Q. How did the organization get started and who is involved?
Boston United for Students (BUS) is a diverse, grassroots coalition of parent, student, community, faith-based, advocacy and business organizations that came together to add their voices to the contract negotiations between Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU). The Citywide Parents Council, Boston Parent Organizing Network, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Boston Student Advisory Council, BPAC-Title 1, Sociedad Latina and the Boston Municipal Research Bureau convened the initial meeting that led to the formation of BUS, which now has more than 35 members.
Q. What changes would you like to see in teacher evaluations?
We spent months and months in discussions with parents, students and teachers, and all agreed that the teacher evaluation system should be improved. Teachers have said that they want meaningful feedback that helps them improve. Parents and students have said that the current process makes it too difficult to remove ineffective teachers or identify exceptional teachers. We are pushing for a shorter evaluation process and a better standard. We think that parent and student feedback should be considered as a part of the teacher evaluation. We also think teachers should be assessed on whether students are actually learning. The questions are what data should be used and what percentage of each category should count in teacher evaluation. The coalition organized a sub-committee to explore this issue further.
Q. How would you propose that teachers be hired or reassigned?
The BUS sub-committees for teacher hiring and reassignment concludes that the procedures for staffing, like those developed in the pilot school model, should be extended to additional schools. Increased flexibility in hiring and reassignment is needed so that schools have greater ability to select and keep the best teachers in the classrooms with students. We would like to see career ladders developed so that exceptional teachers can stay connected to classrooms and offer support to other teachers. Teacher applicants from outside the system should not have a disadvantage in the hiring process. We also think the current system of seniority and bumping should be examined.
Q. What should be the role of parents and students in school decision making?
The existing structure of School Site Councils, which is defined in the current contract, provides an opportunity for each school to create a partnership between principals, teachers, parents and high school students to work together to create an education community at each school. We are pushing to strengthen the existing contract language. Specifically, we think that parent and student representation on School Site Councils should reflect the race, language and disability of the student population at the school. The number of student representatives should be increased. Students, in addition to parents, should serve on the personnel sub-committee to hire teachers for their school. Parents, students and teachers serving on School Site Councils should be trained in the areas of hiring, budget and planning.
Q. If there is a longer school day, how should the extra time be used?
Ultimately, this is about closing access, opportunity and achievement gaps. Additional classroom time must be paired with effective teaching. It cannot be limited to additional MCAS prep, but must include arts and music. Rather than a one-size fits all approach, we would like to see principals, teachers, parents and students in high schools working together in each school to decide how the extra time is used, based on the needs of the students in that particular school. Extended day should also be used to give greater access for students and their families to teachers, and to ensure more time for teachers to engage in shared planning and professional development. We believe that the professional development must include the development of respect for race, class, cultural and learning differences.
Q. Since contract negotiations are between the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools administration, how does Boston United for Students plan to become involved?
Boston United for Students formed to give the community a voice in the negotiating process and to win key reforms in the contract. Earlier this year, we organized a successful community forum with the superintendent and president of the BTU at Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury with 175 people attending. Representatives of the coalition have met with the mayor and we are planning meetings with members of the Boston School Committee, the president of the BTU, the superintendent, other senior BPS administrators, and the negotiating teams of both the BPS and the BTU. We are currently planning to have a presence at an upcoming Boston City Council hearing where parents, students and others will have the opportunity to voice their concerns for the contract.
Q. How will the organization continue to work for students after a new contract has been proposed?
The current contract expired on Aug. 31 and is now extended. It could take months, perhaps even a year, before a new contract is developed. BUS sees this as a long term process. We will need to continue to grow our coalition to help build an informed and organized constituency calling for change. Over the next several months our sub-committees will research best practices in other districts, so that we can judge the proposals being presented by BPS and the BTU. Implementation is critically important. As we push for key reforms in a new contract, we will also push for implementation of the current contract provisions. Once we are successful in our campaign, we will monitor implementation of the new contract.