Education

A community speaks but their voices go unheard

Photos by Sarah Montgomery

Eric Hall, previous ISD Superintendent reassures community members that their concerns will be addressed (Carver Heights Elementary Oct 8th, 2018)

Last week, almost 200 parents, educators, community members and supporters, gathered at Carver Heights Elementary school in response to an invitation by leaders from the Innovative School District (ISD).  Their representatives came to deliver the news that the school had been included on a short list of schools under consideration for inclusion in the controversial school improvement model, which might shift control from the locally-elected School Board to an outside, for-profit charter school operator.

Despite a stark lack of evidence for this model’s success and its dismal track record for transforming high needs schools in other states, representatives seemed to offer little to no alternatives to what they proposed was needed: an ISD takeover.

Although the meeting’s invitation pledged to allow community members a chance to provide feedback and engage in a “conversation,” it seemed apparent to those who had gathered that the stated intent was misleading. Rather than invite community members to discuss the school’s needs and share what seems to be working well, the ISD representatives started their presentation by presenting test scores that painted a picture of “failing” students, an “under-performing” school and offered inclusion in the ISD as the only possible solution.  These labels landed heavily upon the school’s educators, who had joined the event all wearing their yellow Carver Heights shirts, displaying the message: “Talk to Me, I will Listen, Teach Me, I will Learn, Inspire Me, I will Succeed.”

Community members also struggled to process the decision-making timeline presented: one of the schools being considered would be selected within a week’s time.

Why the Rush?

Cultivating good leadership, building trust and school improvement strategies takes time to develop. Trust and time is precisely what the school’s community asked ISD representatives to provide. Read more

Commentary

Feeding the Bull City: How Durham is ‘In This Together’ on May 16 and beyond (photos)

The YMCA of the Triangle opened its doors on Monday night to approximately 150 volunteers, who packed over 4,000 meal bags.

(Brian Kennedy and Jessica Burroughs contributed to this post.)  — North Carolina is the 10th hungriest state in the nation, and everyday schools and teachers play a vital role in making sure that hungry children, who come from more than 600,000 food insecure households, have enough to eat. In addition to the thousands of free or reduced price lunches that are served each day, teachers are often reaching into their own pockets to purchase food and snacks for kids to ensure they are fed and ready to learn. Addressing hunger is just one of the many things we ask of teachers beyond their duties of educating students. For this and many more reasons, community members are banding together to ensure that our educators receive the respect they deserve.

A hashtag associated with the May 16th NC Public Schools Day of Advocacy  is #InThisTogether – a fitting sentiment to describe the outpouring of community support and the spirit of togetherness on display throughout Durham. Led by volunteers with the Durham Association of Educators and the NC Council of Churches, countless nonprofits and community members have organized to provide every student who needs a meal on May 16th with a healthy breakfast, lunch and snack. While over 60 percent of Durham Public School students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, organizers set the goal early on in the coordinating process to ensure that every student who needs a meal have access to it.

Symone Kiddoo is a Durham Public Schools social worker and leader in the Durham Association of Educators who is helping to spearhead the community-wide mobilization to ensure full coverage across the district. Kiddoo put it this way:

“All the schools in Durham have been adopted and food has been distributed throughout the day on Tuesday May 15th. Our partners are amazing and we couldn’t have done this without the support of the community. Thirteen district sites and several community sites will be open on Wednesday. We’re all in this together.”

The snapshots in this post (see below) represent just a handful of the countless efforts taking place in Durham over the past few days to collect, pack, and deliver the food. For more complete information about efforts in both the Triangle and across the state, check out Feeding North Carolina’s Students on May 16th from our friends at EdNC. Read more

Commentary

Each win matters: Public education advocates reflect on a year of struggle to solve the class size crisis

[This is the fourth installment in a series of brief essays by some of the North Carolina advocates who helped lead the fight to repeal the General Assembly’s unfunded mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3. You can read previous installments by clicking here, here and here.]

We Must Do Better By Our Kids: Luann Bryan

I am a Nationally Board Certified educator with 14 years’ experience. I am a native Durhamite teaching 4th grade at Hillandale Elementary in Durham. Our fourth grade team had all been preparing for the eventual influx of more students in the fall with the class size mandate. Now that we have a partial ‘fix’ we’re still concerned about overcrowding and the space needed to eventually prepare for the class size caps.

I’m also disappointed this ever became the issue it did. It caused so much anxiety for educators and there was no reason for it. Currently, I have room for three more desks without stepping over other students to get to them. I have no idea how they expected us to eventually fit more children in these classrooms. We’re supposed to be teaching technology in our 4th and 5th grade classes and having overcrowded classrooms is not an effective way to do that. If we believe that all students, regardless of needs or ability, should be mainstreamed into a single class and that it is the responsibility of the teacher to differentiate instruction, then we must understand the challenges overcrowding poses. With 25 students, differentiated instruction is hard, with 30, it’s nearly impossible, with 40+ students, it simply will not happen. If we want smaller class sizes, they must give the school districts the funding needed to make it happen.

