Changing Classroom Size Doesn’t Mean an Eviction Notice


Almost two years ago state lawmakers changed laws regarding the number of students in lower elementary classes. Funding to make this happen however was not provided. So schools are forced to eliminate specialized classrooms and say goodbye to art, music, etc. The worst may be yet to come. Education wasn’t always this scary.

As a teacher, mother, and student I know the value of an extracurricular class.  Some of my most creative and loyal colleagues are art teachers, music teachers, and oh who could ever discount the computer lab teacher? Mr. Matthew House at Eno Valley Elementary School extra special shout out to you sir! That guy fixed more technology issues for me than I can remember. And he is the author of an amazing book on effectively teaching writing.  

Mr. House was also one of my daughter’s favorite teachers. She was excited to go to the computer lab. Every student was. They loved how he made everything interesting and fun. At the same time he addressed academic and behavior goals.  So did her art teacher, and music teacher… get the picture.  

When I was in school, my high school Art teacher, Mr. Gettys, was my hero! Imagine me….an average sized black teenage girl recently uprooted from all she knew, only to have her self-esteem built by a white, 6’3 man in cowboy boots, hat, and Wrangler jeans. I will never forgot how he would tell me (and all of the students) we could do whatever we wanted and didn’t need to change who we were to make others accept us. He’d reiterate perfect wasn’t straight as it was how you treated everyone. That was so meaningful to me at the time in my life. I felt invisible. But Mr. Getty’s recognized my individual talents and encouraged me to be more than I thought I could be.

These scenarios are not rare. They happen everyday in schools across the country. North Carolina classrooms are no exception. So why do our elected officials seem so hell-bent on taking that away from our children?

As in the past, educators, parents, and students don’t just accept this and walk away with their heads hung low. Protests have happened. Phone calls have been made. Letters and emails have been sent. Social media events are still taking place. All of these are continuously active in order to inform state legislators that no one wants classes taken away. Smaller class sizes are a good thing but as Governor Cooper stated, “It must be included in the state budget.”

This month, hundreds of constituents rallied on the lawn of North Carolina state legislators lawn to protest elimination of these courses.  The rally to Stop Class Size Chaos was held on Saturday, January 6th at Halifax Mall in Raleigh.

Renee Sekel, Wake County parent, organized this event to bring awareness and attention to the policy. I asked why is she so driven around this. What’s does she feel is at stake?

She replied with three very good reasons below:

“…For my children, this class size law has already meant a hit to their education.  They used to have each “special” — art, music, P.E., IMT (integrated Media & Technology) and STEM once a week.  As a result of the class size reductions that went into effect this year, our school had to dismiss our part time specialists, and my kids no longer have specials every day.  Next year, if the NCGA fails to act, they will lose more.”  But this fight isn’t really about my own kids.  There are three things that keep me up at night:  
1. The utter unfairness of removing basic services from our schools.  All kids in North Carolina — whether urban or rural, poor or rich, whatever ethnic or racial background to which they belong — deserve a sound basic education.  The idea that we would consider, even for a second, removing these programs from public schools, boggles my mind.  It’s the legislature’s job to protect vulnerable kids, not hurt them.  
2. The thought of up to 5,500 dedicated teachers statewide suddenly losing their jobs, for no reason other than legislative whim.  These are members of our communities.  They care for our children and shed their own blood, sweat and tears to make sure our kids get the best possible education.  But because of this class size law, not only may they lose their current jobs, but there won’t be places for them at schools anywhere in the state, because everyone is facing this same outrageous mandate.  In one fell swoop, the Legislature is destroying an entire profession.  It isn’t right.  
3. The lost potential.  For many kids, specials in school are their first (and sometimes only) exposure to art, music and other arts.  What they learn in those classes can ignite their imaginations and open their minds to whole new worlds.  If we deny our children that introduction (or force it to become a privilege reserved only for those wealthy enough to put their kids into private arts instruction), then we could be thwarting their potential before it’s even discovered.
Anyone else think she should run for office?

Tamika Walker-Kelly, a music teacher and speaker at the rally, and I discussed the benefits of having educators such as herself in the schools. “Many schools call us specials or enhancement teachers, but we are specialized certified teachers who are teaching nationally and state recognized areas. We have the unique experience of continuity and longevity at a school. These educators get the opportunity to watch the development and growth of children over years, which is different from a general classroom teacher. Additionally, we often serve as other adults in the building that build connections with students and families. Academically, we teach the skills that are required of this new workforce-creativity, collaboration, communication. All of those elements are key as to why these positions are an integral part of the school community.”

Jessica Boroughs, steering committee member of MomsRising, played a very important role on the committee to help make the rally a success, talks about why she got involved. “Pure and simple, I believe that all children deserve a high-quality education.  I believe in the dream that public school can serve as the great equalizer for all children— giving them the benefits and opportunities to succeed in life however they envision success.
My two boys are currently in the 4th and 6th grades. I have friends and acquaintances who have put their children into private schools to ensure that they receive the “best education possible,”; however, I disagree with them that private schools offer the best education.  To me, a high-quality education includes collaboration and learning with kids that are different than you– different races, socio-economic statuses, ethnicities, and religions. Without this diversity that is abundant in public schools, I feel that my children would be cheated out of a rich education.  
I feel driven to ensure that the public education that my children are receiving is not further compromised.  I wholeheartedly defend North Carolina’s public education system, while also believing that this system can, and must be, improved.  Public schools are managing to survive with continued cuts to school budgets implemented by the NC legislature.  Despite the cuts in teachers’ salaries, for example, my son’s fourth grade teacher recently conducted a home visit, which she offers to all the families of her students.  She devoted an evening to learning more about our family so that she could better serve my child as a student.  

North Carolina can do better! Rather than just survive, public schools have thrived in this state, and will thrive again once the legislature makes the proper investment in the school system. My hope goes beyond repealing the class size mandate– we must not fall into the trap of only defending the status quo. Instead, we must both defend our schools and work to transform them by increasing the per pupil spending to the levels seen in many other states.  Then, our teachers, our students, and our schools will thrive– the sky is the only limit!”
So the question remains, why is this law. Budget cuts have to happen somewhere? There’s no money available to fund this law? Naaaaaa. Try again. This educator and parent wants to know why are our children’s futures being put at stake. Why is it even a choice to take away classes that teach creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, enhancing literacy and math skills, develop social and emotional wellness, etc.
Still not sure what the big deal is? Check out this article by Kris Nordstrom on NC Policy Watches Progressive Pulse.

So what should happen? The above article mentions a few ideas. Mrs. Sekel has thoughts as well, “I want the class size law repealed, for a start.  Senator Jay Chaudhuri has introduced a compromise bill that, while it won’t make my own kids whole, will at least prevent the most disastrous effects of the current law from taking place.  I would be satisfied if that bill became law within the next few weeks.  Beyond that, I would love to see the NCGA taking the issue of class sizes seriously — by that I mean taking the time to craft a new bill that pays fully for both the human and physical capital required to shrink class sizes.  And while we’re at it, I’d like to see them pursuing policies that will ensure that NC has access to the thousands of teachers smaller class sizes will require.  Likely, that will mean an investment into training and recruiting new teachers, as well as in making sure teaching is a viable professional choice for qualified people here in NC.”
These ideas are definitely a start in the right direction. We can’t solve issues by ourselves. All involved should have a say and be a part of the solution in a collaborative manner. That’s what we learn in our specials classes. Seems, some of the folks representing us on Jones Street missed that class.


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