The union representing teachers in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District flexed its muscles Tuesday night when members publicly unleashed a litany of criticisms on issues such as curriculum and assessment and a perceived lack of collaboration between the union and district administrators on those issues.
The crowd for what would otherwise have been a sleepy budget adoption meeting of the School Board quickly overfilled the 166-person capacity of the community room at the Philip Sheridan Building into the hallway.
After the board adopted the 2016-17 budget of $157.1 million and agreed to put it before voters on May 17, the meeting was recessed and moved to the auditorium next door to accommodate the crowd.
Many teachers complained that the district is adhering too strictly to curriculum modules, causing stress and frustration among students. They also accused administrators of being too reliant on data collection and testing and not listening to teachers’ feedback.
“We have received no helpful response from administrators, other than just being told to make the current directives work,” said Cynthia Brodfuehrer, a kindergarten teacher at Edison Elementary. “When questions are asked, no point-of-view is offered. Teachers are faced with intimidation, harassment and threats. Collaboration is not encouraged.”
Brodfuehrer was the second of 39 people who had signed up to speak during the meeting’s public comment period that continued well into the night. Many speakers were elementary school teachers who wore grey pro-union T-shirts.
One teacher brought 600 pages of a module in a large binder to the microphone and dropped it on the floor with a loud thud, pleading with administrators to “unhandcuff me.”
Elaine Altman, an officer in the Kenmore Teachers Association, described a lack of open dialogue and transparency in the district of just over 7,000 students.
She said 8-year-old students were recently asked by administrators to recount what their teachers said in the classroom about state assessments, which have been hotly contested.
“When did it become best practice to interrogate 8-year-old children?” Altman said. “Our students are being used as pawns against their teachers and that should never happen.”
Another teacher, Katherine Sacco, said the teachers’ presence Tuesday was meant to show administrators that the concerns are not held by just a “vocal minority.”
Relations between the teachers union and administrators appear to have reached a low point as the district consolidates this year and closes three schools. Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand acknowledged the concerns in a districtwide email Sunday.
“As district administrators and I monitor and adjust, I will make a concerted effort moving forward so that all feel better listened to, especially in areas not directly related to the consolidation,” Mirand wrote in the email. “Every voice matters and every voice needs to be heard.”