Open letters to Governor Hutchinson and Education Commissioner Johnny Key
My name is Laura Comstock. I grew up in Mountain Home, then moved to Conway and graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in 2007. Since then, I've worked in the Little Rock School District at Chicot Elementary. In these last 12 years I've grown to love the school family and community that I work with. I work alongside several women and men that have big hearts for this community. A strong school can empower and bring a community together. I'm so grateful that I can be a part of the positive impact our school is making by educating and empowering 20 kindergarten students every year. I love that I get to see former students grow throughout the years and can keep tabs on them as they go on to higher grades. I make sure they understand that I'm always there for them and believe that they can be highly successful.
I'm sure that you're aware of the demographics of my school. And I hope you understand how much our families love their kids and how hard they work to provide for them. However, we still have a high need for resources within our school to overcome the challenges that our students come with daily.
My fellow teachers and I are not discouraged by all of these challenges. We start each day with an assessment of each student and what she or he might need to be as comfortable in the learning environment as possible. We try to meet those needs so that each student can be successful that day.
Then we hit the ground running to provide as many opportunities to develop academic and social emotional skills during each component of our schedules throughout the day. Many off-contract hours are spent planning highly engaging lessons, creating learning activities and attending professional development to ensure that we provide the highest quality of instruction as possible. We're also mindful to incorporate as many chances to build language skills in each lesson to support our students that are learning English as a second language along with all of the content requirements for their grade levels. We differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student so that everyone can engage in and benefit from our lessons.
Our school is also building leadership skills with our students through "The Leader in Me" program. This is a program for schools adapted from Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." This program is helping us empower our students. They are learning how to be self-motivated in setting and achieving academic, behavior and personal goals. Students are taking charge of their own learning and feeling the confidence to achieve greatness.
My colleagues and I are constantly collaborating and working toward the common goal of helping all students at Chicot develop into kind, thoughtful, high achieving people. We bust our tails daily to provide the very best educational experience possible. And I can honestly say that each student in my class shows amazing progress every year.
To be labeled as a failure and divided into a supposedly inferior caliber of teachers after pouring my heart into my profession for 12 years is one of the biggest gut punches I have ever experienced. I am deeply concerned for the future of our district when our leadership discounts the larger societal problems of our city. I'm asking that you please support LRSD students, families and teachers. You have an open invitation to my classroom. Please come visit our classrooms and learn about our communities before you label us as failures. Don't take away our due process. And please stop disrespecting my fellow teachers and me.
I am a Little Rock resident with three children who attend Don Roberts Elementary. We love our school! We even went as far as moving from North Little Rock and purchasing a home that was zoned for Roberts. Unfortunately, most parents in our district do not have the luxury of purchasing (or even renting) housing in an "A" school zone. Poverty and other socioeconomic factors determine their housing situation and thus their children's access to top-rated schools. I have known since our first child entered LRSD that numerous disparities (racial, economic, biosocial) exist within the district. The hard truth is that my children will be fine because our privilege allows us to place them in top performing schools. I would dare to guess that's an advantage the majority of the parents within our district do not share.
I drop my children off at Roberts, and then I go to work a few miles away at a "failing" school. They are two different worlds. But you know what isn't different? The teachers and staff! They pour their hearts and energy into the students. The faculty and staff at my school show for those kids! Every child! Every day! And, so far, I haven't noticed a line of teachers waiting outside the door to take their place. They deserve the due process protection of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act just as much as my children's teachers at Roberts! They deserve our respect, admiration and support. It is sorely misguided to look for ways to remove their due process rights. We should instead be looking for ways to better support the students and staff at these 22 schools. Go there. Sit in these classrooms. Sit in the resource rooms. For a day. For a week. Ask the teachers and the principals what they need to better serve these children.
I stand with our teachers in every school in our district, and I stand with LREA! Do not remove TFDA protections. That simply isn't the way to better help these kids. Support them by supporting their educators!
Last week, I attended two fall carnivals in two different schools. At both carnivals, kids were in costumes getting their faces painted, playing games with their families, and enjoying all the food and festivities one finds at a school carnival. At one carnival, parents and PTA members ran all the games and entertained kids for almost two hours while we, the teachers, enjoyed visiting with students and their families. At the other, the teachers, after a long day of teaching, ran the carnival alongside their own family members who they recruited to help. I couldn't help but compare.
I have been lucky to be a teacher in both schools — one a so-called failing "D" school and the other a school with a passing grade. In both schools, I worked with and learned from skilled educators and am particularly troubled that under your plan, the teachers in that "D" school would not be afforded the same protections that my colleagues and I in our "B" school would have.
In that "D" school, I worked with some of the most incredible educators I have ever met. We worked long days, many weekends and attended more nighttime events than teachers in other schools. We taught students who have experienced unimaginable trauma and who have challenges that impacted their learning and behavior at school. Teachers in that school pored over data, worried over students' health and safety, and expended so much love and energy for their jobs that most reported having high, unhealthy levels of stress. In the two years I taught there, I worked harder than I've worked in my other 13 years as a teacher. The work was so complex, difficult and stressful that I could not continue it and maintain my health, so I returned to my previous school. I feel quite a lot of guilt about that, because I know how desperately they need caring, strong teachers.
The very idea that those teachers are to blame for the struggles of their school is misguided, misinformed and absolutely unfair. Their jobs are difficult and they deserve more than you want to provide them. Please reconsider your plan to remove their job protections and due process. Please appreciate and respect the hard work they do every day.
Barbara Hall Little Rock
My son attended a "failing" school for his three middle-school years. His "failing" school had the highest concentration of teachers trained in his special needs of any school in the city. At his "failing" school, he became a Duke TIP scholar, thanks to teachers who taught well both in the classroom and in an after-school program they initiated. At his "failing" school, my son's DI team placed 6th in the world in their international competition. At his "failing" school, my son became enamored of Shakespeare, thanks to a teacher who led a 10-minute play festival. At his "failing"' school, my son wrote flash fiction that was read and evaluated by professional writers around the world. At his "failing"school, my son participated in a project-based seminar class all three years. At his "failing" school, my son's core teachers met every single week to consider student needs and I regularly got a check-in phone call during those meetings. At his "failing" school, my son had the single greatest teacher I have ever witnessed in my life. Was our experience at this "failing" school perfect? No. But, the vast majority of the issues were down to lack of follow-through by administrators and a seemingly concerted effort by higher powers to strip this school of its resources. There were and are outstanding teachers at our "failing" schools, beating against the current of negativity and deprivation, who deserve our admiration, support, compensation, and the due process afforded to any other teacher. They even deserve it more.