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Fuller Magnet teachers share concerns ahead of potential school rebuild

Fuller Magnet Elementary teachers shared their jobs’ biggest challenges and joys with elected officials and candidates Tuesday ahead of a Wake County bond that could tear down and completely rebuild their school.

If voters pass a $538 million bond referendum this fall, Fuller Magnet would be one of 11 Wake County schools to be renovated, not all of which would be rebuilt. A drastic physical change is one fifth grade teacher Edward Tidd said would make a positive difference for students and teachers. 

“When we do magnet fairs, we have amazing things going on in our classrooms, but if you walk through our building … it’s old,” said Tidd, who teaches math, science, and social studies. “You can talk with families who walk through other brand new buildings with flat-screen TVs in every classroom and glass walls, you’re losing kids to just that sparkle. And then when you lose those kids, you sometimes lose those teachers too.”

The school was built in the 1960s and multiple teachers said they could not compete with other schools on aesthetic appeal and new technology when it comes to attracting the best teachers. 

“We’re going to have trouble retaining good teachers at a school that should be a great model for the county, but people walk in and their eyes tell a bigger story,” Tidd said.

Two panels with teachers in the media center full of state and local elected officials and candidates were part of a broader event hosted by the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA). The North Carolina PTA provides a checklist for schools to host events like these on their website. Suzanne Parker Miller, Fuller Magnet PTA’s advocacy chair, shared documents that listed goals of the day, including “show the need for the Wake County School Bond referendum for our proposed new school building.”

Fuller Magnet Assistant Principal Kenyann Stanford put it this way:

“We struggle sometimes in our marketing efforts as a magnet school because our magnet kids who are coming from some of the highest-growth areas in the county, a lot of these kids who toured you around today, are on the bus for an hour and fifteen minutes, an hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes every day, two times, to get here and then to go home,” Stanford said. “And they’re driving past beautiful, new, amazing well-equipped schools. We’re fighting that a little bit. Are we worth it as a program to come to school in this building that was built in 1962 when you’re passing shiny newness that you could get to in five minutes?”

The panels, student-led tours, and conversations between officials and teachers also aimed to help teachers feel appreciated and heard and to educate students on elections and public service. Elected officials from all levels of government representing Raleigh and Wake County were invited. Most attendees were candidates, and some were local school board members or county commissioners. Two state legislators were present: Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake

“I think a lot of times we think about education in terms of numbers, we forget that, like the teacher said, it’s about the students,” said Emmanuel Wilder, who is running for N.C. House of Representatives District 41. “So to have the discussion with the teachers about their needs and their challenges and then, it’s just a hope for the future. Seeing the kids, seeing how excited they are, anything we can do to keep them excited, I think we need to do.”

For Kristina Pazienza, a special education teacher at Fuller, the rebuild could mean having a classroom inside the school building. Several outside trailers house classrooms because of a lack of space. 

“In order to make it sound nice, we call it ‘the cottages’,” Pazienza said. “And I have nothing against my cottage. It’s a great space, but a lot of my schedule is in and out of classrooms all day or pulling kids to my classroom and it would be nice to feel like I’m in the school, and it would be really awesome to have a space inside.”

Kindergarten teacher Kimberly Gonzalez said she hopes for more advanced technology with the renovation. She said she has a few Macbooks, a projector, and an Apple TV, but would love to see every child have a device.

“If it’s our job to prepare our students to go out in the real world, that’s really important,” Gonzalez said. “If we’re expected to do that, we need the means to do it with.”

Teachers also expressed their experiences apart from the potential rebuild. Dance teacher Lisa Mattocks said she deeply believes in the value of the Gifted and Talented (GT) magnet program. From Fuller’s website: “As a Gifted & Talented magnet school, our students enroll in an extensive array of elective courses throughout the year that aim to develop an understanding of and appreciation for the arts, and that extend and enrich the core curriculum.” Mattocks said she is not only teaching dance but teamwork and character.

“It gives me chills when I think about the arts in the school system,” she said. 

Nicholas Curry, a fourth grade English teacher, said he feels the wide selection of electives lets students explore and take ownership over their interests. 

“It gives students the opportunity to dig into their creative juices, things that they may aspire to be, so that they don’t only learn required instruction, but they have the opportunity to choose a class that they’re interested in, something they may aspire to be …. It gives them the opportunity to start thinking about that, because it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to become in life.”

Jaala Smith, a first grade teacher at Fuller, said the most challenging part of her job is figuring how to reach each child with what they need while overwhelmed by multiple roles. 

“We have to be the social worker, we have to be the mom, we have to be the dad, we have to be the band-aid … You have to always have all these different hats on. Sometimes it could be challenging just to make sure that every child is looked at as an individual and we are growing those children.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.