RSS education leaders hope for ‘walk-in’ on Nov. 4, not teacher ‘walk-out’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 24, 2013

A movement calling for teachers to stay out of school Nov. 4 to protest pay and working conditions doesn’t appear to be taking hold in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, local education leaders say.
Instead, they hope the community — including elected officials who make decisions affecting education — will come into the schools to see for themselves what teachers do.
“What I have told my members is that we are definitely not participating in a walk-out, but we want to consider that a day of walk-in, to invite parents, to invite all legislative members into their schools on that day,” said Marian Thompson, president of the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators.
A website for the movement says organizers aren’t asking teachers to literally walk out of their classrooms on Nov. 4. Rather, they’re being asked to take a sick day or personal leave day and request substitute teachers.
On that day, they’re asking the teachers who stay out of school to take part in demonstrations or call and email legislators, government agencies and news sources.
“The goal is to get the word out and have our voices heard,” they say on the website.
Among the changes they seek, according to the website, are “a fair balance between workload, expectations and compensation for our teachers” as well as help from state government and “unengaged parents who need to take an active role in their child’s education.”
“Teachers are amazing people but they’re not miracle workers. They need help from the state, education administrators and parents to get most out of every student,” organizers say on the website. “And they need to be fairly compensated.”
Teachers in North Carolina have gotten only one raise in the past five years. In that time, North Carolina has dropped from 25th to 46th in the nation for teacher pay — with the average salary $10,000 below the national average — the State Board of Education heard in a report earlier this year.
And the budget passed this year by the General Assembly ended pay increases for teachers who earn master’s degrees, diverted $10 million to a private school voucher program and eliminated tenure.
“We agree with those things that they’re talking about,” said Thompson, head of the local educators’ association and a counselor at West Rowan Middle School. “… But it’s just the walk-out in protest of these that we’re not in agreement with.”
Moreover, Thompson pointed out, state law prohibits teachers from striking.
“It could be grounds for dismissal. … We really don’t want anybody to think that, yes, this is OK to do and then in the end they are called in and told they don’t have a job, they’re terminated,” she said.
Thompson said members of her association have gone so far as to change appointments they already had scheduled Nov. 4 so there’s no chance they’re suspected of taking part in the protest.
She said her group is urging members to contact state legislators, local elected officials and parents to invite them into their classrooms that day. Some other districts are officially hosting a “walk-in” day Nov. 4, and while Rowan-Salisbury hasn’t planned one, Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said it’s a good idea.
“I think our schools should be open every day to that,” she said. “I would encourage teachers and schools to be open for a walk-in.”
Moody said she hasn’t heard teachers talking one way or another about the walk-out movement, but she hopes everyone remembers the school system’s “purpose is teaching and learning.”
“I think that teachers should definitely have a voice, and they should exercise that voice … at the polls is the best way to do that,” she said. “Walking out to me feels like you’re walking out on the students instead of where you really need to send the message. I would hope that people would express their opinions appropriately to the appropriate people.”
One of the more controversial measures in this year’s budget will fall to Moody. It replaces tenure with one- to four-year contracts and $5,000 bonuses for the top 25 percent of teachers in each district. Each district must develop its own method for designating those top teachers and justifying it to the rest.
Moody, who started her job in Rowan-Salisbury on Oct. 1 after working for years in South Carolina, said she doesn’t have an opinion on whether the law is fair and hasn’t had a chance yet to find out how teachers feel about it.
“Do I think high-performing teachers should be paid more than teachers who are lower-performing? Yes,” she said. “How you get there is very complex, and trying to find a fair and equitable manner to do that is difficult.”
She said the school system will try to define its process in the next month or so.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248.