Teachers, parents and community activists joined the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association last week before the Orange County School Board meeting to rally for better working conditions.
ORANGE COUNTY “To put students first, teachers cannot be last.” “Just let me teach.” “Educators deserve better!”
These were just a few of the signs carried by parents, teachers and community members during a rally organized by the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Tuesday, Feb. 13.
Dozens gathered outside the Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center for a rally in which they called for autonomy, planning time, reasonable workloads, higher pay and other working conditions.
Glyniss Hudson, a chemistry teacher at West Orange High, attended the rally to show her solidarity and support for better working conditions. She noted that many of the district’s achievements and awards are due in large part to the contribution from and hard work of the teachers.
“It’s the work that we do after-hours; it’s the tutoring we do so they don’t have to pay anyone to come in for tutoring; it’s the monitoring we do,” Hudson said. “All of the achievements that Orange County got is because it came from us. Think about this: If all the administrators are gone that day from the school, teachers can still pull kids in and teach them. But if all the teachers are gone, you’ve got about 11 administrators and 2,800 kids. What are they going to do?”
Parent Daisy Mitchell, whose sign read “Time to clean house,” said the only solution is replacing many high-level administrators and School Board members.
“Anyone who holds a leadership position, who has been indoctrinated and have lost their way and only see our children as data points to see how well schools will do on the almighty FSA — instead of standing (up) to legislators, the Board of Education in the state of Florida and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education — is what ultimately led to the community rally,” Mitchell said. “I do commend Linda Kolbert for encouraging fellow board members to meet with local and state policymakers. We need board members that hold no political ambitions and have the courage to stand up to the bullies in Tallahassee.”
As OCCTA activists, teachers and parents marched in front of the building and chanted with their signs in hand, they received many honks of support from passing motorists — including from a Lynx bus.
“It’s the work that we do after-hours; it’s the tutoring we do so they don’t have to pay anyone to come in for tutoring; it’s the monitoring we do. All of the achievements that Orange County got is because it came from us. …”— Glyniss Hudson
Inside the School Board meeting, OCPS Chairman Bill Sublette refuted the outcry by ensuring teachers that the district has not let up on the fight to increase teacher pay and reduce testing strains.
“This war is fought mightily to increase pay; we have taken on the Legislature over the lack of funding for teacher pay,” he said. “We have gone to the voters — not once, not twice, not three times, but four times — asking the voters of this county to pass taxes to support school construction … and also to support an additional local-option one mill, which most counties in the state — in fact, virtually all of them — don’t have so we can provide higher raises and pay raises for our teachers.
“Our No. 1 priority is teacher pay, and we all believe fervently that our teachers are underpaid,” Sublette said. “Even in the height of the recession, when other school districts were cutting pay and cutting teachers, we made sure that we still put some extra dollars in our teachers’ pockets and made sure that we didn’t fire a single teacher.”
Sublette went on to address the issue of testing mandates. He reminded protesters that such mandates and classroom observations are state statute and the district is required to administer the test.
“We have dramatically scaled back and eliminated almost every local-option test that we have and that we can,” he said. “That’s particularly galling, especially (when) we’ve been the tip of the spear in fighting over testing mandates from Tallahassee and from the federal government.”
But Hudson and many other rally participants are still frustrated with the emphasis placed on testing in schools.
“We’re constantly being told, ‘Well, the kids have to graduate and the kids have to do this and the kids have to do that,’” she said. “Well, OK, that’s fine, but we have to eventually teach the kids. So now, we’re trying to teach kids for a test that comes a month early and if the kids fail it, it’s going to affect our VAM scores, so now we don’t even get paid like we’re supposed to. It affects our pay. We have families, we have bills like everybody else.
“Somewhere in there they’ve lost respect for the teachers,” Hudson said. “They had better get it back because while we are a valuable asset now, we could be a very costly value later.”
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