Defending Democracy, Education

Why do I plan to be a pro-education voter on Tuesday? Because we can’t sit back and let others decide our future.

Today we wrap up our #NCEdVoter series with veteran educator Michelle Burton. Burton knows the power of voting – the power of what is possible when you elect leaders who have a vision for North Carolina that includes high-quality schools and top-notch educators. 

We hope you will enjoy Burton’s op-ed and make the commitment to vote on Tuesday, November 6th.

Click here to find your polling site for Election Day. And be sure to share your stories and pictures on Facebook – we’d love to here why you too are an #NCEdVoter!

Michelle Burton

I started my education career in the 1990’s during Governor Jim Hunt’s administration. Back then Gov. Hunt was known as the education governor because he strongly believed that it was important to invest in our children, our teachers, and our public schools to make our state an economic powerhouse.  During that time our schools were being funded adequately and we were getting to the national average for teacher pay.  There were even teacher assistants in grades K-3.  As a matter of fact, North Carolina was seen as a leader in the country on how to run public schools.  People were moving here from all over the country because of our schools were doing such a great job of educating our students.

Then in 2010 things began to change drastically. Teacher salaries stagnated. Per pupil funding began to decrease. Teacher assistants were eliminated in second and third grades. Textbook funding was dwindled to almost nothing. The school voucher law was passed. The A-F letter grade system was implemented. Master’s pay for teachers was gone. Longevity pay for teachers was cut.  Career Status, better known as tenure, went away.

This is when I realized schools are political and I can’t sit back and watch the total destruction of public education in our state.  Many people want to leave politics out of public schools.  However, the politicians that we elect to the North Carolina General Assembly have total authority of how our public schools are operated.  They decide if our students have up to date resources. They decide the class sizes for our students. They decide if we have enough school counselors, nurses, and school psychologists. They decide if teachers get raises. They decide the licensure and education programs for teachers. They even decide what days we start school and what days we must end school. Politicians make all of these decisions.

Therefore it is important for me to elect pro-public education candidates who want our state to move forward and lead. I want North Carolina to be progressive when it comes to public education. All children deserve a high quality public education regardless of their socio-economic status. That is why I am a  #NCEDVoter.

Michelle Burton is a veteran educator who has taught for 24 years in North Carolina. She works as an elementary school library media specialist in Durham, NC and serves on the executive board of the Durham Association of Educators.


Defending Democracy, Education

Think about the future you’d like to be a part of and become a #NCEdVoter

If you are one of those folks who thinks your voice doesn’t matter, or you can sit this election out because it isn’t a presidential year – think again.

Nikole Miller is a student, a future teacher and most importantly a constituent who believes in holding her elected representatives accountable. Today we asked Miller to share why she’s committed to being a #NCEdVoter and casting her ballot on Election Day. (North Carolina’s general election is this Tuesday, November 6th. You can look up your polling site here.)

It never fails—the look of horror on peoples’ faces when I tell them I have chosen to be a middle school teacher in the public school system for my career. And it is usually followed with the question: “Umm, why middle school?” I smile, knowing that they just don’t understand and shake my head yes before saying “Actually, middle schoolers are wonderful! They get a bad rap.” Most people don’t believe me, and, in good southern fashion, bless me for my willingness to persevere.

Though people paint being a middle school teacher as a burden, I see it as quite an honor. I get to be a part of children’s lives during a crucial part of their development. I get to see children transition from learning to read to reading to learn, reading about their passions and the things they truly love. And most importantly, as a middle school teacher, I will be part of raising the next generation.

When I entered into education, there were three reasons why I chose the middle school level, LaTisha McHenry, Rebecca McKnight, and Carolyn Reeves. These vivacious, ground-breaking, risk-taking, devoted, and innovative women inspired me, encouraged me, and guided me. As educators, these women went to the ends of the earth for students, including me, when the public school system came up short. They took the time to listen and help us forge our own paths. And each one of them worked tirelessly to craft intricate and engaging lessons (I can still remember some of my favorite ones today). The lessons went beyond the basic curriculum required by law, and these teachers ensured that we were not impacted by negative legislation, like No Child Left Behind.

As a student, future teacher, and constituent, I am often saddened by the United States’ treatment of public education, and especially North Carolina’s. Funding continues to be cut, resources reallocated to purchase firearms, and as a result, influential teachers leave. Many pressing problems exist in the world right now, and many things need our political attention—I get that—but by putting individuals with personal and political agendas into office, funding cuts will continue, more scripted curriculums will be instituted, and we will successfully remove building blocks and learning opportunities from children who could contribute to solutions. We need education—our future depends on it. So, as you go to vote this November, think about the future you’d like to be a part of and vote pro-public education candidates into office.

