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“Rally for Education Reform” draws mixed reactions, emotional testimonies

Information about the Rally for Education Reform presented at the event.

Information about the Rally for Education Reform presented at the event.

Ryan Okpych

Information about the Rally for Education Reform presented at the event.

Ryan Okpych

Ryan Okpych

Information about the Rally for Education Reform presented at the event.

“Rally for Education Reform” draws mixed reactions, emotional testimonies

February 14, 2019

On Monday, teachers filled the Lightsey Chapel at Charleston Southern University and spoke before a panel about a range of problems facing the South Carolina education system–from low salaries to oversized classes.

The meeting was organized by the South Carolina School Board Association, which consists of several districts in the Low Country. The event started off with opening comments from the panel of eight key figures from around the state of South Carolina.

Ryan Okpych
Jeff Maxey, SC Teacher of the Year, speaks at the Rally for Education Reform on February 11th, 2019.

Of them, was the 2019 South Carolina Teacher of the Year, Jeff Maxey.

Maxey opened his statement with an analogy: “Imagine going up to a car dealer salesman with 10 dollars, and telling him, ‘Give me the best you got.’ You’re better off just walking home,” Maxey said. He compared the ordeal to the teacher salary in South Carolina, which is ranked 33rd in the U.S.

After Maxey spoke, he was given a standing ovation from the crowd of educators.

Also included on the panel was Thad Moore, reporter of the “Minimally Adequate” series from the Post and Courier, Tony Folk, SCSBA (South Carolina School Board Association) president, Ted Pitts, SC Chamber of Commerce President, Keith Summey, mayor of North Charleston, Jane Turner, executive director of CERRA (Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement). Octavia Mitchell, an anchor of News 2, was the moderator.

Thad Moore talked about the “case of apathy” from legislators, which he said was one of the biggest challenges faced in education reform.

“I think this is a conversation that is long overdue. There are a lot of problems big and small that need to be addressed in our education system,” Moore elaborated.

Of the topics mentioned while taking questions from the audience, one of the biggest was the minimal salary.

Nick Snyder, the Berkeley County School District’s Teacher of the Year, spoke about the struggles of the pay teachers are given.

“I’ve had my water turned off, my electric turned off, and I’ve had to pawn my tools in order to pay medical bills and buy groceries,” Snyder said. “If we want to prove to the nation that we are better than the bottom of the ladder, drastic measures have to be taken,” Snyder continued.

Another teacher, Jennifer Witten, who works at DuBose Middle School in the special education department, talked about having similar problems with the salary.

Witten, who also works as a second job as a tutor, talked about how “she doesn’t live a lavish lifestyle,” and doesn’t have cable or things that people “would consider a norm” to show that her spending is not out of the ordinary.

Another item brought up was Act 388, the controversial tax break introduced in 2006. The law exempts owner-occupied homes from paying local school taxes. This was used in an example by Mayor Summey, where he talked about how he pays school taxes for his two getaway homes, but doesn’t have to pay school taxes in his own county in which he lives full time.

Ms. Gunning, a Spanish and French teacher at SHS, spoke about the classes textbooks, of which are from 2004. She said that the classes were promised new books.

In an age where teachers are looking for relevance in their classrooms, Ms. Gunning thinks that the textbook adoptions aren’t keeping up with the times.

“The textbooks mention that you could practice other languages using AOL instant messenger, and teaches students about how to say ‘VHS’ in Spanish,” Gunning said.

It is time to do something for Dorchester District Two…The whole outcome of what we’re trying to do is to do things that are better for kids”

— Plane

Gunning ended her statement by asking angrily, “Where are our books?” in Spanish.

Mrs. Plane, SHS English teacher and Leadership advisor, also had mixed thoughts about the rally itself.

“I do think it was set up to have a dialogue for people who live in the community along with teachers,” commented Mrs. Plane.

“Do I think the panel was stacked for teachers, parents, and everybody else to get answers from? Probably not,” Plane said.

“It was more of a rally in its purest sense that there were people up there supporting teachers and were trying to get us excited about teacher reform,” Plane continued.

Like many teachers at SHS, Plane feels that action needs to be taken at district level.

“We have schools that are deteriorating, we’re losing buses and bus drivers. Along with that, we’re not making the salaries that other districts nearby are making,” Plane continued.

“It is time to do something for Dorchester District Two,” Plane concluded.

“The whole outcome of what we’re trying to do is to do things that are better for kids,” Plane said.

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