Teachers surprised with early morning pep rally

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 05:57 PM

“Pay our teachers 1st.”

Those were the words written in red on a sign held by Deborah Gerhardt Wednesday morning before school began at Culbreth Middle School. Matching her sign were her shirt and her hair.

“All of this money in tax dollars, take that money and pay our teachers,” she said. “There’s nothing more important to me.”

Parents and students gathered at the front entrance of the school to show their support for the teachers at Culbreth and their objections to recent legislation they feel has been chipping away at public education. The rally was a version of the Wear Red for Public Ed campaign that has spread across the state, with people wearing red on Wednesdays to show support of public education.

Organized by the school’s PTSA, the rally was one of seven steps on an action list the group has devisedto show local support. Gerhardt said the group will reconvene to decide the next step.

“This school is a gem and we’re afraid that we’re going to lose our teachers,” Gerhardt said. “It takes a teacher in North Carolina 16 years to make $40,000 but it only takes four years in Virginia. Why wouldn’t they drive three to four hours up to Virginia?”

Former teacher and tutor Amie Schwartz was the first rallier on the scene in a red hoodie and a sign with bright red letters.

“I’m really concerned about the lack of funding to the schools,” said Schwartz. “It concerns me because how will we attract quality teachers?”

Schwartz said Culbreth is suffering from the lack of funding, most tangibly in a lack of copy paper and ink for copy machines and with outdated textbooks. She added teachers have seen a 25 percent increase in their workloads and now have to pay more for health insurance.

Ben Gerhardt, an eighth grader, is Deborah Gerhardt’s son. Holding a sign supporting teachers and wearing a pink, floppy hat, Ben said that the health of public education is important to him.

“I’m out here to support public education,” he said. “I know they’re not getting paid enough and they work so hard.”

Wearing a matching pink hat was Quinn Jooss. Also an eighth grader at Culbreth, Jooss believes that the district will suffer if something isn’t done.

“I feel like education is important and something that shapes who you’re going to be in life,” Jooss said. “I’ve had lots of great teachers over the years but if they aren’t paid more they’re all going to leave and we wouldn’t have those great teachers.”

Some of the teachers trickled into the school through back entrances but soon made their way to the front of the school to see why the crowd had gathered. As they headed back to their classrooms comments included, “I love the parents and the signs,” “it’s awesome,” “very cool” and “respect the teachers.”

Culbreth principal Beverly Rudolph said the rally was a pleasant and welcomed surprise.

“It’s very encouraging and at the same time I’m not surprised because we have a dedicated PTSA,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph said that the Culbreth Middle School community has been consistent in wearing red on Wednesdays to support public education and that she regularly reiterates to her teachers how important they are.

“It’s what I always tell them, that they’re the most amazing staff of people I could ever be principal for,” she said. “They’re great at what they do and through it all, they’ve always kept the kids front and center. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

“We’re going to fix this. We’re going to fix this,” Gerhardt said. “We have to. We don’t want to lose out talent.”