Community Support Changes Attitudes in Charlotte
Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members were in for a surprise last November when a PTA president got up to speak at the public comment period of their board meeting.
The parent leader proceeded to tell them all about the problems at a district school including rising class sizes and a bullying administrator, which had led to high teacher turnover, and she was able to document her key points. Teachers were not the problem at that school, she told them, the board needed to support teachers.
That weekend, a summary of her remarks ran as a newspaper op-ed piece.
The school board and the public got that strong message thanks to the strong relationship between the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators and important organizations in the area, including labor, religious, neighborhood, ethnic, and others. Association President Mary McCray says the Association ramped up its work with community groups four years ago with the help of an NEA community engagement grant, and that involvement has continued.
McCray is an active member of a Tuesday morning breakfast group that many of the leading groups take part in. Recently, McCray held a luncheon for community groups to explain some things about the school budget, like where school funding comes from, and all the federal money that isn’t being spent even though it was intended for hiring teachers to counter the destructive increase in class size.
Because of the relationships that the Association has cultivated, “groups call on us when they hear things about the schools and they want to know whether they’re valid,” says McCray. And the groups share the teachers’ perspective with their members. They also pay attention come election time. The Association’s support gives endorsed candidates important credibility.
The best result of the Association’s involvement with community groups, says McCray, is a shift she’s seeing in attitudes: “Many people used to say, ‘It’s not my problem because I don’t have kids in school, mine have graduated and moved on’ or ‘It’s not my kids because we live in the suburbs.’
“Now people are finally realizing that children belong to all of us.”