COMMUNITY OPINION: Union says Hollister teachers are tired, hurt and angry

HESTA writes about what teachers have experienced this year, as well as the effects of the Hollister School District's reported budget crisis.
Teachers protesting layoffs at HSD Board Meeting. Photo provided.

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Teachers in the Hollister School District are tired, hurt and angry. Last month, the district laid off 10 PE teachers, five school counselors, a nurse, two social workers, and an intervention teacher. They eliminated the online program for students learning at home, aka RISE. The District removed additional positions by closing open vacancies, such as a school psychologist position. In addition, the District laid off just as many classified employees, such as technology support specialists, custodians and mental health therapists. And the cherry on top of all that is the resolution the Board of Trustees passed that opens the door to cutting all of our pay and benefits next year. Which is extremely disappointing considering the fact that other districts are hiring teachers and offering raises for all the work educational professionals have done during this rocky year.

Words alone cannot express how we feel. After all that we have gone through these past few years, this happens. Despite the obstacles the pandemic presented, teachers donned their masks and came back to teach their students in-person this year. We were fearful of catching COVID. We were worried about making up for all the learning opportunities students missed out on during distance learning. Personally, I was a little rusty at first, and so were the students. But we quickly got into the groove of things. All the pent-up magic in my teacher toolbox bubbled forth and students were once again mining for all the gems within my lessons. Students were eagerly soaking up knowledge and power like a very hungry sponge. Teachers began finding joy in teaching once again. I certainly did. I went from seeing none of my 7th and 8th grade students’ faces in distance learning to seeing half of their masked faces in person. And with masks now optional, I have been able to see the entirety of some student’s faces for the first time all year! 

The past year had even more bumps, however. The TikTok challenges were rough. One such challenge involved stealing and vandalizing school property (I got my eye glass cleaner and hand sanitizer stolen off my desk). It was a disheartening experience, but that trend soon faded. Teachers got through it. Then the overwhelming Omicron wave hit in January, and due to the almost daily COVID exposures, many students went on independent study to do their work from home. Some of our classes were shut down for a week at a time. Because of the shortage of substitute teachers, middle school teachers pitched in and subbed during their prep period, thereby working nonstop the entire day. Or we took someone else’s class and combined them with ours. Some teachers even met with their quarantined class virtually to check in on them and teach what they could remotely. It was an exhausting time. 

But because teachers are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met, they chugged along and got through yet another crisis with their students. They went above and beyond and completed dozens, if not hundreds, of independent study contracts to compensate the district for the average daily attendance they missed out on with students at home (I stopped counting at 80 contracts).

However, the Hollister School District’s reported budget crisis is just one too many. Perhaps it is because it is a crisis that could have been averted. Other districts were careful with spending the one-time COVID funds they received from the government. Our district spent it all, and then some.

I worry about my students because when they come back next year, the school culture and climate will be so different without those PE teachers, social workers, mental health therapists, custodians and counselors. Students will be crestfallen. That counselor they divulged some pretty deep secrets to? Gone. The friendly and cool custodian they liked to chat up? Gone. The elementary PE teacher who taught their favorite subject and helped them relearn how to cooperate and work in a team? Gone. In the end, the children are the ones who ultimately lose out when adults fail to do their jobs.

As I morosely think about the next school year, who’s going to come and work for the Hollister School District when they are laying people off? Why would an applicant apply to Hollister instead of another school district that just offered their staff big raises and benefits? How will Hollister meet its goal of hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers? 

In conclusion, many teachers in the district are tired, hurt and angry. And I don’t blame them one bit. 

Hollister Elementary School Teachers Association