Teachers make plea for help in the classroom

NASHUA – The common theme during the Thursday Nashua Board of Education budget hearing was straightforward: Help.

“Things have changed in the school district beyond our control and we need help,” Nashua Teachers’ Union President Adam Marcoux told the board during the hearing.

“Students, whether you like or not, can’t learn unless their needs are met,” Marcoux added. “Nothing that I have suggested, in my opinion, to add to a budget is a want – it’s a need.”

Marcoux and other educators asked board members and administrators for help in the form of more English Language Learner specialists, more paraeducators, more psychologists and more substitute teachers.

“I have many children in my classroom who come from families of poverty. They have parents who are in prison; they are homeless,” Cheryl Torbin, an elementary school teacher in the district, said. “We need to teach our students how to cope with their problems.”

However, she added, she is only one person and needs help.

Torbin said every time a teacher is out at her school, there are no substitute teachers to be found. This means all paraeducators are taken and they become the teachers for those classrooms.

Meanwhile, Nashua School District Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said when creating a budget, he and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Donovan had to look at what was feasible. They took into account that they wanted and what they needed.

“We take those slow steps to making things right in the district,” Mosley said. He added, “This is about compromising and working together for the best interest of our students.”

Mosley’s budget priorities, as identified during a presentation, included five items:

• Attract and retain educators,

• accommodate increasing numbers of ELL learners,

• no reductions in staff,

• increase kindergarten paraprofessionals, and

• correct out-of-district budget shortfalls.

Donovan said when looking at the budget, they first factored in their current level of services, and then new/additional items that weren’t in the previous budget.

This did not answer all public concerns, however. Nashua resident Joan Donahue spoke of the substitute shortage, and asked where substitute teachers were captured in the budget presented.

“The substitute crisis is real,” Donahue said.

Gary Hoffman, a middle school teacher in the district, discussed how teachers have been working to improve middle school discipline. He advocated for creating an alternative school program for students who have severe behavior issues.

Kerry Arguin Newton, a teacher at Pennichuck Middle School, spoke of the district’s struggle with ELL specialists having very high caseloads. Newton said people don’t realize some of the ELL population is made up of refugees, which is a challenge in and of itself. She said she has a young lady in her classroom, who has never had a formal education.

“One-plus-one means nothing to her,” Newton said.

Newton spoke of how her student is going to be an important person in the community, but her student needs a lot of help. And the ELL Specialist at her school already has a caseload of 74 students.

“They are eager to learn; we need to help them,” Newton said.

Former Board of Education Student Representative Hailey Sweeney has seen the need first-hand for more ELL teachers, after attending Ledge Street Elementary School, Elm Street Middle School, and now, Nashua High School South.

“These teachers, they are superheroes, but they can’t handle everything,” Sweeney said. She added, “Happy teachers teachers that get help make happy students.”

The next budget meeting is scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Nashua High School North, 8 Titan Way.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243, or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.