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Virginia Journal of Education

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down?

Educators are speaking out around the state, standing up for our students and for public schools. Could this be a turning point?


Speaking out in a public forum to advocate for students and schools can feel like a significant step outside of an educator’s comfort zone, but it’s exactly what local association members around Virginia are doing, and with increasing frequency.

And it’s exactly what public education in our state needs.

If you prepare, you can be an excellent advocate, says Susan Graham, a VEA-Retired member and longtime activist and blogger from Stafford County, adding that there’s no reason for educators to sit back and wait to be asked what we think. A vast amount of what we do is affected by the decisions of those in elected office, and they need to hear from the professionals working in our public schools.

Who’s in a better position to understand what’s best for our young people?

Here are a few tips from Graham, followed by some examples of how some of your colleagues have been stepping forward and saying to school boards, city councils, and other groups across Virginia:

 Know who represents you. You may know the names of local officials, but would you recognize them if they visited your school? Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself as a constituent.

• Do a little homework. Have you researched the issue? Are you hoping to create a new policy or change an existing one? Who has the authority to make changes?

• Craft your message. Use facts to back your opinion. Share a personal story.

• Join your voice with others. You’ll gain momentum. And don’t worry about who gets the credit, worry about the outcome.

• Respect the limits of attention and time.

• Promote your perspective. You’re the educator.

• Change takes time. Be patient, but also persistent.


Our Kids Deserve the Best
Karl Loos, a middle school history and journalism teacher and president of the Lynchburg Education Association, speaking to City Council:

I want to address the fact that we understand that you have an obligation to the taxpayers of this great city. But you also have an obligation to the people you employ. You have an obligation to the children that are raised here. You have an obligation to the community we can become with a strong school system. And right now, those obligations aren’t being met.

Over the summer, this council funded long-overdue pay increases for officers for the Lynchburg Police Department. And the reason you did it is because we were losing the best trained and most experienced officers to areas that paid more.

The same is happening in your school division. We’re spending money training staff members just to watch them go to higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

And let’s not forget that an increase in pay for school staff comes right back to the area. We aren’t putting our riches in off-shore accounts! We reinvest it in this city right here.

At last count, the average pay for a teacher in Lynchburg City Schools is $7,000 below the state average and nearly $15,000 below the national average. And as bad as it is for our teachers, it’s worse for our educational support personnel.

I don’t want to go on and on about the new responsibilities school employees have had thrust upon them over the past 10 years, all without correlating compensation. The bottom line is this: you felt, and quite rightly so, that the division could have made better use of funds you have given it in the past. Dr. Massie and the school board heard you and have made some needed changes to the budget for the upcoming school year. At the top of that list, though, must be employee compensation.

Herb Kelleher said, “Your employees come first. Start with your employees and the rest follows from that.” Lee Iacocca said, “Start with good people…motivate and reward them. If you do these things effectively, you can’t miss.” And J. Paul Getty said, “The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.” Don’t you think our kids deserve the best?


“I’m Tired…”
Betsy Osborne, a middle school history teacher and vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association, speaking to her county’s Board of Supervisors at a recent budget hearing:

I came to Montgomery County because I’m a product of MCPS and it’s the best county around. We care about the education of our students and we give back to our community. I stay because I work with truly amazing people. They love our students and will do anything to protect them.

But I’m tired.

Not from a long day at work. I knew this profession meant staying up late and getting up early. I knew coffee would be my fuel because this is a challenging career requiring superhero strength.

My ears are tired from hearing we didn’t go into the profession for the money. Why do we have to accept this? I have a master’s degree and am paying loans on that degree.

My eyes are tired from watching my colleagues struggle to decide which to bill to pay: rent, childcare, or student loans.

My feet are tired knowing I have to stand on them five years longer to make up for a salary freeze.

My shoulders are tired from working multiple jobs in our schools to pay childcare and carrying my family insurance.

My body is tired from trying to make up for services our students need because we can’t afford to replace lost positions. Students have greater needs than they did when I started 10 years ago—and we were fully staffed. 

My heart is tired of watching people who are fantastic professionals walk away to other jobs because they can’t afford to live in the county and teach here.

My brain is tired from racing at night, wondering if we will have quality education when my son starts kindergarten, and wondering if his teacher will have the same income when my son is a senior.

Finally, my soul is tired that we’ve come to accept how far below Virginia falls in teacher salaries against national averages. We are $7,000 below.

Please meet the requested budget for our schools. For our students. For our community. For my children.

Thank you for the opportunity to hear me this evening; it’s my hope you were listening as well.

Show Our Youth That Their Safety Matters!
Amy Gaertner, a second grade teacher and vice president of the Albemarle Education Association, urging her county’s school board to pass a resolution on gun violence:

I know that this discussion can become a political issue.  I hope you can keep the focus and discussion on common sense measures to keep our children and staff safe.  Gun violence is a complex problem.  We do not need to debate the Second Amendment. The issues of gun control, mental health services and making our buildings safer are the problems our division needs to address.

