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Showing Solidarity and Urging Respect for Valued Colleagues

Poverty-level wages and lack of access to family-sustaining benefits have long contributed to a shortage of paraeducators needed to assure effective student learning. Ashley Stockton (front row, third from left, in photo above), a trustee in our AFT Connecticut-affiliated New Haven Federation of Teachers, urged elected officials to invest in these vital members of the school community in a recent op-ed. She called for real solutions respecting the vital, and often unappreciated, work of paras “in the form of fair wages and working conditions:”

Our paraeducators matter. Simply, our schools can not function without them. They are some of our most valuable employees, and yet their pay and working conditions telegraph just the opposite.

Currently our paras are hired at about $24,000 a year. Their hourly wage is about $16. I have two kids who are New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) students - a rising senior and a rising freshman. For the jobs they perform, neighborhood dog walking, yard work, snow shoveling, they are paid no less than $20 an hour. Let that sink in.

Click here for our latest report on progress in lifting Connecticut’s paras out of poverty.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Madeline Negrón shared her goals for NHPS kindergarten as one part of her strategic plan. Her goals are admirable and ambitious. Meeting these goals will require individualized assessment, targeted interventions, consistent progress monitoring, and structured instruction that utilizes the science of reading mechanisms that are proven to help emergent readers meet development benchmarks.

Implementation of an instructional model that encompasses these facets requires small group instruction, daily. Facilitating this requires teachers and paras working together to manage the classroom, meet the needs of the children, and deliver individualized learning plans. We can say that we are doing this, but in reality, without paras, one teacher cannot meet the needs of 26 young people as effectively as they could with a properly staffed classroom.

Click here for testimony submitted earlier this year in support of state legislation aimed at para staffing shortages.

Our paras do more than anyone can imagine. I know this because I am a kindergarten teacher and have been a teacher in NHPS since 2006 (Stockton works at Truman School in the Elm City). I have observed paras year after year, taking one for the team, being good soldiers, call it what you may. In short, our paras roll up their sleeves, do whatever needs to be done, and show up the next day to do it all over again. They help children pour milk into their cereal, listen to fears and wipe tears, teach children how to grip a pencil, sit beside them while children read to them, and provide our strugglers with the support and compassion they need in order to feel included.

When they are told to, paras leave their kindergarteners and provide coverage for absent teachers in eighth grade, fifth grade, phys ed, wherever they are needed. The work they do each day is gracious and beautiful and for that we should be thankful. Our thanks needs to come in the form of fair wages and working conditions.

Click here for a collage featuring union members urging state lawmakers allocate resources for recruiting and retaining paras.

This is long past overdue.

I am heartbroken listening to our paras at the Board of Education meeting after meeting. In a nutshell, they repeat the same message: ​“We love our job. Please pay us a living wage.” In addition to their jobs, paras perform the following duties: substitute teaching for all grades and content areas, covering long term leaves for teachers who are on administrative, family, or medical leaves, covering the front office of their schools, performing nursing responsibilities, supervising lunch waves, and countless other responsibilities. Often they are told with no notice and no choice.

They perform these duties because someone must. Without our paras, our schools wouldn’t make it through a day. It’s about time we show them that they and their contributions are seen and valued.

Click here for press reporting on the latest efforts to avert looming NHPS staff layoffs.

Finally, I want to share a few things I saw paras do this past week. I saw kindergarten paras substitute teach third grade, administer one-on-one math diagnostics during their lunch break, buy bubbles, pails and shovels for kindergarteners to use at recess, tuck prizes into backpacks for children to find once they got home, bring in popsicles on a Friday afternoon because the children had cooperated so beautifully all week. I could keep writing, but there just isn’t enough space to list it all. These are our paras, New Haven. They matter.

Click here for Stockton’s original published op-ed in New Haven Independent.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connor
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.

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