Educators rally in downtown Lenoir
Educators and their supporters waved signs, wore red scarves and gloves, booed, cheered and lit candles at a rally Monday evening in downtown Lenoir, hosted by the local branch of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
The signs and speeches on Monday both illustrated continuing tension between public educators and GOP leadership in Raleigh over issues such as teacher tenure, merit-based pay bonuses, school choice and the effectiveness of teacher assistants in the classroom.
Caldwell County Superintendent Steve Stone said that legislators’ solution is to “demoralize and privatize” public schools, and that those legislators are rarely seen in the Caldwell County Schools even when they are invited.
“They have reduced class size,” he said. “They have given you more students. They have done away with teacher assistants. And every opportunity they have taken to demoralize the profession that you and I love.”
NCAE President Rodney Ellis referenced the “teacher walk-in” held Nov. 4, which mellowed from original plans for teachers to walk out of classrooms in protest.
“I think when you have teachers ready to walk out of their classrooms, the message is clear,” Ellis said. “Educators are sick and tired of being demoralized and disrespected.”
Other speakers – and audience members – spoke against frozen teacher salary schedules, shrinking funding for textbooks and other instructional supplies, and public funding routed toward charter schools and private-school vouchers.
One audience member carried a sign that read “End Starnes’ Tenure,” referring to Edgar Starnes, the Republican who represents Caldwell County in the N.C. House of Representatives. The mention by speakers of Starnes, who is the House majority leader, and other state GOP leaders – including Sen. Dan Soucek of Watauga County and House Speaker Thom Tillis – drew boos from the crowd.
Several speakers referenced Soucek’s visit to Caldwell County last week for an education town hall, referencing comments he made at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute – including his statement that “all schools all over feel beat up.”
“Do you feel beat up?” asked Father Mike Cogsdale, the rector at St. James Episcopal Church and a participant in this spring’s Moral Monday protests at the General Assembly. “Are you fired up? Don’t let him throw you a bone, teachers.”