Iredell-Statesville Schools and Mooresville Graded Schools staff clad in red gathered in the early-morning dark Wednesday to get on a charter bus to Raleigh.
On the hours-long ride, teachers, teaching assistants and other staff swapped classroom war stories. A husband and wife entertained their young children who accompanied them to witness the live civics lesson. People brainstormed about a message on the last blank poster.
They decided on “Custodians don’t make enough to clean up glitter,” a message supporting one of the rally’s goals for a system-wide $15 minimum wage.
As the bus neared Raleigh, the passengers cheered as other white charter buses were spotted. People tried to peer through the tinted windows, calling out when they spotted supportive signs or a flash of red.
“When we passed by a bus, we would cheer. Like, ‘you’re one of us. You’re here for the same causes. All of our causes are all the same. We want the best for the students’,” said Ariana Sanchez, a five-year English as a second language teacher at Statesville Middle School.
Even more local school staff preceded or followed the bus in an effort to gather together and rally for more support staff, a system-wide $15 minimum wage, health care during retirement, Medicaid expansion and advanced degree compensation.
East Iredell Middle School teacher and Iredell-Statesville Association of Educators government relations chair Carla Fassbender said it was hard to get an exact count of all the Iredell staff in the Raleigh streets flooded with red, but more than 100 definitely attended.
The day was started with a march from North Carolina Association of Educators headquarters at West South Street and South Salisbury Street to Halifax Mall where Lane Street crosses Salisbury Street. Groups met with local representatives. Others participated in a rally. The day ended with counties meeting to reflect on the day and determine next steps.
Meeting with representatives.
“How many politicians have spent time in classrooms at length as what we do or whatever? How many? Not enough,” Jennifer Hodges, a 22-year eighth-grade social studies teacher at Statesville Middle School said. “I think if more people that are experienced were in legislative positions, they wouldn’t treat us the way that they have.”
She held a sign that read “Dolores Umbridge taught us that education should never have a political agenda,” referencing the “Harry Potter” series.
The other side read “I’m here 4 my kids.”
“It’s hard. The kids are great. The kids are great," Hodges said. "We just have a lot of other issues. We need some more counselors and social workers and psychologists for our kids. They need it."
Iredell County representatives John Fraley, Vickie Sawyer and Rena Turner met with school staff.
Fassbender said she was disappointed none of Iredell’s representative’s supported any of the five rally goals in offering her view of the meeting.
“It just seemed like for the most part, they didn’t want to have a conversation with us, they wanted to inform us more of things that we’re already pretty informed about, so they were just telling us things that we already know, and lecturing at us, to an extent, instead of having a conversation with us,” Megan Skouby, South Iredell High School teacher and ISAE building representative said. “We were hoping to go in with an ideal of being able to sit down and have a conversation. We brought a good base of representatives from the school district to try and cover all the bases, and not everyone was able to speak due to some of the time constraints, but also because they (representatives) sort of took over that conversation.”
The representatives included Gabriel Jewell-Batchelor, one of three young sons brought to the rally by Renee Jewell, a special education teacher at East Iredell Middle School and Trevor Batchelor, a teacher of exceptional children at Lake Norman High School.
Jewell said she had been concerned Jewell-Batchelor wouldn’t speak when he got in front of the representatives, but he did.
The big takeaway from the meeting, from the Iredell group's viewpoint, seemed to be that there was some miscommunication between the teachers and representatives before the rally.
“We tend to use email communication, and all three of our elected officials said ‘Call us,’ so we’re going to start calling them instead of emailing them because that’s apparently what they want,” Fassbender said.
According to Fassbender, representatives said emails received from NCAE members were thought to have a negative tone. She encouraged people to be polite and use please and thank you.
“The only way we can get positive legislation to pass is if we work together with them (legislators), not attack them,” Fassbender said.
Next steps are “making sure it doesn’t die with this,” Skouby said. “It’s a continuous ‘Okay, now, what are the next steps?’ We need to kind of have a meeting with people and see where we can go and who wants to help facilitate that discussion between our representatives and the school district and the citizens that are here.”
Skouby said more conversations with representatives at the state and local levels are imperative.
When Mooresville Graded and Iredell-Statesville school staff were asked at the county meeting what they wanted to be next year, many answered, “Not having to do this again.” “In the classroom.” “In fifth period.” “On the bus.”
When asked what they wanted to see at the beginning of next school year, the answers were full funding with enough counselors and nurses and with everyone working at the school making a living wage.
Iredell native and Mecklenburg Representative Wesley Harris stopped by the group toward the end of the discussion.
“Thank y’all for coming. It really does make a difference,” Harris said. “Iredell is next on our list. You know, we flipped Mecklenburg. Now we gotta move up to Mooresville and Statesville. It’s coming. We’re getting there.”