Commentary: Lawmakers should consider the impact of no teacher assistants and the effect of vouchers

Commentary: Lawmakers should consider the impact of no teacher assistants and the effect of vouchers
August 20
00:00 2015

In above photo: Ronda J. Gordon (center holding microphone) speaking at a rally for teacher assistants. (File photo)

Ronda J. Gordon, Guest Columnist

As a school social worker, my goal is to make sure that each child I come in contact with has an opportunity to graduate and is ready for college or a career. Each day that I walk into schools, my focus is on everything and everyone who impacts a child’s opportunity for success.

Education serves as the great equalizer and the foundation on which success is built. Unfortunately, in North Carolina, that foundation is crumbling and the future of our students is in jeopardy. It is the right of every child in this state to have a sound, basic education, but without adequate funding and resources, they are being set up for failure.

Our lawmakers, as they work to finalize a budget, need to strongly consider the impact of two very important components – how schools will function without teacher assistants and the effect opportunity scholarships will have on the educational system as a whole.

Contrary to what some may think, our teacher assistants are a vital part of the school community. They not only provide one-on-on instructional time for students who need it, but they perform various screenings and assessments with students, which assist teachers with classroom instruction. These highly qualified professionals, many of whom live in the communities in which they work, are part of a school’s educational team and are committed to inspiring students’ natural curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn. Many of them not only serve in the classroom, also on the school buses and are responsible for safely transporting our children to and from school!

Now for a discussion on opportunity scholarships. The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that public money can be used for private schools, despite what the N.C. Constitution states. To add injury to insult, those on Jones Street are proposing additional funding to ramp up this process.

As a public school employee, I witness firsthand the great things that are happening in the schools in my district and that students – regardless of their ZIP code, economic status or educational level – are thriving. Public schools, unlike private institutions, open their doors to ALL students. Public schools are held to rigorous standards. Educators must be certified, and assessments have been put in place to ensure students are on grade level. These state-mandated requirements and accountability measures unfortunately do not apply to private schools.

As I continue to ponder all of this, I often question …Who will be the gatekeeper for private schools? Who will be committed to the success of students? Who will ensure they receive support services like health, nutrition and transportation? Who will ensure that teachers have professional development opportunities and the resources they need? Who is going to hold private schools accountable? Like me, I’m sure many educators find themselves in the same situation I am; without answers.

From my experiences as an educator over the past 15 years, I know that our students deserve a better hand than they are being dealt. North Carolina was once a public education beacon and the light that once shone brightly is fading. It’s time that we all face the music and commit to righting the ship before it sinks, or our children will be the ones who drown without ever having a chance to reach for a life jacket. Saving them is going to have to begin with an education system that is fully funded, provides the proper resources, and recruits and retains education professionals who are adequately trained and compensated. Time is of the essence and we have no more of it to waste!

Ronda J. Gordon is a school social worker with Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators and Student Services Division president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

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