more outside experts brought in to provide professional development and more outside resources as exemplified in the Edtech online graduate course and at professional conferences, such as Mass Cue.

Evaluations: Baseline edge is unacceptably time consuming for all. We emphatically reject licensure tied to evaluations, and remain diligent in protecting it. We support the training of evaluators to embrace a more positive “coaching” model and collegial atmosphere, instead of through punitive actions by some. Faculty would like the opportunity to participate in Administrators’ evaluations.

Administration: We support the addition of a house Dean. The cost shifting to teachers has reduced their prep time and student contact hours. We encourage student and faculty inspired learning instead of top-down directives.

Technology: A big thank you goes out to the AEF for supporting technology improvements, but let’s not stop there. I encourage you to visit online RISD’s STEM to STEAM project recently featured in The New York Times as the leader in this field. We also need directives for staff and students to address healthy strategies in the use of technology.

Curriculum: Dependence on high stakes testing is questionable, as we seek more influence on District Goals. Curriculum should be an “inch wide and mile deep” Teach to the edges not the standards. There is no MCAS for passion.

Compensation: The success of our students is well documented and publicly praised. We, the faculty, feel that increasing teacher salaries is a basic and necessary step towards recognizing and appreciating the work we do.


Dec. 7, 2014: WISH LISTS: What school leaders want for the holidays -- and long after

Dec. 21, 2014: Return to main news summary


 This story was published Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014.