This year has been the most challenging in my career. Students, parents, and teachers are reminded daily of the events that took place in our town this summer. We have watched heavily-armed people come here who do not wish our community to become more inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of others. We are reminded of this event weekly as the investigation of the city police department continues and individuals and the Lee statue have their day in court.  

The Parkland school shooting has ignited the youth of this country to push lawmakers to take action to protect them. The youth in this community are joining them. The issues of school safety cannot be tabled or ignored any longer. Teachers and students think about their safety throughout the school day every day. The students are leading and their parents and teachers are supporting their efforts. The bravery, energy, and passion of the youth give me great hope for this country. Please take action to let the students, parents, and teachers in Albemarle County know you hear our concerns.


Let Us Teach!
Danville Education Association President Kim Roberson, speaking to the city’s School Board:

Another key factor in teacher retention is working conditions. Teachers continue to be concerned with excessive meetings, both during the school day as well as after school. It isn’t unusual for classroom teachers to lose planning time on a regular basis due to meetings, covering classes without a substitute, as well as other activities, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels. Administrators, be they central office officials or school principals, should be doing everything in their power to support teachers, not place additional burdens.


We Won’t Tolerate Workplace Bullying!
Prince William Education Association President Riley O’Casey addresses the county school board after PWEA members spoke about extremely difficult working conditions in a school:

I, too, was bullied by an administrator. I do not say this lightly because it was not unprofessional behavior; it was bullying. The impact these atrocious acts had on the school was devastating.

Tonight, courageous educators shared their experiences and those of their colleagues. These are stories of determination despite extreme fear from mistreatment and stories of educators struggling to do what they do best because they are extremely overwhelmed.

We know that a work environment with a supportive leader can make all the difference. There are incredible leaders in our schools who support and respect their staff and are not threatened when questions are asked and staff members speak up for what is right. Sadly, this is not the case everywhere. There are a handful of school leaders who are damaging the integrity of the position.

It is PWEA's expectation that the educators who spoke their truths tonight are not retaliated against. It's is our hope that this administration carefully listens and takes steps to improve the work environment of all employees.


We’re Getting the Job Done; Time for You to Do the Same
Virginia Beach Education Association President Kelly Walker, to General Assembly members during a public hearing on the state budget:

Last year, each of you voted in favor of legislation that makes it the goal of the Commonwealth to pay teachers a salary that is at or above the National Average. The VEA appreciated the unanimous support of that goal, but a goal without action is simply a dream.

Therefore, there must be a serious, sustained plan to increase teacher salaries in Virginia in order to attract and retain the very best into our classrooms.

Not only are we facing a decade of reduced support for our public school educators, but we also have a flawed system for funding K-12 education. The $1.6 billion in cuts the state made to our public schools back in 2009 are permanent unless future enhancements in the state’s funding formula are adopted.

I must point out that these cuts impact poor school divisions more than affluent ones, endangering the achievement of some of the most disadvantaged children.

I want you to know that even with so many funding issues and fiscal stress in our school divisions, I stand before you as a proud educator. In the past few years Virginia’s school employees have risen to the challenge and have accomplished so much. In Virginia Beach:

• We are 100 percent fully accredited.

• Full-day kindergarten was adopted, with completion by 2021.

• VBCPS outperformed the nation for the fifth consecutive year on all three components of the SAT test.

• The class of 2016 achieved the division’s highest on-time graduation rate and lowest dropout rate since 2008.

However, do not let the successes of many school divisions, including VBCPS, lull you into a sense of complacency; they are not sustainable without proactive action. Restoring funding for our public schools will take a dedicated, sustained effort with a laser focus on our real needs.  I urge you to strengthen our investment in our students, as the young people in our schools today will be the ones who must drive Virginia forward.

Spend Wisely!
Greg Deskins, president of the Tazewell Education Association, speaking to the county’s school board:

It would be nice if an old requirement were removed every time a new one is added, but the only thing we seem to have taken away is insurance benefits and pay increases. 

So, what we do? If it’s a “feel-good” program that a specific group wants, then they need to pay for it, or we need to eliminate it. If it’s an administrative position that the State Standards of Quality don’t allow for, eliminate it. If the Board of Supervisors wants to keep all our schools open and in safe condition, they need to pay for them. If they want to maintain the high-quality instruction and outstanding test scores that we currently enjoy in Tazewell County in order to attract new business and industry, then they are going to have to provide money to sustain these achievements. Every local governing body in Virginia gives more than just the minimum required by the state, which no one ever claimed was sufficient anyway. At the last school board meeting, our superintendent cited several surrounding counties who give more local money to their schools than Tazewell County does.  We are tired of being taken for granted and asked to do more with less year after year after year, while having to beg for steps we were promised when we first took this job. 


Take action to boost K-12 funding and support better pay.


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