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When members of the Brunswick County Board of Education looked into the audience Nov. 5, they saw a sea of red.
The voice of Brunswick County teachers was heard loud and clear as more than 100 educators within the county system wore red in support of public education.
The display, organized by the district’s Teacher of the Year Karen Walker, was their expression of ongoing displeasure with the direction of education in the Tar Heel State.
Before the meeting, Walker and others held a cookout in the parking lot outside the David Sandifer Administration Building where board meetings are held. The parking lot began to fill as more teachers arrived and the room was filled by the start of the meeting.
“I brought a lot of friends with me today,” she said.
Walker said several wanted to address the board to express their concerns and offer some solutions for problems facing teachers today. She said they hoped the board would use its power and contacts to help them improve conditions for teachers within the system.
Walker thanked the school board and its cabinet members for their continued support of Brunswick County educators.
Walker also emphasized the priority for the teachers is their students.
“Teachers, the absolute most important job is to love our students. There’s absolutely nothing we’re going to do to mess that up,” she said. “I’ve been asked a lot this week about red shirts, my job or what I think about education. There have been news crews asking questions and taking pictures. Our kids are A-No. 1, and we want to make sure they continue to be our top priority.”
Walker invited four other teachers to address the board and share their concerns.
Martha O’Neill, who has taught in the Brunswick County school system for eight years, said she sees the North Carolina model for education shaping up to emulate a business model.
“You always stress the importance of collaboration,” she told the board. “But you will see none of that if our state passes these education acts. Before we talk about bonuses and incentives, let’s get our pay up to national standards.”
John Holloman, who teaches at Leland Middle School, said he was talking to a town council member recently when she informed him her daughter had accepted a job in South Carolina because she would be making $10,000 more annually.
“You all have an extraordinary opportunity in front of you,” he said while addressing the board. “You have a chance to be the best board in the state, but you have to have a can-do attitude. You must be courageous and you must continue to fight.”
David Everett read a poem he wrote about the current state of education, saying, “The public school teacher may be a thing of the past.”
Mark Deese, who was taught at South Brunswick Middle and Waccamaw schools before joining the staff at Cedar Grove Middle School where he is a language arts teacher, challenged the board to fight for teachers like him.
“My heart breaks to see where we are going. This is so much different than the education system I’ve grown accustomed to,” he said. “I have been blessed to have worked with some of the finest people in the world, and my heart breaks on a regular basis thinking about what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
Deese quit his full-time job in sales in 2004 to pursue teaching because he was inspired by his mother, who was a teacher. He said his last monthly paycheck was $7,500 as a sales representative, but he was drawn to education. He said he was excited to speak about the subject of education because he wanted to represent the teachers he works with.
“Teachers are being bullied—bullied by politicians in Raleigh on a regular and consistent basis,” he said. “We’re frustrated, we’re depressed.
“You have contacts that we don’t. We need help, we need support, we need you to do whatever you can to help us.”
Deese said Brunswick County teachers chose not to walk out and instead walked in to stand up for themselves, which they were invited to do by the board. He then urged the board to continue to support the county’s teachers.
“I’m a passionate person, but I’m struggling to maintain the energy level required for this job. The negativity has become too much,” he said. “We need your voice to be louder than ever. The negativity is becoming more than teachers signed up for.
“We need your help, we need your help, your support, your voice. We need your resources. We need to know we’re not alone in this struggle,” he said as he walked away from the podium to a rousing ovation.
“We want to support you and help you any way we can,” board chairman Charlie Miller said. “We want you all to contact state lawmakers and voice your concerns.”
Sam Hickman is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.