We are writing in support of Brookline classroom paraprofessionals, who are still working without a fair contract. At our release day on Nov. 2, kindergarten teachers were asked to make a list of all of the critical things that classroom paraprofessionals do in our classrooms, and why their role is so vital to our teaching. The list was incredibly long - after five minutes of brainstorming, we filled boards with over 250 post-it notes - including everything from being a second adult in the room, to comforting a crying child, to providing one-on-one support to children with special needs. In our discussions, what was said over and over again by kindergarten teachers across the district is that we absolutely could not do our jobs without the support, professionalism, expertise and commitment of paras. They enrich and support our curriculum, they provide invaluable behavioral support, they ensure the safety of all of our students and they are some of the hardest working educators in our district. And yet, their pay reflects a school district that does not acknowledge or respect their value and professionalism, and the critical role that they play in educating our students.
Just to give a couple of examples, one of our paras is a certified teacher with her master's degree. This is her fourth year in Brookline, and she currently takes home $412 each week. Another one of our paras has worked at Pierce for 15 years and maxed out her salary on the highest step, seven years ago. After contributing to her increasing retirement fund and paying for her family's health insurance, her take home pay is BARELY over $300 per week. This, after 15 years of dedicated service to our district.
The School Committee's latest proposal seeks to create two different classes of paraprofessionals - paying those that work with children in special programs more than the majority of paras who support teachers in classrooms throughout the district. While we can understand why this might seem like a good idea to those who have never spent significant time in our schools, as kindergarten teachers we can tell you firsthand that every one of our classroom paraprofessionals is not just a classroom support - they are special educators and professionals doing deeply important work for our students and the district. Most IEP's in our classrooms have "support from classroom para" written in, and our paras are consistently collecting data, differentiating instruction, providing one-on-one support and modifying activities to ensure that every child has access to our curriculum and can be successful. Without paraprofessionals, the district would not be able to meet the levels of support mandated for these students. Furthermore, in Kindergarten, every year our classrooms have students with undiagnosed disabilities. This means that our paras are actually supporting even more students with special needs than the district documents. In fact, we are consistently reminded that Special Ed pays half of our paras' small salaries.
The high turnover of paraprofessionals is a significant hardship for us as teachers, and for our students. At that release day meeting we also talked about the difference between having a paraprofessional work with us over several years versus having to train a new person every school year (or more often). Our ability to teach more deeply, more effectively, and to develop more thoughtful curriculum is directly affected by the amount of time we have worked together as a team. Our paraprofessionals work SO HARD, and our schools would not function without them.
Having consistent, well-trained paraprofessionals that are paid a living wage should be a priority for our district. Their value to our classrooms and students cannot be overemphasized, and we will continue to stand with our colleagues until they are given the fair contract that they deserve.
Amie Buchman (Pierce K)
Eowyn Daly-Griffin (Pierce K/1)
Ashley Haese (Runkle K)
Kristen Haynes (Runkle K)
Colleen Muldoon (Pierce K)
Tanya Paris (Runkle K)
Lauren Kelly Talanian (Pierce K)
Andrew Winston (Pierce K)