Teachers ‘walk-in’ for education
Dozens of teachers and public education supporters rallied in front of the Durham School of the Arts on Monday to protest state budget cuts that they contend harm the state’s children.
The rally was part of a teacher “walk in” taking place at several Durham Public Schools and at schools in districts across the state.
Supporters arrived well before 8 a.m. on a brisk, cool November morning, toting signs to let lawmakers know how they feel about the decline in per-pupil spending, paltry pay raises for teachers, large classrooms and the loss of some 3,800 teacher assistants positions dues to budget cuts.
“We don’t think teachers are being treated as professionals and we feel like, in addition to their needing to be off the bottom in pay, they also need the resources in terms of technology, textbooks, teachers assistants, all of those things needed to be successful with each child,” said Page McCullough, director of outreach for Public Schools First North Carolina, a public schools advocacy group.
Speaking to the crowd gathered in front of the school, DSA Principal David Hawks said teachers helped propel DSA to the top of the U.S. News & World Report’s recent ranking of best high schools in North Carolina.
“If we don’t value those teaches, we can’t raise the leaders and workers of tomorrow,” Hawks. “Teachers have been really on the down side the last five years with no raise and to add insult to injury, take away tenure. And add more insult, add more testing, more accountability and cut the instructional supply budget so we have less to help students with.”
State Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, was the featured speaker at the walk-in, returning to the site of the school that he helped to integrate in the 1960s.
He warned that public education in North Carolina is in crisis.
“Public education here in North Carolina is in a position, we’re facing a crisis, a serious crisis, and what they’re talking about doing is implementing policies that will radically transform public education as we know it,” McKissick said.
He cited the loss of 3,800 teaching assistants who were working in K-3 classrooms as an example of the crisis public education faces.
“What we know is that if our kids aren’t reading by the third grade, they’re more likely to be dropping out by the time they get to ninth and tenth grade,” McKissick said. “We don’t need more people dropping out of school. We’re moving toward a knowledge- based economy and we need to get our kids as smart as possible to compete for the jobs of the future.”
McKissick also was critical of the bill passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last session that eliminated class-size limits.
“We don’t need to be packing our kids in our classrooms the way you might pack sardines into a can,” McKissick said.
Neither McKissick nor any of the other speakers mentioned Republicans in the General Assembly, but the target of their criticism was clear.
Rosa Ramirez, a ninth-grader at DSA, said state budget cuts threaten her education.
“My education is being threatened because we don’t have enough text books, supplies or technology and the state government carelessly keeps cutting and cutting and cutting our budget,” Ramirez said.
She said she has dreamed of being a teacher, but now is reconsidering that career path.
“Thanks for crushing my dreams,” Ramirez said.
Teachers at E.K. Power Elementary, Rogers-Herr Middle School and Jordan, Hillside and Riverside high schools, among others, also held “walk-ins” on Monday.
The idea of a “walk-in” began as a “walk-out” in September to protest low pay and working conditions.
But educators organizing the event on a website quickly realized that teachers in North Carolina are prohibited by law from striking.
The state NAACP applauded teacher’s decision to hold a “walk-in.”
“While a walk out would certainly be understandable, the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP branches commends our public school teachers for their patient willingness to walk in to meet with parents and legislators,” the civil rights organization said in a statement.
Last week, some Republican lawmakers questioned whether it’s appropriate for teachers to hold what they consider political events in public schools.