Nikole Miller is studying Middle Grades Education – Language Arts/Social Studies at NC State University.

Defending Democracy, Education

We must all do our part for NC public education – Be an #NCEdVoter

What’s better than going to the polls to vote? How about going with a best friend to cast your ballots together!

Renee Sekel and Susan Book are public education advocates who are committed to making our schools better by electing candidates who understand funding needs and the policies that will improve the learning environment for our children. We continue our #NCEdVoter series today with their story:

Renee (left) and Susan (right) present at a ‘Our Kids Can’t Wait’ Community Forum, in partnership with the Education & Law Project, in Cary Oct 18th.

Few things anger parents more than having their child reassigned to a different school.  Meeting halls fill.  Parents organize to keep their kid at the their current location.  Insults and sometimes even threats get hurled at school board members overseeing the plans. It is a prime example of how politics is indeed local.

While reassignment may seem like the end of the world for an individual family, statewide we have far larger obstacles to hurdle where the impact of our voices is more important than ever. We may have a small say in school reassignment, but we all can have a bigger voice in the governance of our schools.

The beauty of public schools is that they are our schools and there is accountability baked into the process of running them.  Engaged families can see to it that our elected officials are working with the correct information and making sound decisions.  And if we dislike those decisions, we can vote out the people responsible.  This is all very clear at the local level, where we can see and hear our school board members discussing the policies — in person and at public meetings.  And we can literally see the effect of those policies at school every day.

What is harder to see is that this same dynamic works at the state level, too.  The NCGA controls not just funding, but underlying educational policies as well.  Those policies and their effects may not be as visible and glaring as school reassignment decisions, but they are no less important.  Our state legislature sets the agenda for issues like End of Grade testing, the number of children in a classroom, the number of teachers in a school, and how funding dollars may be spent.

And what happens at the state level has a strong connection to what we see on a local level.  That’s very clear when we look at issues such as the school bond on the ballot in Wake County.  The Bond seeks money not just to build new schools based on growth, but to renovate existing schools with aging heating and air units and other significant problems.  Those problems didn’t come from nowhere — years of underfunding at the state level have led to deferred maintenance at our schools, which in turn creates bigger issues that cost much more to fix.  The Bond is local, but many of the issues creating the need to it are statewide.

So we urge all active, motivated parents to look as hard at our state legislators as we do at our local leaders.  We can make our schools better.   We as voters can hold our legislators accountable for schools that need help.  We can vote out those who have put unfair testing burdens on our kids.  We can vote in those who will fully fund our schools and restore per pupil funding.  We can vote out those who have ignored teachers and their ask for better respect and better pay.  We can vote in those who wish to listen to our teachers and their policy ideas and finally give them a voice.

It is the time of year where we can all make an impact on our public schools.  It belongs to us, and the responsibility of a quality education rests on our shoulders.  I urge every parent that showed up to a meeting to discuss a reassignment grievance to show that same passion and urgency at the state level.  Ask questions, demand answers, and — always — vote.

Renee Sekel and Susan Book are public education advocates, Wake Public Schools parents and leaders of Save Our Schools NC, s a grassroots, parent-led group.  Save Our Schools NC believes that every child in North Carolina deserves a well-rounded public education, and that the best way to achieve this goal is to fully fund public schools and craft careful well-considered policies that address the unique characteristics of each community within the state.

Originally formed to address the North Carolina General Assembly’s harmful class size law, Save Our Schools NC, works to educate parents, provide them with virtual space in which to gather and discuss education policy, and empower them to lobby their elected officials for laws that will help achieve our goals. Learn more at   

Defending Democracy, Education

Homegrown commitment to education equity: Why I’m an #NCEdVoter

We continue our Why I’m an #NCEdVoter series today with the help of Leslie Small. Small, who dreams of becoming a teacher one day, shared with us that you don’t need to come from a big community to have a big impact on the future. You just have to care. And to vote. Enjoy Small’s op-ed below:

Think about your hometown. Think about all the memories and the people who helped to shape you into who you are today. Think about your high school. Did you have a favorite teacher? Did you play a varsity sport? Or were you a theater or band kid? Growing up in a small town in Northeastern North Carolina and graduating with a class of 130, I know first-hand how important it is that our public education systems flourish, as they serve as a hub of growth and development for children and young adults from all walks of life.

