At a gathering of educators, community members, and supporters of the Reynoldsburg Education Association members, a parent was one of the first speakers.  Not a teacher, not a union leader, not a government official, but a parent and community member.  Parent Debbie Dunlap has been actively involved in the effort to bring an end to the contract impasse and has made it clear where her heart is – with the teachers who are striving to improve the teaching and learning conditions.  Dunlap has spent countless hours over the last few weeks trying to educate and inform her fellow parents and community members about the situation while seemingly hitting a wall when trying to communicate with her elected school board members (4 out of 5, at least) and her community’s superintendent.

Here were Debbie’s words to the thousands who gathered in the park on the day after the strike began:

Fellow parents, teachers, Reynoldsburg community members, and all supporters of public education.  My name is Debbie Dunlap and I, like you, am fighting for education today – standing up for my children, my neighbor’s children, and children all across Reynoldsburg.  I am fighting for schools that our students deserve!

And where does that start?

With our educators!

I attended a student candlelight vigil last night with my daughters, two of their friends, and dozens of other young people in Reynoldsburg who were there to make THEIR young voices heard. We stood outside the board offices with signs and chants, cheers and some tears – then the students lit their candles, sat in a circle, and shared.  They called it a vigil mourning the death of education as we know it!  How insightful!!!!

Because yesterday, I witnessed MY schools dying!  I saw children scared to go to school without the educators they know and trust; I saw emotional children acting out because those youthful emotions got the best of them; I saw classrooms and schools that were understaffed – which would have been UNACCEPTABLE at any other day of the year.

I heard of children calling parents, asking to come get them because they did not feel safe.

I saw pictures of subs sleeping; heard of packets of busy work being handed out; students not being allowed to use the restroom.

I heard my son’s friends relay inappropriate statements and conversations from the substitutes who were supposed to provide our children with “just another day” – a promise by our administration!  Well, they lied!

Yesterday, I too mourned a death just as those students did last night.

It has been a slow death that has been eating away at our schools here in Reynoldsburg for some time now.  An administration, slowly piling more and more weight on our teachers’ shoulders — mounting disrespect through broken promise after broken promise…and failing to provide caps on class sizes that many of the parents have also been demanding for years – class size guarantees in writing that would provide that one-on-one time our children need to succeed!

I’ve witnessed the whittling away at planning time that is essential to our educators in order to develop well thought-out lessons for our children.

Our district leaders have asked these professionals to take pay freeze after pay freeze – along with other concessions – then slap them with a high-stakes merit pay system that ranks them using unfair measurements that are often out of teacher control.  The attempt to use money as a tool to improve situations out of our educator’s control is like trying to draw blood from a stone.  The proposal is irrational, irresponsible, and ineffective!

While supporters argue that merit pay is commonplace in many industries and serves to optimize performance and results, the reality is that merit pay will foster an environment of competition among teachers in a profession that requires creativity and collaboration. Motivating students is a team effort – teachers, parents AND community!!!!!

We have lost an incredible amount of teachers – a mass exodus if you will.  And while I applaud those WONDERFULLY DEDICATED teachers who chose to remain and fight the fight – I ask – WHY, why have so many of our educators chosen to leave?  And I think the answer is actually quite simple — A lack of respect!  Our educators have been asked to take on SO much – and they have done so because they love OUR children.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH Tina Thomas-Manning!  They cannot do it anymore – and I support them as they stand up for what is right!

Our district leaders—with the exception of Joe Begeny — need to step up and BE leaders.  Last week, the Palm Beach County School Board AND superintendent had the guts to take a stand on education, passing a resolution on accountability stating: “the over-reliance on Florida’s high-stakes standardized testing is undermining Article NINE, Section 1 of the Constitution of Florida which declares that it is “a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision . . . for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education” particularly with regard to adequate provision, uniformity, efficiency, and high quality;

Tina Thomas-Manning – our teachers and our community want your respect.

I and other parents have also been feeling this disrespect over the years mounting as OUR voices have not been heard.  Over the past several months, that lack of respect for PARENTS and COMMUNITY MEMBERS has grown, and grown, and grown.  As a community, we now feel we are facing a wall as our district leaders continue to ignore OUR voices as well.

There are days when I feel like I am facing an insurmountable mountain!

So today, I come before our educators with words of support: We WILL stand firmly behind you!

Because while you may be fighting for the schools our STUDENTS deserve, I am fighting for the schools OUR CHILDREN deserve.