More than 100 Hastings Public Schools teachers participated in a "grade-in" Jan. 17 as they waited for the month's School Board meeting to begin. Most of them stayed for the entire meeting, causing the conference room in the district office to overflow with teachers in the hallway and some teachers seated on the floor.

Julie Malm, a Title I teacher at McAuliffe, and her fellow colleagues wore buttons with the phrase "We Are One" and name tags with "201 days" written on them.

"We've been working over 200 days without our contract settled and we just wanted to show the School Board that Hastings teachers want to get this done," said Jessie Holm, lead negotiator and seventh-grade math teacher at Hastings Middle School.

Between the end of the school day and the start of the meeting, HMS math teacher Lori Best said teachers congregated at the middle school. They worked on grading papers, tests and things they would normally bring home after their contracted day. Best said it was good way for the teachers to get together in one spot, eat some food, collaborate, do their paperwork and go to the board meeting.

"It shows we are supporting each other and are on the same page," Malm said.

The idea behind the teachers attending the meeting was so that the negotiating team and the board can see each other in person. During negotiations, there are typically two board members and six members of the teachers union. The board attendance allowed each group to see the entirety of the groups working to negotiate.

Lisa Hedin, School Board chair, serves on the negotiating team. She said the board holds the teaching staff in high esteem and everyone is coming to the table with good intentions. However, a lot of time has been spent understanding each other's position.

"The heart of the contract is salary and benefits, so I don't think there is one underlying issue, it's because we are trying to talk about the entirety of the package," Hedin said.

From the teachers' perspective, Malm said the length of time it is taking for a contract to be settled has been demoralizing. This has hurt morale and people don't feel appreciated, she said.

Best, the math teacher, agreed.

"It's kind of this cloud of uncertainty that causes some unrest and angst that takes away from being joyful and being able to do our jobs to the best we can," Best said.

According to Hedin, the School Board holds the teaching staff in very regard and they are actively negotiating a contract.

The next meeting will take place at the end of the month as negotiations continue.