My high school, Gates County Senior High, was extremely small. It served the entirety of Gates County, which to put into perspective for you, has about 10,000 residents and only has a single stoplight to serve one of the only intersections in the entire county. My years in school went extremely well. I was heavily involved in a little bit of everything. I was president of our Future Farmers of America chapter, was in theater and also enjoyed playing and watching our sports teams. I had such a great high school experience, but it wasn’t without its ups and downs. Our school system was poor. In fact, our county’s middle school was in such poor shape that it had to be condemned because of its contamination with black mold. The fact of the matter is, our county doesn’t have the funds to construct and maintain an adequate structure for education, let alone support extra-curricular activities that help student’s to grow and shape themselves into cultured individuals. None the less, I cannot say anything bad about the infrastructure of my alma mater. The teachers, the support systems I developed, and the overall quality of the work that they put in to educate us was above the norm. Countless unpaid hours of extra work that teachers and administrators put in just to ensure that their students were getting a quality experience, not to mention the ridiculous amount of money that came out of their own pockets to ensure that we were in a comfortable classroom or had the right supplies to accomplish a task or put on a production. There is no doubt that all of my teachers cared about us and made sacrifices to give us what we needed. With the salary they are currently being paid ranking extremely low compared to national averages, this just should not be the case.

In a community like Gates County where it is common for families to live on government assistance and on the verge of poverty, it is improbable to ensure that all students are able to equally support themselves and that families provide adequate opportunities for their kids. There were many times that students were unable to pay for field trips or shop project materials and would have to sit out on the opportunity unless someone, being a teacher or administrator, would step up and pay the difference. Frankly, I’ve seen bright children suffer and struggle because they are unable to have an equal experience compared to students like me, whose parents are financially stable. It is critical that we acknowledge the amount of money that comes directly out of teacher’s paychecks to ensure that their students have equal opportunities. This amount of money does not include the supplies, extra books and snacks that teachers are also expected to purchase. With teaches having an already lower than average salary they do not have the disposable income to pour into their classrooms.

In my senior year of high school, I decided to continue my education at North Carolina State University at their College of Education. I have plans of returning back to my hometown and teach at some point because it is so important that students can see others from their hometown being successful and trying to better themselves, especially when it is someone that grew up in the same situation as them.

Leslie Small is studying Communication – Public Relations with an English minor at NC State University.

Defending Democracy, Education

Education is the number one determinant of your success. That’s why I’m an #NCedVoter.

If recent current events have you wanting to pull-up the covers and stay indoors, make time today to read this short op-ed by Sinthia Shabnam, a poli-sci and sociology student at NC State. Shabnam has been inspired throughout her life by the people she has met while attending public school. That inspiration has sparked a passion to be involved in her community, and it’s what makes Shabnam a pro-education voter this fall. Today we continue our #NCEdVoter series:

Sinthia Shabnam

Perhaps my favorite thing about public education is the factor of authenticity. Private schools, charter schools, religious schools, they all at some point have a method of filtration from the rest of society. The authenticity of public schools allowed me to discover the most authentic version of myself, and I’m proud to say that I’m a product of public education. I attended Hope Valley Elementary school in Durham County, and moved to Wake County since my family really valued the quality of education in this region of NC. Since then I have attended Cedar Fork Elementary, West Cary Middle, Carnage Magnet Middle, Panther Creek High School, and now NC State University.

Beyond my classes, extracurricular opportunities, social life, access to affordable lunches, service and leadership programs, the fact that holds the greatest impact on me today are the relationships I was able to foster with my teachers, especially in high school. They believed and invested in my ability to grow as a leader one day, helped me clarify my thoughts and ideas, and respected my values and lifestyle choices. They helped me recognize my skill sets, made extra time for me when I struggled to perform well in difficult classes, were prompt in communication, and avid listeners. They did more than just instruct me. My French teacher from 8th grade, Madame Nordquist still keeps up with my endeavors as I navigate the work force and politics. My Sociology and Law and Justice teacher from high school is why I’m a Sociology major today. My AP Government and Politics teacher is why I’m a Political Science major today.

I come from a background where my parents taught me that education is the number one determinant of your success in all fields of life: your open mindedness, how much people respect you, your ability to make a stable income, your ability to have affordable housing, your access to social groups of like-minded people, so I listened. I committed to my education and my teachers helped me perfect my resume, read my poetry, told me I had great public speaking skills, encouraged me to seek leadership positions, encouraged me to read books and watch documentaries. They expanded my drawer of knowledge, but they were also my mentors when often I did not find that mentor figure at home. They filled all the gaps in my life that I didn’t know I need filled. My English teacher from 9th grade gave me an award and listened to my story, and even let me tutor his future students, my Sociology teacher gives me advice to this day on navigating Politics and Law.

Going to a public school made me recognize the ups and downs of my intersectionalities, but my teachers made me proud of them. I wouldn’t be attending NC State today if it wasn’t for them teaching me to read, write, think, and speak critically, intelligently, and honestly.

Sinthia Shabnam is studying political science and sociology at NC State.