‘No teacher left behind’: Northampton High School students walk out to support staff

  • Zalia Maya leads a group of Northampton High School students in a walkout in support of Northampton teachers and staff Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Front left, Cherilyn Strader, back left, Tadea Martin-Gonzalez and Kailey Murphy lead a group of Northampton High School students in a walkout in support of Northampton teachers and staff Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader drops off petitions in support of Northampton teachers and staff with other Northampton High School students to Lyn Simmons, chief of staff in Mayor David Narkewicz’s office. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Northampton High School student Sara Grimaldi speaks at Northampton City Hall during a walkout in support of Northampton teachers and staff Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Zalia Maya, left, and Tadea Martin-Gonzalez lead a group of Northampton High School students in a walkout in support of Northampton teachers and staff Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A group of Northampton High School students during a walkout in support of Northampton teachers and staff Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Cherilyn Strader drops off petitions in support of Northampton teachers and staff with other Northampton High School students to Lyn Simmons, chief of staff in the Mayor David Narkewicz’s office.

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/17/2019 4:06:43 PM

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported a proposed percentage increase for custodian salaries, which is 18.1 percent.

NORTHAMPTON — Prom is just around the corner for students of Northampton High School. Some have been sharing photos of dresses online in a Facebook group to make sure there are no overlapping outfits at the dance Monday night at the Log Cabin in Holyoke.

But on Friday morning, there were more pressing issues than what to wear to prom. At 11 a.m. — 20 minutes before the official end of the half-day — a stream of around 100 students started to file out of the school’s front door.

They held signs that read “Fund Our Future” and “Pot $ for public schools” and chanted slogans like “What do we want? Fair wages!” and “Live your values, School Committee.”

The student-organized walkout was in support of teachers and school staff who have not been able to reach a contract agreement with the School Committee. Both parties in recent days agreed to request a mediator.

In response, the Northampton Association of School Employees — the union that represents school employees including teachers, educational support professionals (ESPs), custodians and cafeteria workers — announced that next week members will be “working to rule,” meaning they will complete only their contractual obligations, which NASE President Sadie Cora said will continue indefinitely.

“We’re not going to be working for free — we’re not going to be doing things outside of our contract,” said Andrea Egitto, a NASE negotiation team member, on Wednesday.

In the days before the walkout, students helped spread the word, even sending out a press release.

Senior Cherilyn Strader said she was propelled into action in part by learning that Northampton teachers are the 19th-lowest paid teachers in the state, according to statistics from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

“I was very upset about that,” Strader said at the walkout, standing in front of the high school.

She said she hopes the event raises awareness about Northampton teacher and staff pay, as well as funding issues at the state level. “We need to look carefully at the issue of the Chapter 70 funding formula,” she said.

NHS Principal Bryan Lombardi also stood outside the school during the walkout. He said he spoke with police in advance to prevent any safety or traffic issues and to give students “the opportunity to express what they want to express.” Classes continued during the walkout, he said.

Mayor David Narkewicz, chairman of the School Committee, and Superintendent John Provost declined to comment Friday about the walkout. 

Following a meeting on Friday night, the School Committee released a statement outlining its current offer after bargaining with all NASE units.

The offer outlines salary increases ranging from 14.5 percent to 19.2 percent over a three-year period, including a 15.9 percent increase to $70,343 for teachers; a 19.2 percent increase to $26,165 for ESPs; and a 18.1 percent increase to $42,719 for custodians. The full offer can be viewed on the Northampton Public Schools website.

After school was officially out, around 30 students walked to City Hall. On the way there, Evan LeBeau, a sophomore at Northampton High School who helped lead the march, spoke about the work to rule action next week. “This is hard for students. I’m freaking out about Chemistry,” he said. Still, he said, “I’m entirely supporting the teachers. It’s what has to be done.”

His mother teaches at R.K. Finn Ryan Road School. “If my mom taught at South Hadley, she’d get paid $13,000 more based on average pay,” he speculated, referencing figures from DESE. Comparing the two districts’ payscales shows South Hadley schools pay many educators with similar levels of experience several thousand dollars more.

LeBeau said proposals to fund projects like a $400,000 animal control kennel frustrate him. “If they can find that money, how can they not find the money to pay teachers?” he asked.

Upon reaching City Hall, a few dozen students rallied on the steps of the building, chanting “We are angry!” “No teacher left behind!” and “No employees left behind!” A few adults joined the demonstration.

Several students spoke through a megaphone. Samantha Ginzburg, an 11th grader, said she works a summer job making minimum wage, which is more than some cafeteria employees earn. The starting hourly rate for a cafeteria assistant is $11.64 this school year, according to the contract for cafeteria employees.

“This is a total upset this is happening in our community,” Ginzburg told the crowd.

Ben Moss-Horwitz, a senior, spoke about how young people around the country and in Northampton have rallied against gun violence and climate change. “Our teachers … we’re not going to leave them behind,” he said.

Students then went inside City Hall and into the mayor’s office where they handed their petitions in support of teachers and staff to Lyn Simmons, Mayor Narkewicz’s chief of staff. The students’ requests: In the short term, publish the negotiations online, and in the long term, give all employees a 6-percent raise.

Strader asked if they could talk with the mayor, but Simmons said he was in a two-hour meeting. She took the petitions to give to him.

As the group filed out of the office, Moss-Horwitz said, referencing the petitions, “ We’ll be back with more.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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