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Public educators’ association tours 100 counties

Public educators’ association tours 100 counties

The North Carolina Association of Educators’ “We Heart Public Schools Tour’’ stopped in Haywood County Friday. The tour visited every county in North Carolina, finishing in the western portion of the state last week. 

“We did this primarily because we wanted to honor and recognize the incredible effort that our educators and students and parents have done this past year,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly. 

It was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of public school teachers, especially during the trying times of the Coronavirus Pandemic, boost morale and bolster support for NCAE. The tour made one of its final stops in Canton at BearWaters Brewing Friday afternoon. 

“Part of it has been, really, to help strengthen the relationship between the statewide and the county level organizations and to help support growth on the county level. It’s been great. We’ve had lots of people join us on this journey. We’ve had a lot of folks be curious about stepping into greater leadership roles,” said Leslie Abbott, NCAE associate member and integral part of the tour organization. 

NCAE works to provide general support for public school educators and advocates for public schools in state and local government. During the tour throughout the state NCAE worked to collect signatures for state and local petitions regarding funding for public schools. In Haywood County that included competitive pay to keep teachers in local schools; a nurse in each school; access for students to social and emotional support from counselors, psychologists and social workers; and safe, clean modern spaces for learning. 

Tara O’Laughlin is Haywood’s NCAE president. She has been teaching art at Waynesville Middle School for 18 years. She first came to North Carolina because of how innovative the state was with education. Over her 18 years here, she says, she has seen the decline in North Carolina Schools.

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“I have definitely seen firsthand what happens when schools are defunded,” she said. 

The Coronavirus Pandemic shone a light on the importance of public schools to a functioning community, as well as the stark funding shortfalls in some places. 

“This year the world saw what educators already knew,” O’Laughlin said. “Public schools are underfunded, yet they’re expected to play a vital part in creating a healthy community. During this pandemic, Haywood County educators rose to the challenge.”

According to O’Laughlin, Waynesville Middle School has two counselors serving over 800 students. The American School Counselors Association, as well as the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, recommend that ratio be one to 250. 

She said there are several other concerns within the Haywood County School system — lack of high-speed internet, getting connections to families, getting printed copies of school work out when and where necessary, the general over-stress of teachers — but that the mental health of students is her biggest concern. 

“The thing that I’ve seen the most has just been the mental health needs and not having the facilities to be able to meet that where it’s at,” said O’Laughlin. 

Macon County NCAE President John deVille is also worried about students’ mental health and how it will affect their willingness and ability to participate in summer school programs necessary to make up for the learning loss from COVID-19. 

“Right before the pandemic hit, we did a mental health survey and we had here at the high school, close to a thousand kids,” said deVille. “We had over a hundred kids with serious issues. They had ideated suicide, they engaged in self-harm. We had struggled with trying to get a lot of them on campus for the past 15 months or so. And to just be in a position to offer summer school as if that is going to be the balm that heals, I think this is really, more of a two, three, four, five-year horizon to try to make up for the damage that’s been done. Not just in the past year, but 10 years, a decade of underfunding public schools.”

This budget season, Macon County Schools is asking County Commissioners to fund several additional staff positions, including art and music teachers that in some cases have been missing from schools for over 10 years. According to deVille, county commissioners have insinuated that these funding responsibilities lie with the state, not the county and that the school system should appeal to state representatives. 

“This is just indicative of two larger things,” said Walker. “One, local county governments have become more responsible for filling the gaps in state funding. Since the state will not fulfill their obligation to fully fund the public education budget on their level. But two, it also just shows the disconnect between what North Carolina citizens want our representatives to do and what they are doing in Raleigh.”

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1 comment

  • Stop the Marxists from teaching this absurd Critical Race Theory crap in the classroom. That would be a start in the right direction.

    posted by Joseph Creighton

    Sunday, 06/13/2021

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