Taking A Stand

Mai Hoang

When she was growing up, Leslie Edmonson was told to give back to her community.

Teaching consumer science was her way to do so.

But now the Elizabethtown senior’s method to make a difference may be in peril.

Edmonson, a student teacher at Greenwood High School, knows she may be in danger of not getting a job in Kentucky in the wake of a struggling state economy.

So with the teachers she’ll call peers in less than a year, Edmonson stood among 21,000 protesters trying to save her future by convincing state legislators to spare K-12 education of possible budget cuts.

“I didn’t go to school to be famous. I just want to make a difference,” Edmondson said. “I don’t feel I would be able to give back if I couldn’t get a job.”

The capitol was crowded with teachers, staff, administrators, students and parents from several different counties statewide.

Inflatable crayons spotted the crowd. Participants held signs with slogans like “Our children deserve better,” “Dear politicians, your career started in a classroom,” and “Patton can pay for sex, but he can’t pay for education.”

Edmondson was among about 300 other Warren County School District teachers and staff who traveled to Frankfort yesterday.

“If I don’t come here… I can’t complain if I don’t find a job, because I didn’t do anything about it,” Edmonson said.

The turnout from the Warren County school district was larger than expected, said Charlene Rabold, a media specialist for Moss Middle School and the main rally organizer for the Warren County School District.

“People in our area are interested in educational funding,” she said.

After spending several weeks as student teachers in Warren County schools, Western students found there were concerns that needed to be addressed in Frankfort.

Woodburn senior Ashley Atkerson, a physics student teacher at Warren East High School, said she was concerned about the lack of preparation students at Warren East were receiving for the state’s standardized tests.

According to a state mandate, all Kentucky students are to score a “proficient” or higher in those tests by 2014. But with budget cuts looming, Atkerson had her doubts.

“The preparation I see them getting is lower than I got in high school,” she said. “They’re supposed to raise their standards to proficiency, and there’s no foreseeable way to do that in my opinion.”

Another concern was increased class sizes, said Amy House, a senior from Franklin, Tenn, and a student teacher at Natcher Elementary. If the state’s education budget is cut, additional teachers can’t be hired.

“There are students with special needs or ESL students that need the individual attention of a small class,” she said. “I think every teacher has a purpose. If teacher positions are cut, the students suffer.”

Speakers included Kentucky Education Association president Frances Steenbergen and National Education Association vice-president Dennis Van Rockel.

“We are committed to make education work,” Steenbergen said. “We can’t do it without funding.”

Several legislators, including House Speaker Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green), came out to the rally to talk to their constituents.

Richards talked to several teachers, assuring them that the house budget proposal would spare K-12 education from cuts.

“It’s unbelievably good compared to other states,” Richards said.

The rally ended with the participants marching around the capitol, surrounding it with their bodies, signs and shouts.

Atkerson said the rally provided a good sense of community for Kentucky educators. She said she felt her concerns were put in words through the speakers and other participants.

“I think I’ve been inspired to be more active with KEA and NEA and communicating with representatives in government,” she said.

Edmondson said she was inspired by the mass amount of people at Frankfort fighting for the same cause. She said she knows she won’t let legislators get away with a huge budget cut for public education.

“They need to take it seriously,” she said. “I know I won’t vote for any of them if nothing changes.”

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]