Disciplined Teachers get Redemption in State Settlement

The State Labor Relations Board negotiated a settlement between the Everett Teachers Association (ETA) and the School Committee – an agreement that exonerates two teachers that were allegedly transferred by the previous school administration for what was erroneously said to be “poor teaching performance.”

In a very public situation that played out internally at the School Department in 2018, and then publicly last October at the School Committee, Teachers Marissa Steinberg and Alan Russell were transferred from the Parlin School for what former Supt. Fred Foresteire said was poor performance, but for which the teachers and the ETA alleged was payback/punishment.

Now, a state settlement has exonerated both of the teachers, with one stipulation in the six-page agreement stating that their transfers “were not based upon performance deficiencies on their part.”

In an interview with the Independent this week, both said they were glad to finally be able to make it known to the public that their transfers were not because they were bad teachers.

“Basically, I think we both wanted from the settlement an apology and that involuntary transfers would stop being used as punishment for teachers,” said Russell. “We didn’t get an apology, but at least it was stated it wasn’t performance related. That’s important because Fred Foresteire was saying to the public it was poor performance by us and it wasn’t.”

Steinberg said she felt like being exonerated by the agreement showed that she did the right thing when she and Russell stood up to the administration with the ETA last fall.

“I think having Alana with me made me feel stronger, as well as having support from the MTA and the ETA and our colleagues,” she said. “One of my former students e-mailed me during all of this and told me I had been a great teacher for him and he was supporting me. That meant a lot. I knew I was doing the right thing and I was doing what I taught my students to do. It wasn’t just for me. It had been going on a long time and I was standing up for everyone.”

Both teachers had been union representatives for the Parlin building, and had been sponsoring some initiatives, they said, to make the building a better place for students. Allegedly, that didn’t play well with some in the administration and both were transferred from the Parlin in June 2018.

The Administration said they were being transferred because of poor performance as teachers, and that they weren’t adhering to the curriculum – particularly the Bay State Reading Initiative (BSRI) curriculum.

Both teachers filed grievances with the ETA and that went to a very animated School Committee meeting in October 2018 – a meeting that was bolstered by a huge turnout of Everett teachers and unionized teachers from all over the state.

The School Committee denied both of their grievances, and the ETA took the matter to the state Labor Relations Board – which just recently ruled on their grievances and several others filed by the ETA and its President, Kim Auger.

The crux of the case for Russell and Steinberg alleged that teachers who fell into disfavor with the administration – or who aligned strongly behind the union – often found themselves suddenly transferred or laid off without warning. The involuntary transfer piece, both teachers said, was rampant for many years.

In their case, the Administration was on record saying they were transferred because of poor performance.

The settlement reverses that conclusion and says their performance was not in question – essentially meaning they were transferred for other reasons.

Both teachers are still actively teaching in the Everett Public Schools – continuing to teach here despite having the grievance process hanging over their heads for a year.

They said they stayed because they love Everett.

“I love teaching in Everett and I love the students,” said Russell. “I think it can be a challenging population for sure with all of our ELL students and the hardships some of our students face at home, but I’m a true believer children here need consistency.”

Said Steinberg, “Honestly for me, I wanted to see if the changes here would stand before I made any changes. I did look at perhaps going to other districts if things didn’t improve. Already, I see some great improvements and so I’m hopeful the district will be heading in the right direction as far as respect for teachers and educators. It wouldn’t be fair to students if I left so quickly because that’s not what I taught them to do.”

Russell teaches fifth grade at the Keverian School; and Steinberg teaches third grade at the Whittier School.

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