Vowing to put K-12 public education atop his budget priority list. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other state officials received a litany of suggestions on how to improve the working conditions of teachers and provide a better learning environment for children during a education roundtable Monday at Kellam High School.
The crux of the these improvements involve restoring the state money to education to pre-recession levels. McAuliffe, for much of his tour around the state, has heard the calls for increased funding, adding near the end of the forum that with education as the backbone of Virginia’s economy, more resources have to go to classrooms and those who teach in them.
“We can’t expect you to build the workforce of the future if we’re not giving you the resources to do it,” McAuliffe said at the roundtable. “Everything to me is return on investment – ROI. The best money we can spend is making sure that our K-12 system is the best in the country.”
Besides McAuliffe, State Secretary of Education Anne Holton and State Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Steven Staples were among those participating in the roundtable with educators from across south Hampton Roads and the Peninsula. Virginia Beach Education Association president Trenace Riggs was among those in the audience at the roundtable and was pleased with what she heard.
“There was a great representation of legislators from … all over Hampton Roads and they were honest, and they clearly articulated the needs of education in Virginia such as looking at too much testing and restoring the funding for public education in Virginia,” Riggs said. “I feel like he and his state officials were very responsive and have been responsive to our needs. And he also said, and I truly believe that he will be doing this, that he will be making K-12 funding his top priority in his budget this year.”
Tom Anderson, a teacher and track coach at Landstown High School who was on the panel of educators during the roundtable, recommended a once-a-month time for teachers to collaborate, share ideas and engage in research in order to be more effective for students. He said teachers are overwhelmed with paperwork.
“When do we have the time to be better as teachers? Teachers want to be good and we want the resources and the opportunities, but … when you’re limited, when you have 125 or 130 students and you’re trying to have individualized plans and you’re trying to have personal growth, time becomes a factor, ” Anderson said, adding, “our classrooms are really a sanctuary for our kids and they are starving for information. And I think sometimes we can get frustrated as teachers because we can’t always meet all their goals and challenges because we don’t have the time and the resources.
Anderson said his wife, a math teacher at Ocean Lakes High School, “is literally working until 11:30 at night and getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning. It not only affects you as a person, it goes into your family time. … She’s exhausted.”
He noted another teacher at Landstown who has a daughter on the volleyball team was grading papers at 7 p.m.
“I saw her at 7 o’clock the next morning coming down the hallway with a Mountain Dew,” Anderson said. “And literally her eyelids were this close,” holding two fingers millimeters apart. “She said, ‘I cannot keep my eyes open,’ and we’re just in September. We have not gotten into October, November, December. Teachers are being pulled in a multiplicity of ways, so I think we have to be very creative as a group to make sure that we are adhering to the physical challenges, the mental challenges, in order to be more effective for our students.”
Current Virginia Beach City Public Schools teacher of the year Bradley Ward, a fifth grade teacher at Rosemont Forest Elementary School, called for scaling back objectives.
“They’re coming up with so much more stuff that we have to deal with, yet we keep adding objectives,” Ward said. “And it’s not removing a higher expectation, it’s creating a more specific expectation. Because a higher expectation doesn’t necessarily mean more stuff, it’s, let’s make the stuff that we do need to know, as rigorous as possible.”
More of the assembled panel called for better support of special education teachers, fewer standardized tests and smaller class sizes, in addition to increased funding. Another on the panel called for a pre-Labor Day start to the school year, and yet another said teachers – especially math and science teachers – need a living wage in order to keep the best and brightest from going into the private sector.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence noted McAuliffe’s outspokenness in his support of public schools, teachers and students.
“Your attendance, and the attendance of everyone in this room, points to the value you place on public education, and the important role that we all play in advocating for the children of our region,” Spence said.
McAuliffe told the roundtable and the assembled audience of education stakeholders that teachers deserve more support.
“Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have not honored teachers the way we should have,” he said. “We have not given them the resources they need to be successful.”
Said Holton: “We are in a moment where we have recognized that we have been putting our local schools all across the Commonwealth in some significant stress.”
“These kids deserve our best, and in order to give them our best, we have to be at our best,” Anderson said.