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Hundreds rally in Haverhill, Malden ahead of threatened Monday teachers strike

Teachers and others gathered to demonstrate for new teacher contracts and equitable pay for educators outside of Haverhill City Hall on Saturday.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Hundreds of educators, parents, and students in Haverhill and Malden gathered Saturday to support teachers in those two school districts who voted Friday to strike starting Monday.

The lawn outside Haverhill City Hall early Saturday afternoon was a sea of red T-shirts and signs emblazoned with “Support Haverhill Educators” and “Fair Contracts Now.” In between speakers, the crowd yelled “Whose schools? Our schools!” and “When we strike, we win!”

Lifelong Haverhill resident Michelle Braga said she grew up in the local public school system and is now a teacher at the Moody School, a primary school in the district.

“As an educator, I now see firsthand the... problems that have been very persistent since I was in school,” she said.


Braga said her top priorities are for the district to “find more educators that look like the students we serve” and for teachers to get fair wages.

“When you pay educators a living wage, you get better teachers that want to stay,” she said. “And we know that consistency is good for students and for the school system at large.”

Meanwhile in Malden, a similar crowd of educators, students, and their families encircled the plaza behind Malden City Hall carrying a mix of handmade posters and “Malden Educators on Strike” signs.

Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, called the decision to strike “extremely difficult,” and said it is “everyone’s hope” that the committees will reach resolution quickly so teachers from both school districts can return to class Monday.

“We thought about it very carefully, because no one wants to do this,” she said, “but we know what we deserve, and our students know what they deserve, too.”

Kelly Livingston, a Watertown High School teacher who recently moved to Massachusetts from Ohio, said she felt compelled to attend the rally “in solidarity with Malden and Haverhill.”


“These are all of our schools, and they deserve to be fully funded and fully staffed,” she said.

The steady stream of passing cars on Main Street honked in support of the rally, which took place even as contract negotiations in Haverhill were ongoing a few blocks away at the Boys & Girls Club. Negotiations for the Malden Education Association are planned to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Among the teachers and union members in Haverhill, two high school seniors spoke out at the rally.

Stepping up to the microphone, Sheeba Nabiryo, 17, described the school walkout she helped organize last month as a way to demonstrate solidarity with her teachers.

Sheeba Nabiryo (left) and Deyah Gutierrez, seniors at Haverhill High school, spoke at the rally. Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

“We were painted by the School Committee as just wanting to skip class ... causing havoc in the streets, and like we didn’t even know what we were talking about,” Nabiryo said, loud boos turning to rousing applause as she continued.

“But those people in power don’t understand what it means to stand up for something bigger than yourself,” she said. “These people who are not in our schools every day, they don’t understand what it’s really like ... They see the strike as a selfish act because they don’t understand that sometimes you have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for you.”

Pauline Piandee, mother of a second-grader who said she works in the district as an education support professional, called attending the rally a “no-brainer.”


“No question about it, how [important it is] what they’re fighting for,” she said with a sigh. “The fact that they’ve had a zero percent raise over the past several years is unfair to begin with, and all they’re asking for is a living wage.”

Piandee said she felt strongly about fair wages and about better staffing to reduce class sizes.

“Kids with behavioral issues are not getting the support they need, and I know there are IEPs [individualized education plans for students with special needs] that are not being met because the capacity isn’t there,” she said.

The rally drew support from communities across Eastern Massachusetts, with educators and legislators from Lawrence to Billerica to Somerville cheering and waving signs.

“All the way from Beacon Hill, I just want to tell you two things: first, if they tell you they don’t have the money, they’re lying! We have the money ... and it belongs to you all,” said Erika Uyterhoeven, a state representative from Somerville who promised her community would be standing with Haverhill and Malden on the picket line Monday.

Secondly, Uyterhoeven said, the fact that it is illegal for public workers in Massachusetts to go on strike is “morally reprehensible.”

“We are going to fight to change that, and you all are showing that it doesn’t have to be this way,” she added, to claps and cheers.

In Malden, English language teacher Sonia Miller called on the school council to reduce class sizes and commit to “common plan time” for educators to coordinate lesson plans with one another.


“We have a diverse community, with [dozens] of languages spoken, and celebrating that diversity means supporting each and every one of those students and their families,” Miller said. “Common plan time improves the quality of lessons and instruction ... and if your teachers work better, our students learn better.”

Malden High School student Gilberto Linares stood near the front of the crowd, cheering along with their teachers.

“I’m just here because I care about my teachers, and want them to know I support them,” said Linares, 16. “It’s a money issue — they need to have fair wages, but at the end of the day, what the teachers really care about is children, and giving kids the best education possible, but we need to have more resources.”

Evan McAlear held his daughter Fiona, 5, up during the demonstration in Malden.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.