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NYC Teacher Speaks Out: “Essential” Workers? (Part 2 of 3)

Part One

Most Community Based Organization preschool staff, like myself, worked in person, throughout the past year, when many in the NYC education field “went remote.” 

I am the leader of a CBO pre-k in the Bronx that has served the community for over 70 years. Recently, the mayor and city council didn’t think school leaders of CBOs were worthy of salary parity, and they did not include this funding in the budget. I make $67K and change, where a Department of Education ASSISTANT principal makes about $120K, and it is constantly going up. I have more qualifications than most of them! Absolutely despicable, especially after the commendable and courageous work of CBO pre-k staff, and especially directors, who led their schools throughout the pandemic, with no hazard pay, little PPE, and a general lack of support and guidance in every area. 

Most Pre-K and 3K seats are located in CBOs and we have been the backbone of the NYC Early Childhood system for many decades. Mostly women, and many women of color work tirelessly with admirable dedication in these schools, which serve the city’s neediest children and families. Nonetheless, everyone – teachers, custodians, cooks, teacher’s aides, and even directors, are being paid significantly less than their Department of Education counterparts, even though as of 7/1/2021, we are all “under one system,” in the DOE.

As Ms. Valerie Agostini, a CBO director in Bushwick, Brooklyn eloquently describes in her testimony below, CBO pre-k leaders and staff were quickly deemed “essential” during the pandemic, but have yet to be truly treated as such.

“As a teacher, I found myself fighting and advocating for salary parity for years! The thing is that once we reached an agreement, I was offered a position as a director in October of 2019. I blindly but with a heavy heart said yes to the offer as I saw it as a learning experience for me and being in leadership means so much beyond the director title. Never did I think about being a leader during a pandemic. My team and I were tested beyond our capacities as we saw the need in our community of Bushwick. While others were closing down to work remotely, we went head on servicing our community with much needed PPE, food, educational supplies, a listening ear, mental health support, connections to sites where testing was taking place, grab and go meals for the children and high-quality remote learning for students. We worked on health and safety protocols all on our own without much guidance. Blood sweat and tears, hard work daily to service our program participants in Bushwick and beyond as news of our support efforts spread like a wildfire within the community. I worked tirelessly without vacation or days off to spend with my family. My older children and husband even volunteered their time to support me on this mission of service. I am not here complaining, instead I stand by saying that the work that a true leader does for their community wholeheartedly does not have a set number or worth as it is a job of true service. It is more about equity and respect for the work we do. 

As an administrator, I am providing you with a snapshot of what my role as a leader was during a pandemic as that was the bare minimum of what I did as a leader along with my support team. On a daily basis, we work long hours, 10 plus hours, 7 days a week as the work that we are required to do really has no boundaries. However, when it comes to the pay, I will soon have teachers in my own program making more money than what I receive. This is the hurtful part of being a school leader. I am so happy that my teachers will be making salaries that are on par with their DOE colleagues. But I am a human being with a family of my own and financial needs… So I ask, “Where is my compensation for the work I do for the community I serve? It is my hope that we come into an agreement soon to make things right and equitable for all!”

Part #3 coming Monday, June 12.

What do you think?

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