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The power of parents

With more than 1,520,305 students in traditional public and charter schools across North Carolina, a whole lot of parents can weigh in on the issues at any time. In Wake County alone, with more than 154,368 students, there are potentially more than 300,000 parents just waiting to tweet, post on Facebook, or call an elected official.

But to what end? Are they just proverbial “squeaky wheels?” Or do their voices change policy and inform politics?

Discussions on parent blogs, threads, and websites not only land our state in the national news occasionally, they also play a role in informing parental opinion and influencing policy and politics. 

Salaries

In 2014, the legislature voted to increase teacher salaries for the first time in five years; some critics said the increase wasn’t enough and it wasn’t applied equally. In February 2015, the Wake County School Board voted for an extra $3.75 million from Wake County Commissioners to raise a local salary supplement for teachers. 

Teacher and mom Stacy Eleczko moved to North Carolina eight years ago from Florida to take a teaching position that paid more than what she was making. Now, her colleagues in Florida with the same experience make $5,000 more annually. She recently wrote a post for the blog MomsRising about budget cuts and teacher salaries. 

“Frankly, I’ve had enough,” she wrote. “My husband begged me to stop reading articles about the current budget or legislative decisions in the evening because I end up tossing and turning all night. Of course I do…don’t over $250 million in cuts to education funding make you angry?”

Parent Kelli Williams responded:

“Well put, Stacy! If things don’t change quickly, the NC public schools will be in more peril than they already are. I believe salary is a good place to start in valuing our teachers.” 

Eleczko’s post came just one day after the personal finance website wallethub.com released a survey ranking North Carolina the worst state in the nation for teachers. The survey was comprised of statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Other surveys have ranked N.C. higher, but parents and teachers alike comment regularly on the issue. 

The salary issue remains on the forefront. The Governor’s 2015-16 budget proposal includes raising teacher salaries to $35,000 annually, up from $33,000 currently, as does the House budget. 

Common Core

In July of 2014, Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation initiating a review of the state’s Common Core Standards by the Academic Standards Review Commission (ASRC). The Academic Standards Review Commission is reviewing the North Carolina standards and has set a July deadline for preliminary recommendations. The State Board of Education will have to approve any changes. 

There’s been no shortage of frustrated parents who don’t understand the Common Core State Standards and who, quite simply, don’t like it. Implemented in the 2012-13 school year, the Common Core is comprised of academic standards in Math and English that are intended to help students compete both nationally and globally. Ending Common Core is a movement gaining momentum with its own Facebook page and website. Some parents would like to give the standards more time. 

Joe Nicke on the “pro” side:

“Our kids are exposed to technology and information like no time before, and the expectations for achievement and critical thinking will be much higher in the future, if not today. Kids need to know more than their parents, and teachers have to update and adjust if they want to keep up with the ever-evolving students. I, for one, do not want my 10-year-old’s school to be easy. Age appropriate challenge is a good thing. Raise the bar, raise the chances of your kid getting the best jobs of the future,” he said on the Facebook page.  

Andrea Dillon on the “against” side: Dillon writes the Lady Liberty 1885 blog.  Here is an excerpt that she posted from an open letter to the Common Core Commission: 

“I will speak from the experience of having a son in second grade in Wake County schools. I have witnessed Common Core for two-and-a-half school years to date. I cannot tell you how many times my son has melted down at our kitchen table because he cannot do it the way that makes sense to him by just writing the algorithm, but instead he has to do it a certain other way — the Common Core way. The words, ‘I am not allowed to do it that way’ are uttered weekly in some fashion.” 

Make-up Days

Parents want a say on when their kids are in school—whether debating calendar changes or snow make-up days. According to the Wake County Public School System, students missed eight days of school due to ice and snow in late February. Wake County Public Schools eventually decided traditional students would make up three days during spring break. More than 7,000 parents signed an online petition hoping the school system would reconsider, to no avail. Some parents felt bad for the teachers. 

From Stacy Mark via the Apex/Cary Moms Facebook page and Twitter:

“For my friends who are  parents…I get why everyone is in an uproar over the last minute switch in snow makeup days. But at the end of the day, the people who are truly getting the shaft are the teachers. They had to go to work on the snow days and now are having to work on their vacation days (for free). There is no ‘excused absence’ for them. If they need a sub, they have to pay for it out of their pocket (which I think is absurd anyway). I don’t have the answers, but I do have $50 (the cost of a sub for one day). If you know a teacher who needs it, please PM me. I know plenty of you probably have an extra $50 somewhere. Feel free to copy and share. Show our teachers that parents care about them just as much (if not more) than our own inconveniences.” 

Several teachers responded offering their thanks. 

The school system ended up footing the bill for teachers who had already made spring break plans and couldn’t teach that week, according to district officials as reported by both WRAL and the Raleigh News & Observer. Although roughly 1,500 of the county’s 10,000 teachers missed school, some of those teachers didn’t require subs.

DC Moms 

Davie County High

That’s Davie County Moms. Several years ago now, Julie Wayne, Erica Bost, and Lori Smith began to organize the moms in Davie County. It started as a reaction to an email from the superintendent about the 2012-13 local funding. According to a 2012 article in the Winston-Salem Journal, Lori Smith said, “A year ago, I couldn’t have told you who the county commissioners were.” One thing led to another and the moms ended up playing  a key role in pushing for a new county high school centrally located to serve all students. It’s under construction now.

Perhaps this excerpt from a post on Ilina Ewen’s dirt & noise blog best sums up why parents are so keen to engage with the public school system. 

“In all my advocacy I reiterate that I am not just speaking for my own sons. When I step up on my soapbox it is for all kids, for families, for teachers, for my community. I have spoken at school board meetings, written letters to the editor, lobbied my elected representatives, leveraged digital media, given speeches at press conferences, protested, marched, and then some. In every instance the issues I lend my voice to are not just to benefit my own sons.”


Other resources for parents:

Mecklenburg Acts

MomsRising in NC

NC PTA

What resources do you rely on as a parent advocate?  Let us know.

 

Christa Gala

Christa Gala is a writer, an editor, and a teacher. An adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she has been a freelance writer for 15 years.