Behavior management also requires individualized approaches, all of which is impossible with a crowded classroom. Being successful with implementing differentiated instruction requires you to be incredibly creative, developing and providing diverse materials and, a considerable amount of planning time must go into this. The time that our students are at their Specials is the time we use as a planning period. If we lose that time we lose that planning time and the level of instruction will suffer. We already use weekends and weekday evenings to lesson plan, grade, communicate with parents and prep for the day. Without that planning period, we would simply not have enough hours in the day to do our job effectively.

Another issue often overlooked in this conversation is that we use an integrated curriculum. This means that much of what the students are exposed to in art, music and PE is reinforced throughout the day and in their other subjects. This approach builds the whole child, which is so important. If a child is struggling in one area, they still have the opportunity to excel and grow confident in another. The ‘fix’ was needed but the mandate should never have been passed without the funding schools require.

I am incredibly disillusioned with the current state of support for public education. It truly feels like our lawmakers are trying to destroy it. Our kids need us, now more than ever but it feels as if we have our hands tied behind our backs. I would challenge any of our lawmakers to come into our classrooms. They should see for themselves what teachers are up against and the struggles our students are facing. They can and must take action to restore public education in North Carolina. Our kids deserve better than this.

Commentary

Each win matters: Public education advocates reflect on a year of struggle to solve the class size crisis

[This is the third installment in a series of brief essays by some of the North Carolina advocates who helped lead the fight to repeal the General Assembly’s unfunded mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3. You can read previous installments by clicking here and here.]

Motivated to Act: Sarah Littlejohn McDade

I never cared one bit about politics. I was a registered Republican, born and raised in Raleigh who would sometimes vote across party lines depending on the issues, and lived my simple, middle class life with no real worries. Then on September 19 of last year, I found out that my son, a 7 year old second grader at Abbotts Creek Elementary, would be kicked out of his school for the 2018-2019 year due to something called the class size mandate.

I had heard of this mandate, heard we might lose music, PE, technology and art but always figured it would work out somehow. I mean, there was no way our legislators would allow such a thing to happen in our schools, right? Now it was affecting my family. Affecting my shy, reserved, not-easily-adaptable-to-change son. He was to be kicked out of a school located across the street from our home, a school not overcrowded nor capped. My son had just started 2nd grade, and had become a confident, happy student after two years of struggling to adapt to a new school.

Not knowing what to do next, I began to research the class size mandate online. I needed to write my representatives, but had never done that before. I didn’t even know who my representatives were! After a simple “Who represents me” Google search, I found an easy to use map of North Carolina, put in my address, and there it was. I wrote emails to my House and Senate representatives, explaining my situation and pleaded with them to fund the mandate.

Thus began my advocacy for public education and for my son. I found out my representatives’ voting records, contacted the appropriate senators, and was surprised to find just how partisan the issues surrounding public education really were. Why was doing what’s right for public education a partisan issue? Read more

Commentary

Each win matters: Public education advocates reflect on a year of struggle to solve the class size crisis

[This is the second installment in a series of brief essays by some of the North Carolina advocates who helped lead the fight to repeal the General Assembly’s unfunded mandate to reduce class sizes in grades K-3. You can read the introduction and the first installment by clicking here.]

From Words to Action: Tamika Walker Kelly

My name is Tamika Walker Kelly, I am from Cumberland County, and I am proud to be an elementary school music teacher. I am currently in my 11th year of teaching and each year brings successes and challenges. This year, however, the challenge was not anything inside of my classroom. The challenge involved whether or not I would have a classroom at all.  You will hear many people call my fellow colleagues specialists and indeed, in fact, we are. We are the teachers who cultivate creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking skills beyond the general classroom. We turn noise into music, mistakes into masterpieces, and movement into art. As parents and guardians, we send our kids to school to have a full educational experience. That cannot happen if there are no arts, physical education or world languages in our public schools.

The class size issue presented us with a false choice: having to choose between smaller class sizes or a complete curriculum that is supposed to be guaranteed by the state. As a parent first and a teacher second, my child and all of our children, deserve to have both. We spent months advocating for a resolution and were busy contacting the General Assembly, emailing, calling and having conversations. We demanded an end to the chaos because our students deserve every resource to experience success, not only in math and reading, but also through music, drama, art, dance, and through the power of words. We often cheer the powerhouse singers, the star athletes, or the brilliant painters who showcase the greatness that comes from North Carolina. We must never let our lawmakers forget that the foundations for all of those stars was, in large part, constructed in elementary school — from the first school play, the first screeching notes on the recorder, to the first 3-point shot.

While we are relieved that HB90 brought us a partial fix to the class size crisis, we are still hurt by the positions already cut in our school district. Read more