Education ‘House Party’ Opens Mother’s Eyes

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Harvey Howard arrived at New Grassy Creek Baptist Church in time to sample the spread of chicken wings and brown beans, cake and punch. The retired teacher was on his way to a board meeting at the Oxford Fire Department, but wanted to weigh in at his local National Mobilization for Great Public Schools gathering on the issue he’d been passionate about through 35 years in the classroom, and the 11 years since.

Three of his children also became educators, although one eventually abandoned the field, and three of his grandchildren attend Granville County, N.C., public schools.

“I see a grave need for more support for our teachers,” Mr. Howard said. “We need to make schools more teacher-friendly. … I stayed for 35 years, but teachers can’t last that long anymore.”

Mr. Howard lamented that with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, too much authority over the schools has been delegated to Washington, and for North Carolinians, their state capital in Raleigh, leaving many teachers to feel powerless.

Issues of discipline and family problems, coupled with inadequate salaries, aging school facilities, and a shortage of supplies, have beaten down many dedicated educators, he added.

North Carolina officials have been trying to stem a teacher shortage over the past several years with higher salaries and bonuses based on test-score gains. They’ve also conducted a statewide survey of working conditions to see what improvements are needed.

Even so, the state is projecting it will have to hire 10,000 new teachers a year through the end of the decade. In some districts, turnover is as high as 28 percent a year.

Lavetta Smith, a single mother who brought her three children to the “house party” at the church here last week, said the strain on teachers is evident.

“They are tired and burnt out” from teaching large numbers of children and dealing with all the regulations and tests, she said. “As a result, children are not getting the instruction time and the attention they need.”

Ms. Smith, who is studying to be a registered nurse, said the meeting convinced her that she needs to figure out for herself which candidates for local and national office will address her concerns about education.

“I’m glad I came to hear about the issues at hand,” she said. “It opened my eyes.”

PHOTO: At the New Grassy Creek Baptist Church, event organizer June Smith, left, and attendees take a dinner break from their discussion about making public education a top political priority.
—Les Todd for Education Week

Vol. 24, Issue 05, Page 12

Published in Print: September 29, 2004, as To Rouse Electorate Education ‘House Party’ Opens Mother’s Eyes
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