AUBURN — Wearing “Contract Now” stickers, Auburn teachers filled the hearing room at Auburn Hall on Wednesday night and listed problems of working conditions, lack of contract, lack of respect from administration and questionable new programs.

After teachers spoke to the School Committee for 90 minutes, Chairman Tom Kendall thanked them for sharing their views.

Auburn Education Association spokesman Carl Bucciantini was the first to address the committee. He shared results of a recent survey that showed poor teacher morale.

Auburn has 300 teachers, of whom 104 answered the survey. It found:

* 71 percent didn’t believe the School Department was headed in the right direction and administration doesn’t understand or appreciate the work they do.

* 61 percent don’t feel they can share opinions without being labeled a malcontent.

* 55 percent would take a job in another school department if given the opportunity.

* 61 percent rated building morale at 4 or less on a scale of 1 to 10.

“I was amazed at what the findings were,” Bucciantini said. “If I were you, I’d be disturbed. It’s impossible to dismiss the depth of discontent and despair.”

He invited committee members to spend a day in a classroom, find out what it’s like to eat lunch on the fly, juggle demands and maintain a classroom of quality instruction. As elected officials, they have the power to begin the process of healing, Bucciantini said.

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

Teachers cited problems with initiatives, including customized learning, teacher evaluations, proficiency-based learning and iPads at the high school.

Auburn Middle School teacher Diana Carson said customized learning isn’t working for all students. “Having students work at their own pace has not worked for a majority of my students,” she said. Students use iPads to play video games.

She said the middle school needs an alternative program to handle disruptive students.

“I’ve had students swear at me in class because I ask them to put away the games on the iPads,” Carson said. Two days ago she asked students to put away their cellphones and one student told her, “’I’ll snap your neck if you touch it,’” Carson said.

High school teacher Candy Gleason, who is about to retire, said she cares deeply about schools. “I’m worried,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to see property values plunge because people don’t like what’s happening in schools and decide not to move to Auburn.

“Right now, we can do something about it. We can begin the healing process,” she said.

Teachers are afraid to share concerns “and a culture of silence begins,” Gleason said. Good leadership is needed, she said.

Gleason said new teacher evaluations are “demoralizing” and don’t make sense. Teachers were asked if they wanted iPads or laptops for students.

“We said laptops. We got iPads,” Gleason said. Students use iPads to play games, “not not to work. Most students are using their phones now.”

Middle school teacher Shane Gilbert said he used to live in Ohio. Cuts to schools that happened in Ohio are happening in Auburn, he said.

Listed in the department’s goals are getting students outside school walls for hands-on learning. “But it’s a nightmare to get a bus” and make that happen, he said.

Walton school teacher Karen Letourneau said a fear of being perceived as negative for disagreeing with administrators is widespread.

When she started teaching in Auburn 31 years ago, Mako O’Connell said teachers stayed in Auburn for years. “That was our reputation.”

Salaries of Auburn teachers were above average “and we were doing great things,” she said. Great things still happen, “but there is a shift,” she said. Auburn is losing good teachers. “We are settling for not being the worst school district.”

Barry Skillings, who builds houses and is married to a teacher, said good schools are important to people building homes.

School Committee members care about education, he said. “But you’ve got to start respecting these teachers. You need to ask these teachers what they think.”


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