The superintendent, board of education and teachers’ union have different viewpoints, but agree on this: The climate in the Groton school system needs improvement.
To that end, 13 people, including five board members, Superintendent Paul Kadri and leaders of the Groton Education Association met last week with a mediator to talk about how to make changes.
“A climate is intangible, but it’s almost like you can feel it in some districts, in some classrooms,” said School Board Member Chaz Zezulka. “I think it has a direct impact on student success, achievement, community support, (and) working conditions.”
The union and superintendent have clashed this year over changes to the middle school schedule, sixth grade student teams and staffing. On Jan. 30, the union filed a complaint with State Board of Labor Relations, saying changes to the schedule and teams violated the union's contract with the district.
Kadri said the complaint has since been withdrawn.
The group last week sought first to define what school climate is. They listed 19 contributing factors, such as feeling safe, respected and empowered, having the resources to do a job, and collaborating rather than facing top down management.
“If all this was at 100 percent, we wouldn’t be here today,” Mediator Joe Dubin said.
Board Member Beverly Washington said teachers need to feel safe to speak to the board of education without fear of retaliation.
“Right now I get the sense that a lot of teachers are fearful that when they speak to the board they’re going to be punished in some way,” she said.
Union President Beth Horler said teachers also want to feel their opinion is honored and valid, regardless of who they speak to in the school system.
“It’s got to be OK to say no,” she said. Horler said some teachers have an underlying fear they could be transferred or called into the principal’s office and confronted if they speak out.
Superintendent Paul Kadri said teachers do not have to fear retaliation or losing their jobs. But he said he feels disrespected when they jump the chain of command, go to the board and surprise him at public meetings.
“If someone comes up and makes fun of me, yeah, I’m going to take it, but it’s not right,” he said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Beth Gianacoplos said teachers should be able to come to the board, but she understands not wanting to feel shocked.
“I understand what Paul’s saying about teachers coming, without any clue that they’re coming. We, as board members, try not to do surprises,” she said.
She added that teachers should not talk to students about their issues with the administration.
Larry Croxton, vice president of the Groton Education Association, said teachers know the chain of command but some want to speak to board members.
Horler said the board also needs to be visible and not closed off to staff.
The group ended the meeting by saying it wants to continue the dialogue. It will gather again on May 9, 15 and 22. All meetings will be held from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. in the school administration building.
“This was a beginning step,” Zezulka said. “We recognize the climate is not what it should be. And we’re beginning to move forward.”