Parents, educators to call on Board of Education to act to keep students from falling behind

Press release from Asheville City Association of Educators:

Today, an unprecedented coalition of parents, students, and educators will call on the Asheville City Board of Education to take urgent action to protect student social and emotional health, improve academic outcomes, and ensure the strength of our schools for years to come.
“We have no time to wait: the board needs to lead on making these investments today, or risk having our kids falling behind others in the region. Already, my kids have lost their beloved school counselor, who left for another job. She was a rock for our kids through the bumpy roads of COVID, and this is a huge loss for our kids,” said Lara Lustig, a parent of two second graders at Asheville Primary. “We believe if the Board and the Superintendent take the lead right now in their budget request, our County Commission will do their part, too.”
The group is calling on the board to pay a living wage to all staff, ensuring that the district can attract enough custodians, instructional assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other staff to keep the schools open and functioning. Other common-sense recommended changes, like paying cafeteria workers on the same schedule as other staff, would reduce staff turnover. They’re also asking the board to safeguard all eleven of the city’s Pre-K classrooms, recognizing the shortage of early childhood education options in the city.
“We can’t afford to lose more educators to the wage shortage in Asheville City Public Schools. This year, as the cost of living in Asheville skyrockets despite our stagnating wages, I lost one of my favorite colleagues in the 4th grade, and it was impossible to find a qualified replacement. Now, we’re losing our permanent sub, too, and the 1.3% pay raise we’re getting from the state, after five years of no raises, is not going to stop this staff exodus, and it’s kids that lose out. Already, the 4th graders across the hall from me are falling behind. If the board and County Commission don’t intervene now, then what? Who will teach our kids?” said Dusty Fox, a teacher at Ira B. Jones Elementary School. “In the 7 years I’ve been here we have gone through eight 4th grade teachers.”  In addition to the highest national inflation levels in four decades, last year, average housing costs rose faster in Asheville than in any other city in the state.
WHAT: Rally and press conference calling on immediate action by ACS BOE to stabilize school staffing and enrollment
WHEN: Monday, March 14, 4pm
WHERE: Asheville City Board of Education: 85 Mountain St, Asheville, NC 28801
WHO: Parents, students, community members, ACS employees, members of ACAE
WHY: Because our kids can’t wait for the crisis to worsen
Immediate Investments Needed to Stabilize Enrollment and Minimum Staffing Levels
On March 8, ACS Assistant Superintendent of HR Dr. Mark Dickerson told the Board of Education, “‘This year, because of the unusual number of resignations during the school year and the difficulty of filling these vacancies, schools have struggled, and principals have had to ask staff to cover,’” as reported by WLOS. “Asheville City Schools currently has 58 vacancies. Many have been posted for months, with no applicants.”
“I left my job because I got my masters and needed to become a full-time teacher. The assistant pay I was given put me into debt after four years of service, making only $1500 per month of take-home pay with no increase, during a pandemic,” said Rachel Prouty, former instructional assistant at Jones Elementary. “All school staff, as the people who do the most work to directly support our students, deserve a raise that shows they are respected and valued.”
New DPI Lost Instructional Time Report Shows Risks of Not Stabilizing ACS Workforce
Last week the Department of Public Instruction reported that most students had made less progress, on average, than students in the same grades and courses in previous years. But, DPI’s researchers reported, “students who returned to the classroom for face-to-face learning and where specific and targeted resources and supports were immediately put in place did better than the students who were purely remote and disengaged from their school community.” Three of the agency’s four recommendations for targeted resources would require additional investments by the Asheville City Board of Education and the Buncombe County Commission to stabilize the workforce and ensure adequate minimum staffing levels at all school buildings:
1. In-Person Instruction – The majority of students need regular interaction and direct personal engagement with their principals, teachers, and peers.
2. Students Disproportionately Impacted by the Pandemic – Education leaders and teachers should focus resources and targeted interventions on students who have been most negatively impacted by disrupted learning caused by the pandemic.
3. Focus on Content Areas of Highest Need – Education leaders and teachers should focus resources and targeted interventions on early grades reading, middle grades math, and science in the transition years.
Unprecedented Level of Support for Immediate Action by ACS Staff
In just one month, 541 school staff– over 75% of the district’s 707 employees–have signed a petition supporting these requests to the board. No other previous initiative has received that level of support by ACS staff.
“In my 15 years of teaching, I’ve never seen 75% of our staff sign on to anything together. Workers in the schools see every day how urgent this situation is, and we desperately want to keep our students safe, happy, and moving forward,” said Daniel Withrow, President of Asheville City Association of Educators.
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