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Coalition rallies for changes to teachers’ contract, more of a say

Darius Satchebell, 8, a Roxbury third-grader, and other public school students gathered at the school department yesterday to call for longer school days, among other changes. Darius Satchebell, 8, a Roxbury third-grader, and other public school students gathered at the school department yesterday to call for longer school days, among other changes. (John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / September 1, 2010

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A coalition of students, parents, and advocates rallied on the steps of Boston School Department headquarters yesterday, calling for extended school days, more rigorous teacher evaluations, and a stronger voice for students and parents in school decisions as the city negotiates a new contract with teachers.

The rally, organized by Boston United for Students, was scheduled to coincide with the final day of the teachers’ current contract. Provisions of that contract will remain in place while the city and the union hammer out a new agreement over the next few months.

Much of what the coalition advocated for yesterday centered on improving the quality of instruction. Students from several elementary, middle, and high schools waved signs with such messages as “Stop bumping the good teachers, reward talent not seniority,’’ and they also chanted “What do we want? Better teachers. When do we want them? Now.’’

The rally drew more than 70 people, as the temperature in downtown Boston swelled well above 90 degrees.

“As parents, we are very frustrated that ineffective teachers are still in the classroom and too many good teachers are laid off,’’ Angela Tang, who has had children in the system for 16 years, said from the podium. “We hope our new contract won’t protect ineffective teachers.’’

The coalition, which sponsored a public forum on the teacher contract in May at a Roxbury church, encompasses about 30 organizations, including the Boston Student Advisory Council, Boston Parents Organizing Network, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and Sociedad Latina.

It also includes the Charles Street AME Church, which is lead by the School Committee’s chairman, the Rev. Gregory Groover, who was in attendance yesterday. He stood along with observers of the event rather than on the steps with the participants.

Groover said in an interview after the news conference that the coalition is advocating for changes similar to what the school administration is seeking in contract talks.

“We come from the same angle: Substantial reform needs to take place,’’ he said.

The coalition is one of two to push for contract changes. The other group, Put Students First Coalition for a 21st Century Contract, came together last week and is lead by The Boston Foundation and other civic, business, and grass-roots organizations.

Both of the groups support a contract that would allow longer school days, greater flexibility by administrators in hiring and assigning staff, and a stronger evaluation system. A report earlier this year found that many Boston teachers had not been evaluated in more than two years and that some schools did no evaluations.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to continue for several weeks, and so far the talks appear to be going smoothly. It is not unusual for negotiations in Boston to extend beyond the expiration of a contract.

Colin Smith, 17, a senior at Social Justice Academy in Hyde Park, said in an interview after yesterday’s rally that many students want more rigorous evaluation of teachers.

“We don’t want all bad teachers laid off,’’ Smith said. “Just give them the support they need to be successful. . . . Teaching is not an easy job.’’

Richard Stutman, the teachers’ union president, said he is open to considering the ideas the community presents during the contract negotiations. He said the union favors such things as overhauling evaluations, extending the school day — so long as teachers are adequately compensated — and giving parents and students a greater say in school decisions.

“We look forward to working with both parents and students along with the School Department in crafting the best contract we can for students,’’ Stutman said in a telephone interview.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.

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