Staff photo by Allison Potter
Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley, left, speaks to Dr. Bennie Bryant, principal of Bellamy Elementary School, at the New Hanover County Board of Education’s third annual legislative breakfast on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
“The public perception about the quality and value of educators and schools, I would say is probably at an all-time low in our state,” said Melissa Gillespie, a Laney High School civics and history teacher who received the Teacher of the Year award for North Carolina’s Southeast region. “[Teachers] very quickly leave because they realize they are expected to become testing technicians.”
Gillespie and Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley called for increased state funding for teachers, development programs and educational resources during the New Hanover County’s Board of Education annual legislative breakfast Feb. 18, giving state lawmakers a chance to hear local school officials’ concerns.
Markley spoke to the groups of representatives, district staff and school principals about the board’s legislative priorities, which include raises for all employees next year, a long-term plan for teacher pay, calendar flexibility for dealing with missed school days and clarification of new testing requirements
“We agree with the idea that every third grader who isn’t reading at the end of third grade needs some help,” Markley said of a new, state-mandated Read to Achieve testing initiative rolled out during the 2013-14 school year. “But I think between the intent and the execution, there has been some disconnect.”
“My solution is pretty simple in my eyes, even though I know how politics get involved, but it’s investing in our teachers,” Gillespie said.
Legislators spoke during the end of the meeting, with Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, emphasizing his work to create a pilot program to help high school students not bound for college.
“We passed legislation this year that allows a vocational pathway, starting at the high school level,” Catlin said. “I’ve started working with the local state college board and the community college to come up with a pilot program.”
Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, spoke at length about fiscal responsibility, responding to critics of the recent changes to educational funding who point to the state’s recent drop to 46th in the country for teacher salaries.
“If you look at what those numbers are based on … [then] you look at the percentage of the state budget that goes to education, we rank eighth in the nation,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to vote for a tax increase.”
Speaking afterward, Wrightsville Beach School principal MaryPaul Beall said she agreed with the legislative priorities adopted by the board, and said she was encouraged to hear serious discussion regarding teachers’ pay.
“It’s nice to get everybody talking in one room about the same thing,” Beall said. “It’s not just one group out saying one thing in front of one group of people.”