DI/Cainhoy area teachers join thousands in Columbia to rally for education reform
“I could be studying for finals, but my future students matter more!”
University of South Carolina student Emma Carhart, a Cainhoy peninsula resident, proudly held a sign with these words as she joined thousands of teachers and other supporters on May 1 for a rally organized by SC for Ed in Columbia.
The education major said she made an “impulse decision” to go to the event, inspired by the opportunity to advocate for a cause that asked participants to “march for the future.”
“I saw so many people,” said Carhart. “They ranged from teachers, to counselors, to students. When I got there, I was yards away from the steps of the State House, and I got to hear from so many great people. It was exciting and empowering to see thousands of people united together for the same cause…It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”
According to the SC for Ed Facebook page, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness about several needed action-items, including better teacher pay, smaller class sizes, removing duties as assigned from teacher contracts, and less testing. A number of teachers with Daniel Island and Cainhoy area connections traveled to Columbia to add their voices to the crowd, including Daniel Island School teacher Stephanie Donley. When Donley moved to South Carolina from Georgia four years ago, she took a “substantial” $7000 pay cut.
“It was amazing to be part of this, hopefully monumental, teacher movement!” exclaimed Donley. “There were teachers, parents, and students from all over the state wearing red in support! The cheers, speakers, and support was mind-boggling! Over 10,000 people attended the rally to better the South Carolina school system which is greatly lacking in several areas. Our students and teachers deserve a first class education. Minimally adequate, doesn’t cut it.”
Joining Donley were several of her fellow DIS teachers, including Allison Woods, Patty Fisher and Lara Karam-Rodgers.
“I can’t thank the community enough for giving us the support and love to have the courage to go stand up for our kids!” added Fisher.
“I am so glad that I went to Columbia today to march with my fellow teachers to stand up for what is right for the future of our students and our classrooms,” noted Karam-Rodgers. “We are losing too many good teachers to overcrowded classrooms and increased workload. We want to spend our time teaching meaningful lessons, while being supported by our government. Our state needs to make a change. Our children deserve a quality education from the public school system!”
“It was so powerful,” said Woods. “I’m just happy to have been a part of this ‘moment’ and hope it becomes a ‘movement.’ I also really appreciate those teachers and staff that stayed behind - we all supported each other all around!”
Local legislators seem to be listening.
“If we had truly made education our #1 priority in this year’s state budget we would have increased teacher pay by more than 4%, we would have paid for more security to keep our children safe and we would have provided our school districts with additional resources to reduce over crowded class sizes,” said Senator Larry Grooms. “This year, we had the resources to do those things, but legislature made different choices. I understand why many teachers are frustrated by those choices made by our General Assembly. I voted against the state budget because I know we could have done better for our students and teachers. I stand with our teachers.”
“As the daughter of a retired South Carolina teacher, and as a product of South Carolina’s public schools, I know firsthand how hard our educators work!” posted Rep. Nancy Mace on her Facebook page in response to the rally. “And I support our teachers speaking out and making their voices heard… but a lot of the issues at hand are complex, misunderstood, or misinformed and some cannot be solved overnight…South Carolina does NOT have a funding problem, we have a spending problem. We rank 23rd in the nation in per pupil spending; meaning half the country spends more and half the country spends less than us, yet we are 50th in the nation in our educational outcomes...Even our state department of education has over $1 billion in cash reserves. The money is there. It always has been. So, how come other states do it better than we do and with less?”
Daniel Island School Principal Kori Brown said the school had 31 teachers out on May 1, but as a result of assistance from the Berkeley County School District, they only had to split eight classes (no more than one class per grade level was split). Out of 1173 students enrolled at the school, 313 were absent.
“Our classrooms were filled with instruction today!” said Brown. “I am proud of our DIS family.”
At Philip Simmons High School, a receptionist at the front desk reported only seven teachers were not in attendance, including one who was out for a planned vacation. The school was operating “on all cylinders” she said.
The Berkeley County School District sent out a message to the media on April 29 indicating that the district is “a values-driven organization that puts children first.”
“This year our board provided a mid-year retroactive pay increase to teachers as a way of showing the quality of education children in Berkeley County receive is a priority,” stated the release. “While the district supports its teachers and does its best to manage 47 schools in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, it must not lose focus on what children need.
We understand and value the passion of our educators. That passion, in all cases, begins with what children need most.”
The statement went on to report that the district had arranged substitutes or class coverage via employees of schools and its central services office to “stand in” to cover those teachers requesting to attend the rally.
According to BCSD, there were a total of 772 teacher absences on May 1 (includes all leave – sick, personal, legal, bereavement, etc.) and Kelly Services provided 333 substitutes. Just over 11,700 students were not in school that day, representing about 33 percent of the total student population.