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Sue Book for Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C. 5 months ago

Craven teachers stage 'Walk In' Monday, plan another for Nov. 18

Teachers in Craven County are red hot and they wore it on their sleeves Monday. They plan to do it again on Nov. 18 when they hold their official "Walk In For Ed" Day.

Teachers here joined their colleagues statewide Monday for a red-shirt protest of their plight following legislative changes, with their goal to promote positive changes in the public school system through events sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).

Many teachers feel threatened by legislative actions, such as eliminating teacher tenure, cutting some teacher aids' positions, a confusing new merit pay system that could undermine teamwork and cooperation, and stalled salary step awards on teacher pay that already puts N.C. teacher pay near the lowest in the country.

Other concerns identified by teachers in a recent meeting with legislators include the loss of higher pay for advanced degrees, changes in class size caps and private school vouchers.

Both Craven County Board of Education Vice Chairman Linda Thomas and board member Kim Smith put on their own red tops and went to schools in their districts to show they support teachers' "Walk In" rather than "Walk Out" because "we are here for the kids."

"For me, today was letting these teachers know it's OK to advocate for themselves, draw attention to their concerns in a positive way," said Smith, of Havelock, who has served 11 years on the school board.

She went with flowers to schools in her district including Havelock Elementary, Havelock Middle, W.J. Gurganus Elementary and Tucker Creek Middle "to give a bunch of these teachers a hug."

Thomas said she made it to two schools Monday. At Vanceboro Farm Life Elementary, she said she "carried a red rose to Katherine Morris, a Teaching Fellows Teacher. I chose her because that was one of the programs the legislature did away with and it was one of the pools from which we get our best and brightest teachers."

Thomas, with 21 years as an education leader in Craven, also went to West Craven High School, "not only in the role of a school board member, but in the role of a grandmother. They had already decided to do their 'Walk In' on another day, but I still wanted them to know they have our support."

Elizabeth Witten, an 11-year educator now teaching first grade at Ben D. Quinn Elementary, is the Craven County NCAE Chapter president. She said the "Walk In" never was intended as an actual walk out because students are their responsibility.

Responding to a Monday comment from N.C. Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who said the protest was "a gimmick" that used students as pawns in an effort to get higher salaries, Witten said, "It's not a gimmick."

"We need parents and local leaders to know we are working hard and that teachers are already walking out, good teachers, because they can't support their families on what they make," Witten said. "I work another job."

"But this is not all about the pay," Whitten said. "It is about cuts to many resources I need to educate...including for the resources for the new Common Core curriculum."

Smith said: "I don't think legislators are sitting in Raleigh trying to make things more difficult or trying to undermine public education. I think they are well meaning, but some decisions the legislature has made are having very negative effects on our ability to recruit and retain good teachers.

"They don't feel respected, but I sincerely don't feel that was the legislators' intent. But we are losing teachers to other states, professions, and in the pipeline for new teachers as college students change majors. In 5 or 10 years, it's going to be worse; we're not going to have teachers for our classroom.

"I saw that this can be very positive. Teachers by their nature are reluctant to be controversial. This could get them outside the box so they can advocate for themselves in a positive way. The Walk In on the 18th could be more effective because we had a little taste today."

Sue Book can be reached at 252-635-5665 or sue.book@newbernsj.com. Follow her on Twitter@SueJBook.

Teachers at Tucker Creek Middle School in Havelock say decisions by legislators have hurt education ___

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