Gahanna-Jefferson students weigh in on learning model after contract deal

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Jason Raymond (center), Gahanna Lincoln High School student council president, is surrounded by Gahanna teachers on the picket line Oct. 16. He spoke to the Gahanna-Jefferson school board Oct. 15, encouraging members to reach an agreement with the teachers.

Some Gahanna Lincoln High School students are happy to begin a hybrid model of learning this week, participating in a combination of in-person and distance learning, following the Oct. 13-16 teachers union's strike.

The district began transitioning to in-person hybrid learning Oct. 26 for students in prekindergarten through fifth grade and for those in grades 9-12, according to information released by the district.

Senior Jason Raymond, Gahanna Lincoln High School student council president, said he had chosen the hybrid learning model because he needs to see his teachers. 

“Working from home seems so glamorous until you actually do it,” he said. “I was tired of rolling out of bed, taking three steps, opening up my laptop and sitting at my desk for the day.”

Raymond, 17, said he needs to take the commute to school, grab a coffee and sit in class. 

“Masks and (being) 6 feet apart are adjustments I’m willing to make to see my peers again,” he said. 

Raymond, who supported the teachers on the picket line with encouraging words and treats, also spoke in support of them during an Oct. 15 school board meeting. 

“There was so, so much stress last week (Oct. 13-16),” he said. “I really needed to work on scholarships and financial aid this month to be able to go to the art school of my dreams. The process is much more confusing than it looks. Counselors are so important in guiding you through everything you need to know to achieve your goals.”

Raymond said he started the process early, but he was worried about his classmates being able to meet college application deadlines.

Raymond said he supports the teachers’ plans.

“Asynchronous work is super beneficial for us, allowing us to focus in areas we are struggling in,” he said. “I think the teachers trust that most students are motivated to use their time to work towards their goals and careers. I know that there was no way I was going to be able to learn at the same rate if it was just a camera in the back of the classroom under the first proposed plan. I’ve struggled enough with the new format, and I think teachers have made the best of it.”

He said safety has to be considered first, followed by the mental health and well-being of students and then work.

Senior Abi Figurski, 17, said she was expecting actual assignments the week of Oct. 12. 

“I figured the teachers wanted the best for us and to have us learn without interference,” she said. “When I checked my classes, there wasn’t anything for me to do. Most of my friends didn’t have anything. It seems like they didn’t think what was best for us. The things I did have felt like busy work.”

She said some other students didn’t share her opinion, though.

Figurski, a varsity basketball cheerleader and member of the Lincoln Live newscast program, chose the hybrid learning model. 

“I think it’s best for me,” she said.  “Whatever model (used), I feel like there will be an issue. No matter what is the plan, it isn’t full-proof.”

Figurski said she would’ve liked to be back to in-person learning sooner.

“A lot of the students in the district can’t learn online,” she said. “Math is hard to do online. Last year was almost impossible to do anything in chemistry (online).”

Figurski said it seems as though a lot of homework is put on the students, and she doesn’t feel as though she has enough time.

She said she’s thankful for cheerleading and Lincoln Live.

“Quarantine brought my depression level down,” Figurski said. “Everything I love doing was taken away. I didn’t have the option to go out with friends.”

Personally, she said, being socially distanced from friends is better than not being at school at all. 

Full-time high school distance learners will be assigned to a hybrid group for purposes of attending real-time instruction through broadcast technology, according to information released to district families Oct. 18.

Middle school learners who have selected full-time distance learning will be transitioned to designated distance-learning teachers Nov. 2. Middle schoolers in the hybrid model will return to in-person hybrid learning Nov. 2 to allow time to finalize student schedule changes.

Agreement terms

The new one-year agreement between the Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education and the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association requires that all "unfair labor practice" charges be withdrawn, a 2.25% wage increase across the board for all teachers and the return of Gahanna teachers to the classroom.

Mike Verlingo, district treasurer, said in addition to the wage increase, eligible employees already have received a step increase for the 2020-21 contract year, based on a negotiated salary schedule. 

The new contract is effective July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, and the 2.25% wage increase will be applied retroactively to the beginning of the contract year. 

The teachers’ last contract with the board expired June 30, and their strike commenced Oct. 13.

A joint statement was released by the district and teachers association after the board’s vote Oct. 18. The teachers voted to ratify the agreement earlier in the day.

“Our school district is one we all can be proud of – we will always be One Pride, One Family,” said Beryl Brown Piccolantonio, school board president. “We have excellent teachers, dedicated administrators and rich support from our broader school community. We are resilient, and while there are differences among us, we agree that we must provide a high-quality and equitable education for all of our students.”

GJEA president Jenny Palguta said although teachers are sad to have missed four days of instructional time with students during the strike, they were excited to do what they do best – educate students. 

“We are also extremely appreciative of the community’s support, and we look forward to providing a safe, equitable and successful return to learning for our Gahanna family,” Palguta said.

The joint statement, sent by Judy Hengstebeck, district communications coordinator, read: “We appreciate the hard work of our district and GJEA leaders in achieving our shared objective of doing what was best for our students, our families and our school community, and we ask everyone to join us on the path to healing. We know doing so will take time, patience and cooperation.” 

Superintendent Steve Barrett thanked the teachers, board and community for their patience as the district worked through the negotiations process “to deliver the best of what we can, what we know about education and what we can do,” he said.

“I think the teachers have some protections that they were concerned about, cameras in the classroom. Each of our kids is going to have a Gahanna teacher and a Gahanna curriculum.”

Over the weekend of Oct. 17 and 18, Barrett said, teachers and the administrative bargaining team worked to create an agreement that is good for everyone.

“I’m sorry there was so much turmoil, but I think we learned a lot from it, and we can come together now and heal,” he said during the special meeting.

Other provisions of the negotiated agreement include:

• The formation of a COVID-19 Concern Committee for the purpose of communicating coronavirus-related concerns and recommended solutions to the administration.

• Health and safety provisions, including a written method to report potential deficiencies in personal-protective-equipment supplies and areas that aren’t being cleaned/sanitized

• Provision for employees to be given at least three calendar days of notice any time the district is required to transition from one learning model to another

• Requirement that employees not discuss negotiations or strike activities with students or in the presence of students at any time

• Two instructional days for students to be added – May 26 and 27 – to the end of the 2020-21 academic year to mitigate lost instructional time for students 

Employees will be compensated at their individual per diem rate for these days, and a teacher work day is scheduled May 28, 2021.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla

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