Community Members Rally Support For Teachers' Union Amid Contract Negotiations

JohnCarl McGrady •

IMG 2194
Photos by David Creed

Dozens rallied outside the Nantucket High School Tuesday evening to show their support for local teachers as negotiations between the Nantucket Teacher’s Association and Nantucket Public School administration drag on into their eighth month.

Wearing red to signify their support, teachers, students, and community members poured into NHS just before 6:00 p.m., flooding the School Committee’s regularly scheduled meeting. Several carried signs and wore red “FAIR CONTRACT NOW” stickers that adorned the caps of many graduating seniors last Friday and have recently become the de facto sign of union support on social media.

“I am here tonight to ask you all to truly think about how much our teachers are worth,” Page Martineau, an NHS English teacher and president of the Nantucket Teachers’ Association told the School Committee. It was a refrain she repeated often throughout her speech.

A formal request for mediation, which would free School Committee members, administrators, and Teachers’ Association representatives to speak more freely about the contract negotiations, has yet to be filed. Neither party can comment on the state of the negotiations, which have been ongoing since last October, nor on how imminent such a move may be.

Teachers, whose concerns reportedly include low wages and the recent teacher shortage, drew dozens of supporters to NHS during Tuesday night’s meeting, including a group of current NHS students.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as uncertainty about the local and national economic outlook shrouded the previous round of teacher contract negotiations, teachers agreed to lower-than-inflation salary increases, Martineau told the committee.

“The teachers agreed to make sacrifices in order for [NPS] to continue to operate,” Martineau said. “We all know the detrimental effects [COVID-19] had on education and the mental health of our kids. It’s also had an immense effect on our teachers. Those of us who are still here and gave our bodies and souls in the past three years to our students and our classrooms—often to the detriment of our families at home—believe we deserve to be paid well in return.

“We’ve lost so many staff members over the past three years to other jobs, we’ve lived through this year without a full staff, and it’s incredibly likely that we’ll be doing the same next year,” she continued. “Our new teachers are living in single rooms, damp basements, and apartments with multiple roommates, all of which cost them an exorbitant amount, often leaving very little at the end of the month for expenses. I don’t have to tell you that the human infrastructure of [NPS] is essential to the operation of our island society. Without a functioning school, families will leave in droves. Many already are. What are our teachers worth?”

School Committee Chair Pauline Proch started the meeting by asking for kindness and consideration from the crowd.

“Our community is hurting right now for a variety of reasons,” she said. “I would like to just stress tonight to each and every one of you that is here to please use kindness. We can have differences, we can discuss, and we can disagree, but most of all, please be kind to one another.”

Aside from Proch’s comment, there was no reference to the protest or the negotiations from NPS administrators or School Committee members during the meeting. After its conclusion, Superintendent Beth Hallett told the Current that administrators are still hoping to reach an agreement with the Teachers’ Association.

“It’s our intention and our goal to move forward to find an agreement amicably and quickly,” Hallett said. “I think our teachers are wonderful. Our teachers are amazing people.”

The existing three-year collective bargaining agreement between the teachers' union and the School Committee expires on June 30.

Beyond Martineau’s comments, Tuesday night’s meeting also featured public comments from union supporters.

Jess Douglas, a nurse who has taught at NHS for four non-consecutive years, said that of her two jobs, teaching is harder.

“Trying to educate 20 to 30 kids all with different learning styles and then add in some [Individualized Education Programs, used for certain students with disabilities], and trying to keep everyone engaged, meet all their needs, it is so much harder than nursing,” she said. “I just want you to support Nantucket teachers and give them what they deserve.”

“As a parent and a community member, I’m deeply concerned about the state of our education system here on the island, which is only further stressed by the ongoing teacher contract negotiations and the fear that we cannot find a way to agree upon a living wage,” said Meg Browers, an NPS parent. “Our teachers are stretched too thin.”

Speaking during the rally before the meeting, Anna Popnikolova, a rising Senior at NHS, agreed.

“Our teachers are really stressed out,” she said. “They are stressed, they’re overworked, they’re tired.”

Photos below by David Creed: 

IMG 7370
IMG 2173
IMG 2181
IMG 2180
IMG 2178
IMG 2167
Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News