Darina Cooper told the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education on Oct. 13 that she recently considered walking away from her 20-year career in education.
Cooper, a second-grade teacher at Walter G. Byers School, took comfort in the encouragement of her colleagues who told her she was not alone and that things will get better.
“As teachers, we are exhausted,” Cooper said. “We are pouring everything we have to give into our students and their families and forgetting about ourselves and our families. Then we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, dust off and do it again the next day.”
She was among four employees to tell the school board that teachers could use more time during the week to catch up on planning after many hours trying to connect with their students via remote learning.
“Teachers are running out of time – time to plan, to grade, to contact parents, to decompress, to attend to our families, to live our lives, to be off screens,” said Steven Oreskovic, a teacher at Randolph Middle School.
Oreskovic asked for teachers to be given one day a week to get offline in which they could plan, grade and contact parents. He did not want the day to be used for mandatory professional development.
Lori Carter, a history teacher at Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, said a full asynchronous day could help teachers contact parents, plan lessons, update grades and complete paperwork.
Both Carter and Oreskovic also advocated for the idea of teacher representation on the school board.
“I would like to make the recommendation that until we return to school 100% full time under safe conditions that the board entertain the idea of allowing for teacher representation at all future meetings,” Carter said.
Amanda Thompson-Rice, a CMS employee and parent, said it’s impossible for teachers to be effective in teaching three different groups – in-person, remote learning rotation and full remote. She warned that not only will the educational experience suffer but teachers will leave.
“Educators are burnt out,” Thompson-Rice said. “I am here on behalf of 9,000 teachers who are drowning.”
Kathy Elling, chief school performance officer, went over CMS’s COVID-19 statistics, which showed 10 of the 19,106 employees had tested positive for COVID-19 in the week leading up to Oct. 9. None of the 1,073 students attending school in-person tested positive.
CMS has more than 10 schools with at least one positive case within the past 14 days. Elling also shared public health metrics and district-level case monitoring through the CMS’s Readiness Dashboard.
“We are using this dashboard as a guideline for making decisions about readiness for in-person instruction,” Elling said.
School board member Sean Strain addressed a comment made earlier in the meeting about CMS forcing people into unsafe conditions.
“The purpose of the dashboard is to demonstrate to ourselves, the staff and the public, in my opinion, that we actually are in a safe position in order to continue to return to classrooms where we know very well that the teaching and learning takes place best for the overwhelming majority of our students,” Strain said.
Superintendent Earnest Winston told the school board that schools are ready from a safety standpoint to welcome students and staff.
“I can say that with confidence because since early August we have had staff in all of our facilities,” Winston said. “We know we are not immune to the effects of COVID, but as the metrics indicate, our processes and procedures are working.”
CMS reports vacancies of 37 nurses, 30 custodians, 20 teachers and 16 bus drivers. Elling said the district has offered positions to nurses in the county health department to serve as “nurse extenders.” A group will start this week, she said.
Elementary school students will begin returning to in-person instruction Nov. 2. Older grades are not there yet.
Two parents also told the school board about how their children were struggling with remote learning.
Mary McCormick said her second-grader tells her daily how much he hates school.
“He is 7 years old on a Zoom call with 34 children to two teachers trying to learn foundational skills that he will need forever,” McCormick said. “I walked in the other day to find him holding up his math equations to the camera on screen and my heart broke that this is how my child is to learn basic math.”