Educators and supporters advocate, rally for smaller class sizes, better resources

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A crowd of about 200 teachers’ union members, educators and supporters gathered outside the Edmonds School District administrative headquarters before piling into the School Board chambers Tuesday evening.

The group wanted to express their priorities and passion for “equity and closing the opportunity gap,” Edmonds Education Association vice president Amy Frost said.

“We’re here to ask the school board to do right by our kids as we begin to bargain,” she said.

Negotiations between the Edmonds School District and the Edmonds Education Association began in late May and early June. The union will meet with district officials again in early August.  The Edmonds Education Association represents approximately 1,500 members.

The biggest issue for demonstrators on Tuesday was class sizes and educator case loads. Some of that relates to the just-approved state budget, which the board discussed in further detail during a study session immediately following Tuesday’s meeting. (A separate story on that topic is coming soon.)

“We need resources focused on our students,” said Kristyn O’Connor, an elementary school teacher. “Some of those need to focus on teachers.”

Smaller class sizes lead to student success, she said, as it gives teachers more time for one-on-one help, lesson planning and parent phone calls, among other things, that may help a struggling student improve.

“In a time where our country is divided, our community needs to be united,” she said.

School nurses also expressed their concerns about lack of staff and high case loads.

“This year, I was very concerned because our students’ lives were at risk more than any other time,” said Cheryl Robinson, who has been a nurse in the district since 1990. “That’s because of staffing.”

Many buildings have a nurse for one day a week. Others have a nurse for two days a week. The district does not have substitute nurses, Robinson said.

“I just want our kids to be safe and I don’t want to lose anybody,” she added.

School board members at Tuesday’s meeting were glad to see advocates speaking out.

“There was not a thing that was said that I do not agree with 100 percent,” Board Member Diana White said. “I believe many of you are the best role models my kids have ever seen.”

“It is really positive to see people engaged in making sure your voice and perspective is being considered when decisions are made, and that is not easy to do,” Board Vice President Ann McMurray said.

District Superintendent Kris McDuffy also addressed the concerns of advocates.

“All we can say at this time is we are committed to do absolutely everything we can to meet your stated needs,” she said. “We are listening. We appreciate you being here and the efforts you made to get your points across. Undoubtedly, they have been taken to heart.”

As McDuffy spoke, advocates held signs high with messages such as, “Taking care of teachers equals taking care of students,” “Keep the money in the classroom,” and “You expect collaboration from us – we expect collaboration from you.”

–Story and photo by Natalie Covate

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